Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World Review
Developer: Monkey Craft, Studio Artdink | Publisher: ININ Games, G Choice | Genre: Action-RPG | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
It is always a delight to be introduced to a game in a series, only to discover that game is actually part of a long-running franchise. Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World is one such game. A remake of Monster World IV, a game originally released on the Sega Mega Drive and later on the Wii Virtual Console, Asha In Monster World will likely be an entry point for many into the Wonder Boy/ Monster World series. A gorgeous game by any metric, this 2D action-platformer pays tribute to the past while folding in modern design choices. It may be fairly linear, but this short ride is a joyous and exuberant one.
Bringing the Band Back Together
As a publisher, Sega has one of gaming’s deepest benches, something that is easy to forget in light of some current Sega offerings. The Wonder Boy franchise had its start in Japanese arcades, but it gained an ardent following of fans over the years as ports were made for consoles. Asha In Monster World continues the recent trend of remaking classic titles for modern systems but goes a few steps further than remaking an older game with shinier graphics. In fact, Asha In Monster World was helmed by series creator Ryuichi Nishizawa and other members of Westone Bit Entertainment, the original team behind the classic games stretching as far back as 1986.
Simply because staff that worked on earlier titles in the series returned for this game does not mean that Asha In Monster World is automatically entertaining. Misfires like Mighty No. 9 and other casualties of the Kickstarter renaissance show that attaching big names to revitalized franchises is far from a sure sign of success. But that is hardly the case here. Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World feels like the creators had a hand in translating their original vision into a modern classic, and the result is a refreshing take on an older title.
The plot of Asha In Monster World feels timeless in a way that some older platformers do not. There is no damsel-in-distress to rescue, though there are four magical MacGuffins to collect. Due to the absence of four guardian spirits, the world is being overrun with monsters and people are becoming more and more complacent with the danger. As the adventure goes on, the inhabitants of the town of Rapadagna grow unhappy and disoriented, due to an expanding evil influence. Only Asha, with the help of an adorable blue creature called a Pepelogoo, can save the guardian spirits and restore safety and happiness to the land.
What carries Asha In Monster World is the strength of its fundamentals. The original 16-bit game was already solid; this modern version amps up accessibility but retains the charm and vivacity of the original. Fantastic character and enemy designs by Maki Ozora are utterly charming, though some players may prefer the 2D sprites of the original game over these 3D models. Comparing the two games side-by-side, as players who purchase a physical version of this game will be able to do, it is clear to see just how much homage is being paid to the original release. Similar to how the Nintendo Switch remake of The Legend of Zeld: Link’s Awakening managed to keep the original spirit of the Game Boy classic intact, Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World shows that remakes have just as much of a right to players’ time as the latest and greatest.
Short, Sweet, and Accessible
Of course, every time an older title gets revisited, there are pain points to be addressed. Asha In Monster World manages to smooth over some bumps and cracks with modern design features. By adding a dedicated save system, the ability to replay levels, and difficulty options, this game becomes even easier to fall in love with.
After a short tutorial stage, Asha arrives in the main hub town. Here, she’s able to purchase new equipment and chat with townspeople. Rapadagna is a bustling town that is fun to explore, packed as it is with secrets and health upgrades. Soon enough, Asha is able to proceed with her main quest: rescuing the four guardian spirits. She does this by proceeding through four main stages where she’ll jump and battle her way through unique platforming challenges until confronting the boss of that area. Each stage has its own gimmicks and enemies to grapple with, and the novelty is kept up with to the very end of the game.
Controlling Asha is a delight. She moves and attacks quickly, and can even defend herself with a shield. Within an hour or so she has access to every move that will carry her through the credits, thanks to her magical blue companion. The Pepelogoo is like a cross between the iconic Dragon Quest slime and Kirby, a flying blue ball that can be used to collect items, glide, and double jump. Bonding with Pepelogoo is easy, and using them to solve puzzles feels intuitive. In fact, Asha In Monster World is a fairly straightforward experience. While every level has labyrinthine elements, they aren’t so mazelike that progression feels like a slog. Though there is occasional tedious backtracking, particularly in the Stream Sanctuary and Ice Pyramid levels, players will never be at a loss to what to do next.
Solving puzzles and executing platforming challenges feels challenging but never insurmountable. This is a forgiving game, made even more so with the ability to save anywhere instead of at specific save points. Enemies are fairly easy to dispatch and Asha always has plenty of hearts to spare, assuming the player remembers to purchase new equipment in between levels and collect as many life droplets as possible. One of the loading screen tips makes a point to note that enemies will never do more than one heart’s worth of damage per hit, giving combat a certain level of useful predictability.
Unlike the original version, players can replay levels as they see fit (at least before a certain story beat occurs that limits Asha’s mobility), making it that much simpler to farm gold or collect missed items. The entire experience is zippy and exciting, propelling players forward to different areas and battles. Each stage has at least one miniboss and often a multi-phase final boss encounter, which all have just the right amount of difficulty. Provided the player has a few healing items stocked in their inventory, Asha In Monster World is easy to blast all the way through in just a few sittings.
Plenty to Savor
Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World has only four main levels, give or take a grueling combat-filled final gauntlet. But this brevity works in its favor. It is incredibly satisfying to power through every stage, and the short runtime ensures that Asha and company never overstay their welcome. This is a title proud of its history, made by a group of developers eager to show their world what they’ve been missing. While future entries in the Wonder Body/ Monster World series are far from assured (what is, in the turbulent world of game development?), some end-screen dialogue by the Spirit of the Lamp seems to indicate that its developers would be open to the idea.
Some classics are lost to time or simply impossible to play on modern consoles. Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World is the rare remake that feels justified. Not only is the original game now easier to access, this remake stands tall all on its own. Its gorgeous character art and tight gameplay prove that fundamentals never go out of style.