You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. While it was originally released for the Mega Drive under the name Monster World IV back in 1994, it wasn’t seen outside Japan until 2012. Even then, it formed part of the Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World rather than a standalone game. Almost 30 years later, here we are with a beautifully remastered version of Monster World IV led by the creator of the series – Ryuichi Nishizawa.
In some ways, the initial move away from the Wonder Boy title that branded the other games in the series made a lot of sense as the game actually focuses on a young girl named Asha rather than the male protagonists that dominate the rest of the series. Reverting back to the Wonder Boy brand for this remake does, however, create a sense of uniformity, making the game feel more like a part of a wider universe than a standalone game.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is much more than a re-worked title though. Treating the original game’s old school graphics to a fresh coat of paint with bright, cutesy 2.5D visuals allows us to experience the city of Rapadagna like never before, with added cutscenes and all-new character voices. It’s just a shame that there wasn’t more to explore – there were very few instances in which you could divert from the side-scrolling nature of the majority of the game, but you could easily argue that would have been too big a change from the original.
After claiming to hear distant cries for help, Asha, a young woman from Estafan Village, is determined to become a warrior. Bidding farewell to her home, village and family, she sets off to the city of Rapadagna, which will become your place of respite between stints of dungeon-crawling and monster-bashing. After meeting with the Queen of Rapadagna, Asha is quickly and surprisingly easily granted the title of warrior and asked to embark on a dangerous quest to rescue the four spirits that watch over Monster Land from the clutches of evil – it’s all very noble.
Thus begins Asha’s quest to free the spirits before ruin befalls Monster World – she’s not alone though. Early on she meets the Lamp Spirit who will fulfil the common fast-travel mechanism many RPGs employ, albeit sarcastically. She also comes into the possession of a Pepelogoo – a species of popular, flying creatures that everyone in Rapadagna seems to be raving about.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is classified as an action-adventure, platforming RPG, though the RPG elements aren’t as prominent as in the previous games in the series. Combat is undeniably featured heavily throughout the game, but it’s mixed nicely with the platforming and puzzle solving aspects that make up the majority of the game, showing that our protagonist is just as capable of using her brain as she is her blade.
The dungeons are expansive, if a little repetitive. With multiple steps to take and puzzles to solve before you can proceed, you’ll spend a fair bit of time backtracking before you can move forward. The bosses you find within them are uniquely designed and feature multiple stages, so be ready for that dreaded final form to appear right after you thought you were in the clear.
The combat is simple enough and hasn’t changed much from the original Monster World IV. Asha wields a sword and shield and wears a protective bangle – these can be upgraded through purchases from the handful of vendors in Rapadagna – and attacks in the typical hack-and-slash fashion with the addition of a powered up attack that can be unleashed after a set number of successful attacks fills up the power bar. Much like your equipment, Asha’s health can also be upgraded through the use of blue crystal fragments that can be found throughout the game. Collect ten of them, and you’ll gain an extra heart – something that becomes invaluable when it comes to the boss fights.
This is one of the main areas in which the remaster differs from the original. There’s the option to make it easier. When starting the game, you’re faced with the choice of playing a difficulty reminiscent of the original or selecting easy mode where lives and curatives are easier to come across. You can also save pretty much whenever you want rather than having to wait until you come across the Sage of Save which, again, makes the game a lot easier than the original, even on the harder difficulty – unfortunately the updated save mechanism doesn’t extend to an auto-save function.
I mentioned your Pepelogoo earlier, and during your journey, what initially appears to be little more than a cute gimmick proves itself to be incredibly useful. When you’re down in a dungeon, your Pepelogoo will be vital in your puzzle solving, allowing you to double jump when holding onto it and even, rather sadistically, throw it at small fires to extinguish them.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a fresh take on what can be considered an overlooked classic. With a cutesy design and enjoyable gameplay, it’s a game with a whole lot of charm, and if you opt for the physical edition of the game, you’ll get a nice freebie in the form of the original Monster World IV. This comes as a download for PS4 and on the cartridge for the Nintendo Switch.
As someone who had never played the original, I enjoyed comparing the two. It gave me a much greater appreciation of just how much has been put into making Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World feel fresh and modern while remaining true to the essence of the original, right down to Asha’s little wiggle whenever she opens a chest. It’s a small detail, but sometimes the smallest details have the biggest impact.
If you’re a fan of the original series or of just cutesy platformers with RPG elements in general, it’s definitely worth checking out.
Developer: Monkey Craft
Publisher: Studioartdink, ININ Games
Platforms: PS4, Switch, PC
Release Date: 28th May 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World was provided by the publisher.