There’s plenty of 90s inspired 2D platformers and outright remakes for you to play and, like some sort of video game hydra, the more of them you complete, the more there are to play. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is the latest to rear its proverbial head, a remake of Monster World 4.
Thanks to complicated legal shenanigans, it’s pretty tricky to keep track of Wonder Boy/Monster World’s video game lineage. This is mainly due to the franchises’ rights being split between several different companies. The basic gist is that Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of Monster World 4 – the last entry in the original Monster World/Wonder Boy series – that debuted on Mega Drive way back in 1994.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World follows the escapade of Asha, a warrior seeking to rescue elemental spirits from the machinations of a mysterious villain. It’s an entirely standard plot for a 90s era platformer, but it succeeds in one notable aspect, getting out of the way and letting the player start playing. You’ll then spend the next five hours doing what anyone who has ever played a 2D platformer would expect; leaping from platform to platform, hitting the occasional nasty blob creature and taking on a series of bosses.
This remake is bright and colourful, but the new 2.5D visuals are curiously soulless in my opinion. Animation is the clear issue, so while Asha speeds around the environment like a monkey chasing a thrown potato, she does so with no real character. The same can be said for the enemies you meet – little fire ball monsters leap, skeletons punch and cyclops’ swing big sticks – but it all feels flat. It’s like several key frames of animation were removed, leaving only the basic movements instead. After being spoiled with the abundant charm of 2017’s Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, Asha in Monster World feels painfully lacking in comparison.
One notable expectation is Asha’s excited wiggle as she peers into a treasure chest to retrieve the goodies inside. Unfortunately, as Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World contains around one thousand, three hundred and forty two treasure chests to open – probably – so even that charming but overly long three-second animation can really start to grate.
Gameplay-wise things are equally uninspired. Back in the day Monster World 4 pushed the boundaries of platforming with its near metroidvania like design, but viewed from 2021, it is now a paint by number approach to platforming. Asha limited to a basic attack and a magical attack… that looks suspiciously similar to the basic attack in action. There’s also a shield for blocking, but that’s about it. There’s little to get your teeth into with such uneventful combat.
Things are thankfully livened up by the introduction of the extremely difficult to pronounce Pepelogoo. This little dude is Asha’s cute flying sidekick, letting her pull off a double jump, and launch Pepelogoo to retrieve items, switch switches or absorb lava. As the game progresses, good ole Pepy gains elemental powers that add a little something to the basic exploration and puzzle solving. Not much though, this is hum-drum stuff we’ve now all experienced countless times – melting ice, putting out fires, finding bombs next to ‘impassable’ obstacles, that kind of thing. It’s a good thing that Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World has such a limited run-time really, as the overly familiar gameplay has run its course by the end.
It’s not just in the main quest that Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is hamstrung by its subservience to the original’s ancient game design. As you’d expect, there are various hubs to explore – a palace or town for example – in which Asha can invest her hard earned coins into buying new equipment. At specific locations in these hubs Asha can move between the foreground and background planes, though only in areas highlighted by a compass-like icon. It’s worth searching the hubs thoroughly for new gear, but the awkward manner in which Asha must traverse the various planes is tedious and often frustrating. You can see the item you need to get and yet Asha can’t reach it, despite it seemingly being just meters away as she’s on the foreground. Cue much huffing and puffing as you navigate various streets and shops just to find the correct icon to move into the background.
The whole thing feels like a game design choice from a by-gone era and really should have been jettisoned in this remake. There’s several areas where an apparent devotion to the original game has hampered the potential of this remake. Sure, there have made some adaptions, but they’re limited in scope and effect, like now letting you quick save whenever you want.