Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of the 1994 Mega Drive game Monster World IV. It's available for both PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch. Listen along as KC shares his thoughts on the game.
It kinda feels like we've been here before, doesn't it? And by here I mean both Monster World and the fact that we get a new remake of a Wonder Boy/Monster World game. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of Monster World IV, which is perhaps the most obscure title in the mainline series for Western audiences. It was released in 1994 for the Mega Drive only in Japan and even with fan-made translation patches for the original and officially translated versions on the Wii's Virtual Console, the PS3 and the Xbox 360 all released in 2012 and its inclusion in the Mega Drive Mini lineup, I think it's still a fairly undiscovered and underrated game.
That means that Asha in Monster World, which was directed by the creator of Wonder Boy himself, Ryuichi Nichizawa, will probably be the introduction of the girl with green hair and her blue pepelogoo to a fair share of people in the West. So what can you expect from it whether you're a fan of the original or a newcomer to the game or series? Let's find out as I share my thoughts on Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World.
Let me preface this by saying I've played the game on the Nintendo Switch and paid for it with my own money. Furthermore, I had a pre-order for a physical version but ended up cancelling it when I saw it wouldn't get here until the day this review is probably going up. I was so eager to play it that I bought it digitally on the e-shop on the day of release. That said, there's one noteworthy drawback in getting the game digitally: you don't get the original Monster World IV which comes in the Switch cartridge and as a download code on the PS4 version, so do keep that in mind if you're considering which is the best way to buy this game. There are also a few different collector's editions you can get from Strictly Limited Games, which are still available as I record this and hopefully for the next few months as I will end up nabbing one of those for myself some time unless I suddenly become a responsible adult, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
The first question on anyone's mind is what kind of remake this is. Well, it's not a 1:1 remake of the original like the one Lizardcube made of Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap. Instead, the dev team went with a 2.5 D style bringing to life the many NPCs, bosses and enemies of Monster World IV, and everything is animated beautifully and all the colors are vibrant and a delight to look at. I'm especially fond of Asha's animations — the moment when the pepelogoo egg hatches is a highlight! This approach to the game also allowed the developers to add some extra depth to the hub area of Rapadagna. They played a bit with perspective and that allows you to move between 3 different levels of background, if that makes sense. There's the main level which is the default view, closer to the screen; the middle one you can access in certain points by entering doors or pressing up to make Asha move forward; and finally the backmost level of the background, which again you can access by entering doors or moving Asha forward in certain points of the map. This added depth makes for an interesting way to hide secrets and some of the all-important life drops. The style of the remake also makes this feel and look like a whole new world. Areas like the palace are now much more than flat 2D pages you can scroll through but entire 3D buildings you can explore more or less freely, while still keeping the same characters, dialogues and rooms. Alongside the (Monster) world of the game, the other biggest graphical improvement are the bosses. They are now huge and fairly detailed and look great. All in all, I really love how the game looks and while I'm a big fan of The Dragon's Trap and Monster Boy's hand drawn style, this approach really works for Asha in Monster World.
Gameplay wise, controls are responsive and there was no point in the game where I was hit or died because Asha didn't do what I wanted her to. All the moves from the original are here, including jumping, walking, running, using your sword whether on the ground or in mid-air and they even added control over the magical hit. This is a special, more powerful attack you need to charge by hitting enemies. Depending on the sword you have equipped, charging takes more or less successful hits. In the original, you didn't have much control over the magical hit after you charged it. It would automatically be used after a certain number of hits. In Asha in Monster World, you can now check whether it's available or not by looking at the gauge on the bottom left of the screen. And you can choose when to use this special attack, since it requires you to press L2 and the Attack button together, adding a little bit more strategy to your gameplay. You can, for example, save it for stronger enemies. The power of the magical hit itself also varies according to the sword you're using. As you progress, just like in Monster World IV, you can purchase different swords, shields and bracelets, which replace the armors available in the original. These add special defense and attack stats and allow you to get more health.
Monster World IV was already a game with pretty tight controls. Of course, there's more fluidity in how Asha moves in the remake to adjust for how much wider the world is and how bigger and more detailed the enemies are. Some of these adjustments include enemy movement tweaks which also contribute to lower the difficulty of the game. This is not a difficult game by any means and it would probably benefit from a hard mode to provide an extra challenge to more experienced players.
Oh and everyone's favorite blue ball of fur, Pepelogoo is back with all his abilities that change as you progress through the story. Just like in the original, you get a dedicated Pepelogoo button, which you use to call and hold Pepe and launch him in the desired direction. Pepe serves as both a platforming companion allowing you to execute double jumps or glide and as a puzzle solving assistant, helping you to reach otherwise inaccessible areas or push buttons. For the first time, you can now also use him to collect hard to reach items, which is especially useful if you're going to collect all life drops and to regain some health during certain boss fights.
Speaking of life drops, there are now 200 available to collect in total in the game and that affects both its difficulty and replay value. On one hand, this, along with some of the previously mentioned tweaks, makes the game easier as for each 10 life drops you collect you get an extra heart. On the other, this also adds to the game's replay value as you're unlikely to be able to get all 200 of them in your first playthrough. And even if, in theory, the game allows you to revisit previously played areas, the fact is on your first playthrough that isn't entirely true as some of the levels are only playable in their entirety if you have Pepelogoo in a specific stage of his development. As Pepe keeps growing as you progress through the story, previous stages become, realistically inaccessible. However, the good news is once you finish the game once, you unlock a secret merchant who is hidden somewhere in Rapadagna and he will sell you an item that allows you to change Pepe's size at any point in the game, thus unlocking the game's full potential. Still, I don't think you can go back to the very beginning so do keep that in mind and try to collect all life drops between Estafan and the Tower of Silence in your first run. It's not that hard to be honest.
Another returning helpful feature of Pepelogoo is that he will automatically revive Asha if you happen to lose all your hearts and are carrying at least one elixir. Yes, this time you can carry more than just one of each item, which includes health items and equipment. This small tweak makes the game easier since you can technically get hit tens of times without getting a game over. And you can also save the game wherever you want without speaking to the sage, except during boss fights. That said, keep in mind you won't get revived if you don't have Pepelogoo with you, which happens in certain points in the game. With all that said, the game is indeed a bit on the short side, only taking a few hours to complete, with the quest to collect all 200 life drops adding a bit more its replay value but considering it's a remake and the price it's being sold at, I would've liked to see more new content added to the package. I do feel the game is overpriced and it would've been easier to justify spending 20 dollars, pounds or euro considering what is being offered to you.
The music is brilliant. The approach taken to the original game's soundtrack was to have a main theme and have almost every single one of its other tracks be a remix or variation of said theme. And while that worked perfectly in Monster World IV, I feel like the modern arrangements and the array of instruments used in Asha in Monster World only make this better. I was always a big fan of the Ice Pyramid stage BGM and it's once more a highlight for me in the remake. And I was pleasantly surprised when I heard the jazzy take on the Sky Castle BGM. Shinichi Sakamoto did a great job modernizing the original music by Jin Watanabe and making it his own. And I promise you: you'll get the main theme of the game stuck in your head after playing for a few minutes. It just can't be helped! A nice little bonus included here is the option to use the original BGM instead, which you can turn on or off in the settings.
A couple of other audio details worth mentioning are the sound effects which stay true to the original and the series as whole and the voices. The characters are now voiced and in some instances you even get full Japanese dialogues instead of just random noises. This adds a nice little touch to the overall experience.
As for the story, no changes here. It's not the greatest plot in the world but it isn't bad either. Monster World is being attacked by a great evil who imprisoned the four elemental spirits and once again a wonder boy, or in this case, wonder girl, must rescue them thus saving monster world from its doom. Nothing to write home about but some of the dialogues are funny just like they were in the original and I do love the genie. All in all, it's very true to the original, although, the palace cooks are now ducks? OK...
So overall, what are my thoughts on Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World? I love it. It's beautiful, I love the cell-shaded feel to it, it plays well and the music is great. I really like Monster World IV so there's really not much to dislike in this remake as a fan of the original. That said, we need to be fair here. If you're not a hardcore fan of the original or the Wonder Boy series in general, you're probably better off waiting for a price drop all things considered. I do consider the game to be overpriced for what it offers to the general audience. It's being sold right now for around 40 euro or dollars and around 30-35 pounds. Granted, the physical version includes both Monster World IV and Asha in Monster World, but considering we're talking about a 27-year old game in the case of the original, it's debatable whether the two combined are worth the current price of admission. And that, along with the lack of a significant challenge and how short it ends up being, are my only significant gripes with this game. As a fan of the original, though, I truly enjoyed my time in Monster World with Asha and Pepelogoo and I found myself just smiling at some of the details included in this remake. If, like me, you're a fan, you can't go wrong with Ryuichi Nichizawa's Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World.