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Originally released in 1994, the Mega Drive-exclusive action-platformer Monster World IV was actually the sixth title in Westone's Wonder Boy series. A Japanese exclusive for much of its existence, the game finally received an English translation in 2012 when it launched on Nintendo's Virtual Console service. Wonder Boy - Asha In Monster World goes further still, offering a complete remake of the game that many Western SEGA fans only played on SEGA hardware when it was included in the Mega Drive Mini.
A franchise that covered arcade releases as well as 8- and 16-bit consoles, and arguably peaked with 1989's Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap on the Master System, Wonder Boy's had a deserved revival in recent years. The very-metroidvania-like The Dragon's Trap got a great remake in 2017 courtesy of Lizardcube, and the Game Atelier-developed Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom - an all-new title for the series - attracted plenty of acclaim in 2018. This new game feels like a halfway point between the two: a contemporary spin on a series entry that landed late in the 16-bit era, possessing gameplay that was refined enough to stand up to the test of time.
Check out the remake's trailer, below...
Asha In Monster World will feel familiar to anyone who dabbled in either modern title - or, indeed, the 1994 original. This is archetypal 16-bit fare, in terms of moment-to-moment play - jumping, fighting, chatting, buying. But the presentation's been substantially upped and quality of life improvements have been added that will really help newcomers feel at home.
What that means for this particular cult classic, revived for fresh audiences, is the option to save your game anywhere, and an 'easy' mode where the coins spilled by defeated enemies are drawn to the protagonist, Asha, saving her the trouble of leaping around to pocket them. Playing on 'easy' also sees Asha start with more hearts on her life bar, so if you're new to the sometimes very particular collision detection of Wonder Boy games, this might be the best place to start. Get used to its rhythms and you can switch over to normal and make effortless headway.
I've been playing with Asha In Monster World for a little while, a couple of hours of picking through a few dungeons, seeing how it feels in comparison to the 16-bit original - which is actually included as a welcome but unexpected extra, if you pick up the physical edition of this release. In terms of level layouts, there are some small differences, but whenever a certain item is needed to progress, or a boss is waiting to be disturbed, you'll find it where it should be. Enemy and NPC designs alike stay close to their roots, with Monster World IV's somewhat Middle-Eastern-mythology aesthetic remaining, making it stand out beside the more Western-orientated fantasy style of other Wonder Boy games like The Dragon's Trap and Cursed Kingdom.
Also unlike other Wonder Boy games, Asha In Monster World, like Monster World IV before it, gives you a companion - after a while, anyway, as you have to hatch them first. Asha's blue-coloured (a bad omen, apparently) Pepelogoo flies just behind her, using its ears, and can be used for double-jumps, to slow her falls, and has a few other abilities, too. Gear can be improved and swapped around on the fly - swords and shields, mainly - and this Artdink-developed remake turns the Sage of Save into a bit-part player, as speaking to the NPC is no longer required to save the game. The poor old soul, out of a job in this modern gaming age.
Again, I've only spent a little time with Wonder Boy - Asha In Monster World so far, so don't read these words as a review. But, so far, I'm having a great time with it. Being able to save anywhere is incredibly handy, and something I've been doing whenever I've passed a particularly tricky section. The 2.5D visuals are delightful, working excellently here (whereas the same approach did Secret of Mana no favours, back in 2018). The music isn't so rearranged as to be unrecognisable, and limited voice-over work - albeit Japanese only - really does lend personality to characters who only had their profiles and animations to work with, back in the 1990s.
Another change is that Asha can now revisit elemental-themed stages she's already completed - whereas in the past you were locked out once a boss was defeated. This is great for completionists, as there is a finite number of life drops across the game, and I know some of you will need to catch 'em all. But (so far!), Asha In Monster World is very much a remake first, and a reinvention second. Which is absolutely how older fans will have wanted it - and for players coming to the game for the first time, its intuitive mechanics and evergreen appeal ensure it's one that doesn't play like a game of the past, as this sort of experience has simply never been out of style.
Wonder Boy - Asha In Monster Land is released on May 28 2021 for PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch (version tested, copy provided by the publisher). Its digital version is published by Studio ArtDink, and its physical release, which includes the original Monster World IV game, by ININ Games.
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