One franchise that has seen a ton of love in the retro renaissance is Sega’s Wonder Boy series. Although the first game in the series was a bog standard side-scrolling platformer released in the arcades (and eventually everything but the kitchen sink) in 1986, the series branched into RPG territory starting with the very next entry- Wonder Boy in Monster Land. This was followed up by fan favorite Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Curse in 1989, which one could argue was a very early example of a Metroidvania thanks to its emphasis on exploration and mandatory backtracking. At the dawn of the 16 bit era, we would see three more entries in the series, the last of which remained a Japanese exclusive until 2012.
In a move not commonly seen in the early 90’s, Monster World IV saw players taking control of a green-haired woman by the name of Asha. Guided by voices pleading for help, she sets out on an epic adventure that leads her to the city of Rapadanga, where a queen officially grants her the title of “warrior” and tasks her with ridding the kingdom of (you guessed it) evil. You’re not alone on this journey, however. Early on in the adventure, you obtain an adorable floating pet known as a Pepelogoo (I’ll be calling him “Pepe” from here on out) who aids you in a variety of ways. While not my favorite entry in the series (more on why later), it’s still a definite hidden gem in the Genesis/Mega Drive library thanks to the undeniable charm of its world and characters.
Fast forward to 2021. Lizardcube had already knocked it out of the park with their revival of Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon’s Trap, practically setting a gold standard for how a retro remake should be done. An entirely new adventure known as Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom has taken cues from basically every entry in the series barring the original and even includes Pepe as a side character. It was only a matter of time before we would see Asha return, and that day has finally arrived in the form of Inin Games’ Asha in Monster World, which was released in late May for all major platforms. Does it successfully bring this obscure classic into the modern era, or does it fall short compared to the other endeavors? Grab a sword and some elixirs- we’re about to find out.
While the pixel art has been traded in for a 2.5D cel shaded aesthetic not unlike The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, very few deviations have been made on the storytelling or design front. This is, by and large, the same exact game from 1994 with all of its strengths and weaknesses. That being said, there are quite a few minor differences that, when added together, strengthen the overall experience whether you’ve already played the original or are diving in for the first time.
Returning players may notice that Asha moves just a bit faster than in the original, and I definitely appreciated this considering the source material already opted for snappier gameplay than its predecessors. In addition, the simplistic combat has been augmented by a new mechanic known as “Magical Hit”. Essentially, you’ll be able to charge up Asha’s sword by defeating enemies and unleash a devastating new attack. On one hand, this is a subtle but brilliant inclusion, especially for newer players who aren’t using a guide/unaware of the best equipment to purchase. On the other, there isn’t any “risk and reward” element involved to keep them (or returning players) on their toes. The “Magical Hit” meter doesn’t deplete if the player takes damage or refrains from combat, and I honestly think it should have.
In addition to these new features, there’s the to-be-expected modernized save system. In the original game, save points were sparse and spread out throughout the main dungeons. Here, the player is allowed to save whenever they’d like, but do keep in mind that it must be done manually (no auto saves for you!).
Perhaps the biggest overhaul to the overall game design is the ability to backtrack and search for life drops (think heart squids from Shantae- netting enough will permanently extend your vitality) in dungeons you’ve already conquered. Plus, there are now even more of them to find- 200 as opposed to the original game’s 150. You’re also given a tally per area, which helps to streamline the completion process. In the Mega Drive original, dungeons were sealed off indefinitely once you conquered their respective boss. This seriously conflicted with the exploration-based nature of the game and honestly felt like a step backwards considering previous entries in the series never pulled this. Both the ability to backtrack and having a proper in-game tally are highly welcome additions.
(A word to the wise- you still won’t be able to return to the very first tower in the game and there is still one point towards the endgame where you’ll lose a critical ability. Be sure to copy your save file right after conquering the Ice Pyramids if you’re a completionist or plan on coming back to get all of the drops later.)
Asha in Monster World is an enjoyable romp for a decent chunk of its 4-5 hour run time, but that’s not to say it’s without fault. If you were hoping the trio of Ice Pyramid dungeons would be any less mundane in this remake, you’re going to be disappointed. Although one of them does have some pretty nifty concepts at play (including freezing Pepe to use as a platform), they are by and far the most tedious and least engaging stages in the entire franchise. The corridors are lengthy, barren and samey. None of the enemies really put up a fight, either.
To add insult to injury, there are three of these dungeons to deal with and you can expect each to eat up about 10-20 minutes of play time. If there was one particular spot where Inin games should have taken some creative liberties on the level design front, it’s definitely here. Even as a purist, I wouldn’t have minded if this entire section of the game was completely revamped with more interesting puzzles and mechanics. (After all, the Megadrive original is included in physical retail copies of the game for those who enjoy running up and down a bunch of dull tunnels)
All said, the rest of the game is still as pleasant as it was several years ago. Asha herself is absolutely adorable as a character. It never gets old seeing her fumble about in front of a treasure chest and then expressing pure joy at whatever’s inside- even if it’s just a bucket of all things. The plot is somewhat simple, but there is just enough going on to keep you engaged and even throws in a few tearjerker moments for good measure. If you don’t mind its rather low difficulty and a bit of tedium mid-game, Asha in Monster World is worth looking into. It’s not the kind of game you’re likely to revisit after clearing it once, but it’s definitely something platform and action RPG fans should experience at least once in their lives.
>The game world and cast of characters are just as charming and adorable as they were in the original release.
>The tweaks and minor QOL improvements add up to make this the definitive version of the game- at least on the gameplay front.
>The original game is included on physical copies for contrast (the original soundtrack can also be toggled via a code)
>The Ice Pyramids are still a sore spot, and some liberties *seriously* should’ve been taken in this remake
>There isn’t much replayability beyond finding all of the life drops
Final Score: 7.5/10