Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of Monster World IV that was first released in 1994 on the Mega drive. It was the sixth and final game of the classic Wonder Boy series. After recently playing 2018’s exceptional Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, I was hoping fora new title in the franchise instead of another remake. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom had a big world; with Metroidvania style tools and upgrades to encourage adventure and exploration. Asha in Monster World, on the other hand, is a more old school platformer with labyrinthine levels and areas that can’t all be backtracked as the game progresses. Both games feature incredible hand drawn artwork brought to life by beautiful animation, but as a remake of a Sega Mega drive title, Asha’s age is showing.

Starting off with a Star Wars styled scrolling wall of text, we learn that the spirits have lost their power and darkness is consuming the land. A nefarious eyeball has assembled evil mages to trap the spirits so that monsters can roam free and cause havoc. Hearing of the land’s plight by listening to the windand getting a gut feeling she should go help, Asha is sent away by her town to go on a heroic journey. That journey begins after only a few small tips and some encouraging words from the townsfolk.

From the moment you get control of Asha, you can feel the rigidity that often comes from remadeclassic 2D games. Because of this, I thought there would probably be a graphic toggle button to swap between the old and new look, but surprisingly there wasn’t. I watched some footage of the original game and found that this remake had quite a few advancements in the level design department. Movement between foreground and background, often through doors, is done seamlessly instead of going to a black screen. In some cases you can walk up hallways to change planes, giving you the feeling of moving through the environment instead of just going left and right. It radically changed the main hub (which includes the city and castle) for the better.

Controls are very simple. You can jump, swing your sword, and block with your shield. A few upgrades can be purchased throughout the game to increase sword damage, heart count, and shield’s blocked element; with nothing but healing items to be found in the field. Your inventory screen breaks down what you have equipped, and offers quick access to using consumables if required. My first ten minutes of the game had me really worried, as the walking speed was a little too slow and the game made no mention of a dash or run mechanic. Imagine my surprise when I DOUBLE TAPPED right and began to jog in that direction. I’m unsure why there is no mention of quick movement anywhere, but my enjoyment of the game increased dramatically once I was able to hustle at acceptable speeds.

Another component of the controls unlocks sometime after finishing the tutorial dungeon. You find yourself a floating blue pet called Pepelogoo. Holding down the “call” button, your friend will come to you and be held above your head. This gives Asha the ability to toss her friend to solve puzzles, slowly float to the ground when falling, and allows for a double jump. Having to call your pet every time you need to double jump doesn’t feel natural, but definitely worked well with the game’s design. At different points of the story, not having your Pepelogoo highly impacted your play style and made for interesting gameplay. With all of this said, after a few hours of what originally felt like rigidcontrols ended up feeling tight and reliable.

Outside of your Pepelogoo, game play does not have a lot of variety throughout the 4 to 6 hour adventure. Some dungeons are large and sprawling, with such a similar look to them that it is easy to get disoriented. Puzzles are sprinkled in here and there, and were a welcome distraction to combat. A large variety of enemies keeps each zone fresh. Foes do not respawn, making it obvious when you’re lost and retracing your steps, or breaking new ground. The music in each area is upbeat and catchy. The only issue with the soundtrack is that each song isn’t very long, and wandering in a dungeon makes this shortcoming very obvious.

Graphically, Asha in Monster World slides between impressive and mediocre. The hand drawn character art has been translated to 3D expertly, while some of the floating platforms and small details do not fit the style of the game whatsoever. Every region feels graphically unique and kept my interest throughout my entire playthrough.

I can’t forget to mention the save system. Most importantly, there is no auto save. Without going into the menu and manually choosing one of the twelve save slots to record your progress, nothing is backed up. My last session playing the game was played all at once, leaving me with a save file two hours from the end of the game after credits rolled. Saving being buried in the menu instead of at the town’s main healing shrine (or having an auto save of some kind) is an example of the game’s inherited design decisions hurting the modern player’s experience. Overall, I went into Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World a little worried. I was hoping for advancement in the series because of my love for Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, not a remake. However, with its joyful soundtrack, beautiful art, and charming world… Asha in Monster World had my interest in spite of its flaws. This game feels retro, but still has lots of entertainment value and a ton of heart.

~~Ian Voegtle~~

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