It’s the reason that we keep rebooting, remastering or rewriting things completely. But sometimes things are better left in the past – especially when they don’t really offer anything that’s re-imagined for the present.
This is the case for long-time Japanese Developer Artdink’s Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World.
The original game was released in 1991 as Monster World IV by the now long-defunct Westone company for the Mega Drive. However, it became one of those much-loved games that, for whatever reason, did not see a Western release.
And if you’re wondering if this is a release you should pick up now that it’s available here, sadly, what was by almost all accounts an astounding game full of developmental complexity 30 years ago now feels chaotic and yet overly simplistic at the same time.
Simplistic souls-saving, or so the story goes
There’s not much to the story here. Asha is a young girl who is gifted with the ability to hear the cries of lost spirits. I would personally consider this to be somewhat of a curse, but Asha considers it to be the start of a grand adventure.
The four cries she hears from a hilltop at the start of the game are those of characters from past Monster World titles, and they become the sort-of flag at the end of a level in Mario Bros.
You’ll come to free them over the course of about four hours of dungeon platforming with a boss battle at the end — plus an introductory hour-long tutorial.
In this case, I say about four hours of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World can really slow you down with some of the worst controls I’ve experienced in a long while.
Playing Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is like skating on olive oil
Monster World IV came out at a time when games still retained an arcade quality to them where abilities and inputs were kept to a minimum to comply with software and physical hardware limitations. So to have a game with a forward attack, up attack, down attack and special attack magnifier — as well as a companion for summoning that can assist with collecting out-of-reach goodies, solving environmental puzzles, double jumping and climbing would have been an astounding amount of abilities.
Modern platformers often come with a wide assortment of upgrades and progressions to skills that you acquire that add to your adventures and make you feel more accomplished. Unfortunately, with double jumping being the only skill that has any form of developmental progression, Asha’s skills feel… well, more than a little underwhelming. As the stages progress, they begin to throw more environmental hazards at you that will keep you changing your input timings, but it’s just not the same.
Inputs are also incredibly frustrating and imprecise, with each having a leg that will require you to stay right on the beat. Doing so becomes even harder when Asha’s degree of motion is seeming that she’s skating on top of olive oil.
And then there’s the bane of my very existence: Asha’s protection jump. I’ll set the scene for you. The boss found at the end of the tutorial level is a giant half-belly-dancer-half-centipede that closes in the distance with Asha and then swoops in with giant claws for massive damage. You can’t escape once she’s gotten close enough to you, and she’s impervious to damage from the waist down, so the play is to jump and use your up attack to cut her and push her back. Now, that’s not a hard combo to land, but I often found that Asha would get to the middle of her jump and then simply roll back to the position she was in before leaving the ground, which annoyingly granted the boss the time needed to close the gap between us.
It took me five attempts at challenging the boss before I was finally able to find the rhythm necessary to keep Asha suspended in animation long enough to land her attack. It’s a frustrating lag that simply doesn’t do it for me.
Later on in the game, the creature that helps you execute double jumps becomes an obese version of itself that requires you to charge a double jump instead of simply bouncing again. Having to follow this extra and once again extremely imprecise step had me all kinds of angry — especially because the ice level where it becomes necessary to use is full of hazards ready to hurt you if your timing is off.
What a Wonder Boy-ful world
One Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World‘s positive for me is its graphical update. I quite enjoy its bright Disney’s Aladdin-infused 2.5D world. It reminds me very much of the art direction for Mega Man 11.
The locations in Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World’s dungeons and towns are one-to-one models of their 1991 counterparts. They use their designs well enough as places for Asha to demonstrate her skills. It’s just such a shame that those skills feel both dated and imprecise.
At $35 for maybe five hours of frankly uninspired and unenjoyable gameplay, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster Worldgoes onto my not recommended list. My modern gaming desires yearn for experiences where there’s a progression of finely tuned abilities, which is something this game is sorely lacking. Nostalgia is fully where the attempted cash-in is here, and in my opinion, it’s going to have to be something you’re willing to invest every dollar into.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]