Introducing Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review
Very early on in the Switch’s life, I was picking up games with carefree abandon. Yes dear reader, there was a time where I actually owned every game on the eShop! One of the titles was a remake of the Wonder Boy series. This was a title I vaguely remembered playing when the Master System was a thing but had forgotten about. Now in 2021 the original design team behind Monster World IV (originally unreleased outside Japan) have restored the title. Now the big question is, can Asha still save the world or is this title worth skipping? Find out in our review of Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World.
Stop the Cataclysm
The plot of “Asha” hasn’t changed from the original. Travel to 4 realms and traverse their dungeons to collect the spirits trapped within. Doing so will allow her to prevent the cataclysm that is prophesied to befall the world. Each dungeon has, as expected, it’s own unique style. With a variety of puzzles, platforms and perils to prevent you achieving your goal.
In order to help Asha on her quest she can collect gold and life drops. Accumulating gold has the obvious benefit of being traded for goods. Asha can upgrade her sword and shield to either deal more damage or to protect against certain magical attacks. For example, the fire shield is effective against fire attacks whereas Khan’s sword can increase attack power and do so with fewer charges. There are also vending machines throughout dungeons usually selling health items and a vendor selling bracelets which can increase the number of hearts. Life drops increase the number of “additional” hearts that Asha can carry on her adventures once 10 have been collected.
Prepare for Trouble… Yes it’s Double (jumps that is)
The game is first and foremost an adventure platformer. The controls are incredibly simple to pick up, with most interactions in the level being Asha swinging her sword. There is the ability to slash upwards and downwards mid air which makes for some interesting attacks, but quickly on, the game encounters its first issue. The down button is used to activate Asha’s shield of choice, which is also mapped to the shoulder buttons. This would be fine, but there is no crouch function which makes attacking some enemies more difficult.
Very early on you collect your Pepelogoo. Which is your blue companion who has the ability to assist you in a wide range of platforming elements. These include things such as protecting you from fireballs and allowing you to stand on them while riding a erupting lava flow. Another key feature of Pepelogoo is enabling your double jump. A staple of the platforming genre and one in which players are more than familiar with. So why all the trouble?
The double jump depends on you holding Pepelogoo. Which in itself would be fine, but each time you want to use it, you have to call Pepelogoo by holding the relevant shoulder button until they reach you. This quickly becomes irritating and in a world where players are used to simply pressing jump twice, could have been avoided.
Each dungeon area has a very slight metroidvania feel to them. Granted we are talking about the “lemon and herb” in the “just made up scale of metroidvania-ness”. But some areas will require backtracking and gathering keys in order to open up later areas. Eventually ending in either a mini or full boss battle.
Boss fights are fairly generic. Work out pattern A, deal some damage, switch to pattern B and repeat. This makes for fun gameplay as you learn the habits and how best to exploit them. Health items are not massively available during boss fights so ensuring you have enough elixirs is a must! These and other items are found in chests, though opening chests comes with a blatant attempt at a Shantae-esque sassy wiggle which you are unable to skip through. I can safely say I was bored of this after the first opening.
The game does not rely on auto-save. This is a huge missed opportunity with a modern platformer and while it has some niche benefits, it is one that created a few issues during play through. I am rarely a player who will endure playing through the same, difficult, section of a level even if the reason is because I wasn’t clever enough to save often. Whilst this is easy enough to do, it is just as easy to get caught up in the adventure enough to forget to do it often enough, causing huge swathes of the game to have to be repeated.
The game employs a 2.5D style with 3D character assets in the now popular cel shading art style. This creates some fun interactions with the world, particularly the hub town of Rapadagna. In this area, the art style would normally be a huge selling point. But when you look at similar titles in the now revamped series it honestly feels like more could, and should have been done here. That said, on its own, the bright colours and and almost “Ghibli-esque” design imitates the original 16-bit graphics well and stays true to the original.
One area the remaster has done well at is the cut scenes. These take advantage of the new art style to create a pleasant addition to the game. Giving the player both a little exposition and an enjoyable segue into the next section of the game.
The music has been redesigned for “Asha” and for the most part, it does well. Levels have their own feel to them, even if they don’t always get the tone quite right and there are a few rare incidences of noticeable repetition, usually in longer areas, which can make the tracks feel a bit “Musak-like”. There is plenty of relevant sound effects interjected with Asha and other npc’s using their cheery voices to break up the soundtrack at times.
The game plays well both in handheld and in docked mode with just one minor framerate drop that was noticeable. Upon receiving lots of coins from a collection of slimes, I encountered a significant drop which was repeated whenever large bundles of coins were released from other areas, such as chests. But other than that the game ran well.
But Wait, There’s More
It’s important to note that the version reviewed was the digital one. Now while that usually doesn’t make a difference, there is an important distinction to make with the physical one. Buying the physical copy of “Asha” also gives you a copy of the original, albeit translated, Monster World IV game. This is clearly a nice addition, but one I was unable to comment on.
Whilst a nice edition. It feels a bit of a kick in the teeth to fans who want an all digital library for a variety of reasons. When you add in the economics of the different versions as well, it is perfectly feasible to pick up a cheaper copy of the game while also getting bonus content. Fans really should look at the physical release before comitting to a purchase.
“Asha” is a fantastic attempt at updating an original title and keeping it true to its roots. The biggest problem is that it has tried too hard to stay true to the original. In maintaining a lot of the original 16-bit mechanics I feel the developers have shot themselves in the foot a little. There are too many mechanics that have had more functional upgrades in the last few years to make issues like this a thing of the past. I genuinely feel however, that if these had been addressed earlier on, then the game would be achieving a much higher rating.
Again, when taking all this in context, the game as a whole just doesn’t do enough to make it stand out from others. Nor does the price truly justify a digital purchase of the game. If you are looking to round of a collection of great Wonder Boy titles, then this is for you. But if you are looking for a title to get you into the franchise, there are others around the same, or cheaper, price points that do more with the franchise.
- Accurate retelling of the original 16-bit adventure
- Simple controls make it easy to pick up and play
- Colourful almost ghibli-esque aesthetic with updated cut scenes
- Outdated mechanics haven’t been given a quality of life improvement
- Huge shame that digital fans miss out on seeing the original game
- Doesn’t do enough to set it apart from other remakes in the series