As we continue to march towards the future of gaming, there is always value in looking back. The recent waves of remakes and remasters have enabled a new generation of gamers to enjoy classics, albeit mostly updated to suit present sensibilities. Developers Monkey Craft has attempted to do the same with Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, a remake of the 1994 16-bit platformer, Monster World IV, and the team has largely succeeded, even if it still retains some of those annoying retro quirks.
If you have not heard of the Wonder Boy/Monster World franchise, you are not going to be alone. While the series enjoyed great success in the arcades and Sega consoles back in the day, the original game never made it outside of Japan, until now. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World may continue the overall story in bits and pieces, but you most certainly can enjoy it without any prior knowledge of prior events.
Asha, our titular heroine, was born with a special gift. Being able to sense spirits, the distressed calls for help by four such spirits pushes Asha to embark on her latest adventure. Throughout the five to six-hour adventure, players will be fighting, jumping, and be immersed in the colourful worlds in Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. It is a straightforward affair of keeping things the same, even as the remake’s improvements in visuals definitely allow it to shine brighter.
That adherence to the classic formula is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you know exactly what you are signing up for with Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, but on the other, one cannot help but think of all the possibilities that could be with some updates.
Old Habits Die Hard
Take the controls, for instance, Asha is capable of attacking with her sword, use magic for additional, and utilise her shield. Her faithful companion, the Pepelogoo, can be thrown to platforms to seek out more items, push buttons, or climb inhospitable columns of lava. When you want to double jump, you can also use the Pepelogoo. The trouble is, you must grab onto its feet first, before attempting the second jump.
While most gamers would be used to the fact that you can simply double jump in most games by pressing the command twice, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World has included an extra button command for the process. It is not the smoothest of execution, especially by modern standards, and is a detriment to the enjoyment of the platformer.
This malaise extends to the other parts of the gameplay as well. When players are asked to backtrack and go through previously explored areas, there are usually good incentives to do so. Instead, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World relies on unengaging puzzles and time-wasting memorisation that feels like padding out the experience in this day and age. It may have worked back in the day, but it is hard to justify for a 2021 release.
At the very least, the cell-shaded 3D graphics meshes quite well with the 2D gameplay, breathing new life into the classic look. This is especially apparent in cut scenes, with visuals coming alive like never before, and the addition of voice-acting is a nice touch as well.
Unfortunately, that is only the case if you take the game in isolation. Compared to the other remakes that have graced modern systems, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World stands out for the wrong reasons. The more simplistic designs are not as intricate or fully realised as those found in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and that is a shame.
Of course, there will be some who much prefer the older visual style, and judging from the comparisons, that might actually be the right call. On the surface, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World may look brand new, but underneath it all, the core formula remains for all the good and the bad.
As an action-platformer, there is much to like about Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World if you are going in with no expectations whatsoever. Its attachment to keeping the spirit of the classic alive is to be commended, but it could have done so with a more healthy dose of modern improvements outside of the visuals and sound.
Fans of the older games will have little reason to jump into the remake, but if you are looking for something to pass the time for those lazy afternoons, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is not that bad a choice.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Paying homage in a way that detracts from the experience, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is an unfortunate missed opportunity to introduce a classic to modern gamers.
Gameplay - 6/10
Story - 6/10
Presentation - 6/10
Value - 5/10