Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is the latest entry in the long running Wonder Boy series that dates back to 1986 and has seen at least ten different entries (including remakes) across a number of platforms. The original Wonder Boy began as an arcade game and the series has since evolved into a more platforming action-adventure fare.
I’m ashamed to admit that I knew little about the series prior to this release. That’s likely because up to this point, the games have predominantly been released and marketed in Japan; indeed the game this is a remake of, Monster World IV, was released on the Sega Genesis back in 1994 in Japan only.
Confusingly, the series has interchanged the words ‘Wonder’, ‘Boy’ and ‘Monster’ in various different ways throughout the years. What began as Wonder Boy then evolved into Monster World, and the most recent original entry in the series was called Monster Boy… Keeping up with all this? Anyway, Switchaboo gave 2018’s Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom 98% and, to this day, is our third highest rated game in our four year history, so I’m intrigued to see how this compares.
As previously mentioned, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World can best be described as a platforming action-adventure with some barely-there RPG elements. You play as Asha who has all of the basic abilities that you would expect in a platformer; she can jump, attack with her sword and also defend with her shield. Things become a bit more interesting when her sidekick, Pepelogoo, is introduced after approximately 30 minutes of gameplay. Pepelogoo looks a bit like a small Kirby i.e. a blob with eyes and small arms/wings and is a recognisable icon of the franchise. Asha is only able to do a single jump unless you summon Pepelogoo to help, at which point, you are then able to double jump and glide. Pepelogoo can also be thrown about in various directions (poor Pepelogoo) to activate switches; Asha also holds her little companion above her head like a helmet to protect her from falling lava. I would say no Pepelogoos were harmed in the making of this video game but that is clearly not the case.
Asha’s health is denoted by hearts; you begin with three but can collect life drops which are hidden throughout the game. For every ten life drops you collect, you get an extra blue heart that appears below the three pink ones you start with. I don’t really understand why they didn’t just add the extra hearts alongside the three that you start with because the blue ones seem to act in exactly the same way. There are a total of 200 life drops in the game; some can be found in the hub world (more on this later) and some can be found within the individual dungeons/temples. You can also collect coins which can be used to buy stronger swords, shields and elixirs. The elixirs can be used to replenish hearts and, as well as being bought, can also be found in treasure chests throughout your adventure.
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A word of warning on this game, and something that I found massively frustrating, there are NO checkpoints and there are NO auto-saves whatsoever; so if you don’t get into the habit of manually saving every five minutes, you can end up doing what I did and die after about 45 minutes of gameplay that was effectively flushed down the toilet. Yes, you could say that was my fault, but I haven’t played a game with no auto-save feature for years! I think I understand why the developers did this (and I’m cutting them some slack here); in any given dungeon/temple, you progress through it like a traditional level and by that, I mean you fall down holes and pits which you are then unable to scale again. It’s not like a dungeon in a Zelda game where the whole area is interconnected; once you pass certain areas in the dungeons/temples, you cannot backtrack unless you start all over again, so if you are planning to 100% this game and you miss a life drop for example, it is hugely frustrating. So I THINK the constant encouragement to manually save is there so that you don’t miss anything i.e. if you miss a life drop it’s fine because you can just reload your last save that you (hopefully) did a few minutes ago. That’s my understanding of it anyway…
There is a hub world called Rapadagna where you can interact with various NPCs and buy upgrades from shops. From there, you can access each of the four temples one by one once you receive the relevant access token. At the end of each temple, you defeat a boss (as well as a mini-boss on the way) before returning to Rapadagna. Each temple is pretty long, which is another slightly disappointing element for me. I would have very much preferred if there were eight smaller temples rather than four bigger ones because each temple is quite repetitive within itself. For example the first temple, which is earth themed, is full of dark muddy-looking rooms and tunnels and once you’ve seen one muddy tunnel, you’ve seen them all. More variety but smaller locations would have gone a long way to breaking up the gameplay. I appreciate this is a remake of a game from 1994 and four temples was probably perfectly acceptable back then, but it feels dated now.
Story / Personality
I feel like I’ve been harsh on Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World up to this point because I did actually really enjoy the experience. It’s cutesy and colourful as you’d expect and I love it for that. Asha and Pepelogoo are very likeable, as are the various side characters such as Purapril XIII (a princess you are helping on your adventure). I understand that Purapril featured in the earlier games in the series and Purapril XIII is one of their descendants... The plot is not really explained in any great detail but it’s basically good vs evil with an underdog protagonist (aren’t they all these days?).
Graphics / Sound Design
I once played Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on the Nintendo 64 for about eight hours straight in the late 90s and it gave me a horrendous migraine and while Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World has a very similar aesthetic, it is a lot kinder on the senses. The art style is beautiful and charming to look at, the backgrounds are detailed and the music is catchy and cartoony.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World absolutely ticks the box in terms of graphics that you would expect from a remake. It’s faithful to the original but also upgraded to a more than adequate level for 2021.
Final Score: 74%
So it’s not quite 98% but I feel that as it’s a remake of a game released in 1994, its scope is somewhat limited and had it been an original title, things would have been very different. Let me put it this way; having never played a game from this series before, I am now compelled to check them all out. This is a very good game; sure it has some significant annoyances (did I mention the lack of auto-save?) but if you play it properly and diligently, this is a real treat.
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