The Wonder Boy franchise goes back over thirty years, spanning releases mainly across the Sega Master system, and may be one of the most beloved franchises for its era due to its innovation of the platforming genre due to the addition of several RPG elements. Monster World IV, which would be the sixth installment of the series made huge changes to the formula, with a female protagonist and a little creature to assist her on her journey. While the RPG part was taken out of the focus, instead we got a title that in my opinion laid the groundwork for games like Shantae, Monster Tale, and other polished romps that seem to have their own unique following within the market. After a few ports and mild attention in the west, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World has been released, acting as a remake to the hidden gem with a fresh coat of paint. Does this title live up to its own legacy? Let’s find out.
Like any platformer from its generation, the original Monster World IV was never huge on story, as it mainly consisted of a simple plot where a young girl to heads out on an adventure. Here, she is saving spirits with her trusty Pepelogoo sidekick, and that seems to have remained pretty much the same for this remake, only with a few more details fleshed out due to the outstanding presentation. Asha has a lot of personality, and the mysterious pet she travels with adds to that with a chipper demeanor and curious nature. Sure, the plot may be light, but the interaction with the world assists in bringing this title full circle, as its charming locales and environments are booming with activity, which are sure to bring a smile to any gamer’s face as they progress onward.
By the time the original title released back in 1994, platformers basically were winding down as the market was cluttered, and only those that showed massive innovation were noticed by a mainstream market. I think that is why this title got buried until being re-released last generation, as it may not be extremely innovative outside of its concept, but what it does it does almost perfect – which is the same route this remake seems to be trying to take. A platformer at heart, Asha in Monster World has players control Asha across lavish environments in 2D side-scrolling fare, with the focus less on enemy damage, but more on exploration, puzzle solving, and backtracking due to items that unlock new paths. It all sounds familiar as many elements are a mainstay for modern takes on the genre, but something about this remake just feels fresh and exciting, which makes it a joy to play.
Along with platforming comes that little pet that always is at your side, as Asha can give him a toss to take out a foe or reach higher ground, which is how this journey gains its voice. It’s a lot of fun discovering what your Pepelogoo can do, and the rewards of discovery pay in dividends as gold is showered upon Asha – which in turn unlocks further progression. Combat also is enhanced with item collection, as it focuses on both offense and defense for Asha. While gold collecting to obtain new items is where the core can be found within this Monster World, interaction with NPCs and the environment keep the gameplay engaging to make each stage feel larger and more realized as a whole.
Could the remake have added a little more? Sure, as this isn’t a huge game, but it is one that begs for replay as while short – each area is has so many paths to take that only broaden as you gain various abilities and items to move forward. I have always enjoyed platformers that focus more on collection and exploration over the whole speedrun gimmickry, and that is exactly what the gameplay offers here. A focus on simplicity in a dense world that only seems to grow larger as you begin to uncover all of its secrets. It isn’t easy for a 2D platformer to pull that off with so much finesse, but Asha is quite special as it does it effortlessly, throwing the player in what originally feels like a linear stage, only to open up tremendously as you interact and explore.
The graphics in Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World are superb. With beautiful character designs, bold colors, and interesting environments, there is a lot to see packed in this adventure. The details are intricate and bring personality to almost any foe, creating this atmosphere that is light, airy, and joyous. Animations are also fantastic, running fluid and working overtime to almost make it feel as if you are playing the main character in an offbeat Saturday Morning cartoon from an era past.
The soundtrack is also outstanding. Each melody captures the feel of the stage and enemies within, with enchanting tunes and effects blending well to further the player’s engagement. There are just some games that you play and already see yourself awaiting a vinyl release of its soundtrack, and this is definitely one as this selection of music is wonderful and may be worth the price of admission alone.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is why remakes remain relevant. While the original still feels great today, this re-visitation of a forgotten adventure was lovely and it was hard for myself not to keep a smile during my entire playthrough. Second chances in this industry are starting to become a bit more common. With that said, there is no mascot that deserved another shot to show how she helped change the direction of a genre more than Asha, and those who are looking for a simple trek through a world of detail and enchantment are sure to find their pot of gold here.