Read Time – 15 Mins
Welcome to Monster World!
I was super excited when the teaser trailer for Asha in Monster World dropped; I had coincidentally just replayed through Monster World IV on the Sega Genesis and the nostalgia for the Wonder Boy franchise in general was on high. I originally found out about Monster World IV due to the Wii Virtual Console when it released in the US finally translated in 2012. That same version was what I had just played through on original hardware thanks to the wonderful magic that is Everdrives.
Those first trailers got a lot of backlash, while some was typical “gamer” rage–I’m not a huge fan of the art style but I don’t see the point in getting actually angry about it–there were some reasons to be concerned. There were some frame rate issues and some of the assets seemed a bit too unpolished; I got some Mighty No. 9 vibes from it. At that point in time I had some concerns that due to those issues it wasn’t getting anything near the love the previous Wonder Boy revivals got (the Wonder Boy III remake and the new Monster Boy games were sublime) and was going to be closer to the remakes of the original Wonder Boy; which depending on the version is either pretty rough or not bad but not really great either. But I had high hopes so I went ahead and grabbed a pre-order, twice actually.
So yes Asha in Monster World is a remake of what was once called Monster World IV. By the time Westone got to this game the naming convention of the Wonder Boy series was already one of the most confusing things about the entire series. MWIV followed two different games called Wonder Boy III and Wonder Boy in Monster World–which was then the fourth game in the series. Well really it was the fifth and should not be confused with Wonder Boy in Monster Land the second of the series. Well, wait if the Monster World title was only used one game back…this should be Monster World II not IV right? To make things even better ININ Games / Studio Artdink decided to make this even more confusing by calling this remake Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World.
The same, but also different.
Asha in Monster World follows the exact same story as Monster World IV, no changes to any of the story beats or the cutscenes (well outside of the art style/graphics of course). Or at least I should say, none that I noticed, I have not at this time gone back to do a side by side and my mediocre memory is only getting worse with age. But basically things happen like this; Asha is a young girl preparing to become a warrior by going through a traditional trial. On the day of her trial she hears voices in the wind asking for help, but we don’t have time for that, so after saying her goodbyes she sets off on her journey to complete that initial trial. Of course nothing is ever as simple as that and after successfully becoming a warrior she is asked to meet the Queen which begins a chain of events that has you saving the entire world.
This story does actually directly follow Wonder Boy in Monster World and has several clues that Asha, the places you visit, and the events unfolding are connected to the hero(s) from previous Wonder Boy games. This isn’t the first game to do that but it is a bit odd when you consider all the changes in not only the gameplay and style but also the thematic changes from a more traditional fantasy setting to something much more middle-east in origin. None of that is really a problem but it its just another layer of confusion in a series that already feels oddly disconnected at times.
Asha in Monster World (and the original version) is a departure from the gameplay up until that point–again something that has happened more than once in the series–but even from Wonder Boy in Monster World there are big differences in the mechanics. Asha not only just moves quicker but there is even a run function! You also have the ability to swing your sword in more directions, even while jumping, and that jump has a much more familiar feel like a common adventure or platforming title. Wonder Boy’s typically slower and more stiff style (in reference to everything after the original) was something to adjust to but it definitely made you rely on “level progression” of making sure you did a little grinding or completed some secondary task to be able to have the best weapons and powers you could. Asha still needs that progression–you should be sure to grab every coin and find all the hidden chests of gold as new weapons and armor are required for every stage. But, Asha’s more agile move set helps get around some of that requirement. You’ll also need to be on the hunt for life drops– these collectibles are basically the same as any heart piece or heart container in other games, find a certain number of them and you’ll gain a heart on your life bar.
Early on you’ll also find yourself with a little companion called a Pepelogoo. This cute little floating blue ball adds more abilities to Asha as well as having some unique abilities of their own. The Pepelogoo even has a progression system, but this is tied to the story and you need to visit the large tree on the left side of town to feed them a pepe fruit. The blue Pepe helps Asha double jump, float across gaps, flip switches, can become a platform, and even find hidden doors. Interestingly each interaction with the Pepe fruit causes Pepelogoo to grow larger and you’ll have to rethink how to use some of the base moves. For example when Pepe becomes too heavy for Asha to move you’ll need to rethink your jumps.
The game is completely linear–you’ll have to go through each level, the dungeon within, and defeat the boss to have the option to go to the next one. The previous two games weren’t exactly fully open RPGs but you had the option to do a few things in a mixed order and would need to return to past areas after unlocking certain abilities or equipment. Here you have a few hidden rooms within each level section and definitely plenty of maze like progression but you don’t get to make any real decisions about how you traverse the game world.
Asha begins the journey with the trial at the Tower of Silence, which this “dungeon” sets up what to expect for the entire game. A bit of a back and forth in a single setting with some newly introduced enemies, mechanics/environmental hazards, and maybe a boss or two. Once you complete that you’re introduced to a genie that doesn’t really help you much–mostly there for a little comedy and to transport you out of the level back to the central hub. This is the cycle of the game once you speak to the Queen, you’ll get a medallion to unlock the door to the next area, fight the boss, and the genie takes you back. You’ll visit four other areas once you get past the initial trial; Handera Volcano, Stream Sanctuary, Ice Pyramid, and Sky Castle. You’ll visit these sections in order after picking up each medallion and once you fight the evil Wizard in each level you’ll release the trapped spirt–Earth, Water, Ice and Cloud. There is a fifth end game area too which is the most straight forward section of the game, basically a gauntlet before the big final boss fight. Originally you could only visit these levels once; if you missed any collectibles along the way you can never go back for them; in the remake this is changed and you can go back if you feel the need. I never used this feature in the remake, there are a few well hidden items in the game and you always need more money but I was able to get through the game just fine without always needing to grind like that and make sure I got everything.
That central hub is Rapadagna City–this is where the palace and Queen is, shops and merchants, the Pepe fruit tree, and various other side quests and locations. There is some exploration here but plenty is locked down based on where you are in the story or the form of Pepelogoo. This area is probably one of the biggest changes from the original game, though I don’t think it was needed or that successful. The city has basically been reorganized, both condensing it and expanding it. Originally it was more a flat plane as it was a strictly 2D title with areas like the tree as separate areas entirely. Now, it is treated like one big area with some transition spots and depth added to go behind buildings to access other areas.
This is probably a good time to mention another big change in the remake–saving your progress. At the tower of silence you’ll run into the Sage which will allow you to save the progress of your game. From there the sage will always be at Rapadagna village as well as peppered through out each level, sometimes off the beaten path and sometimes right before a dangerous section. In the remake you can now save any time you want via the menu; so the sage isn’t really needed. But, they kept them in for not only story beats but in the same locations you could find them in the original. This is useful as not only does the sage still give you hints but it its a good indication that you may want to save if you haven’t in a while.
I can’t really confirm it, but I also felt like the difficulty was changed for the remake. Maybe I was just playing better this time through, maybe it was the comfort of being able to save whenever I wanted, but I don’t remember breezing through the original Genesis version nearly as easily at any time. There is another addition in the remake that may also be the cause, the magical hit. Asha now has a secondary attack that charges over time and when full you release a super strong attack–I can’t say I found myself using it all the time and in fact I forgot about it a lot but that isn’t to say it didn’t help several times. That is not to say this is an easy game, far from it, but don’t come in expecting anything brutal either. If you’re a fan of and excel at the action-adventure titles like this, you’ll be right at home.
Okay, let’s wrap this up.
Overall the game is a pretty faithful remake of the original with just a few quality of life improvements. If you go in expecting that, and wanting that, you’re going to be trilled. If you’re hoping for a really polished game with the exact same care and attention the Wonder Boy III remake or the Monster Boy game got, you might be disappointed but only slightly.
I’m not a big fan of the art style or the graphic work really at all. I don’t hate them, and they aren’t bad exactly–I just wasn’t wowed. Plus, things are just kind of rough and unpolished here and there and maybe just a little bland on occasion. Not every game needs to blow me away in the art department though so I barely call this a negative. There weren’t any glitches, I don’t recall any screen tearing, and the frame rate was pretty steady; and I was playing on a Nintendo Switch. So, things did seem a little improved from the initial teaser trailer so maybe all those raged out gamers won’t be so angry now.
Music was fantastic and I appreciated the updates to the soundtrack without trying to change things. The Wonder Boy/Monster Land series has always had pretty stellar music and staying as true to that as possible is really what any fan would want here–newcomers won’t be disappointed either. Changes to the story presentation, such as new cutscenes, were good too and honestly none of them felt forced or got in the way which is all I can ask for here. Really even with the rough edges once everything comes together the presentation is perfectly fine.
There are two big issues I had with the game, get ready for these. First off, the controls were not updated at all; I still have to double tap the D-Pad to run which is always terrible. There are so many extra buttons on a controller now, holding down Y to run would have been just so much better. Secondly there was no update to the money system and money was a big issue to me in the original. See, since there is less back and forth and exploration in this game you have an almost set amount of money you can collect per level and it is not enough to get you the best gear. By the end you typically need to go through the final gauntlet twice–The first time to get all the gold, go back with the Genie and buy the best armor, then a second time to beat the game. This is the worst kind of padding and it should have been updated for this version.
But those crazy complaints are it! A physical copy runs $39.99 and comes with a copy of the original game. So, you can play the new one then relive the classic or play the original and then compare the remake; it is pretty cool that they did that. It is a remake of very niche title in a bit of a niche series and then at a discount; so all things considered this is a fantastic release. So yeah, with all of that said I am very happy with the game and I expect if you go in just looking to have a fun time with a classic styled action-adventure title you will not be disappointed.