Sunday, April 1, 2018

Monster World IV Review

Monster World IV is a side scrolling action adventure game developed by Westone and published by Sega. It was originally released on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis) in Japan in 1994. It wasn't released in English until 2012, when it came out on Wii VC, PS3, and X360. It's the 6th game in the Wonder Boy series and the 4th of the Monster World games.

Chronologically, MWIV takes place after Wonder Boy in Monster World, and is the last game in the timeline. At least until Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom comes out. It follows the story of a girl named Asha, who hears the elemental spirits of Monster World cry for help in the wind one day. She sets off for Monster World to become a Warrior and finds a Genie lamp along the way. The Genie takes Asha to Rapadagna, where she meets with Queen Purapril XIII, the descendant of the playable characters in Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair. The Queen basically knights Asha, and gives her the title of Warrior. She then tells her about the elemental spirits who have been kidnapped (sounds familiar), and Asha agrees to help. The Queen tells Asha to go to the treasure room, and there she finds the medallion to open the door to the first dungeon and a mysterious egg. This egg hatches into a blue Pepelogoo, a small round floating creature that looks like a cross between a cat, a bird, and Kirby.

Everyone in Rapadagna has a pet Pepelogoo, but theirs are yellow. Asha’s blue Pepelogoo is rare and special, like a shiny Pokemon. Blue Pepelogoos have magical powers. Unlike in other Metroidvanias, Asha never gains new abilities, her Pepelogoo is what gives her the ability to glide, double jump, and a bunch of different things to solve puzzles. Asha can call Pepelogoo and throw him onto a lava spout to use him as a platform (I know it's a him because he doesn't have a bow on his head), have him hit switches for her, and use him like an umbrella to shield her from falling fireballs, among many other things. Pepelogoo will get bigger as you progress through the story, and you will lose the ability to run while carrying him, because he gets too heavy for Asha. It's kind to lose abilities as you progress through a game like this, but it's not needed in later dungeons, and it works within the context of the story.

Monster World IV plays similarly to Wonder Boy in Monster World, but its structure is much more linear. There are only 2 towns in the game, and one of them is Asha's home, which you can't go back to once you enter the first dungeon. The other town is Rapadagna, which is the main hub of the game. You’ll go back to Rapadagna after every dungeon to buy new equipment, explore, and talk to the townsfolk in order to find the medallion which will open the door to the next dungeon. Most of the travel and sidequests from Wonder Boy in Monster World are gone, but Rapadagna is very well done, and is full of secrets and NPCs that change as you progress through the game.

Monster World IV has similar dungeons to the ones in Wonder Boy in Monster World, but with a bigger emphasis on puzzles, key items, and exploration. They're kind of like side scrolling Zelda dungeons. The first dungeon is fairly straightforward. You kill enemies to activate platforms and find keys to open doors. You’ll be running all over the place looking for items and solving riddles in the later ones, though. I think the length of the second and third dungeons give the game a steep learning curve, but it gets easier as you get more hearts, new equipment, and learn how to fight different enemies. Thankfully, you can use your Genie to go back to town to heal and save, and then come back and try again. Your puzzle progress is saved, and any mini bosses or special enemies stay dead, so you don't have to do everything over.

Every dungeon is closed off after you beat the boss in it, so you can miss out on some Life Drops, Healing Medicine, and gold if you're not exploring well enough. You're not going to miss out on anything that will prevent you from finishing the game, but you might not be able to max out your hearts by the end of the game. Healing Medicines are also limited to chests and are not sold in stores, so it's a good idea to save some of the ones found in town for the end of the game.

The combat in MWIV reminds me of Zelda II and Castlevania. Every enemy has its own unique attack patterns and defenses, so you have to experiment with different tactics. Some enemies will always attack right after being attacked, so you have to block with your shield, while others use their shields to block, so you have to attack at the same time they attack. You have to put some thought into how you fight each one, or you won't make it very far. Most of the bosses don't require elaborate tactics, though. Most boss fights feel like a race to see who can do the most damage. I usually just attacked as much as possible and made sure I had enough health to survive.

Monster World IV feels like it was made by people who were very familiar with the Genesis and what it was capable of. 1994 was pretty late in the system’s life after all. The framerate is good throughout most of the game, but it also doesn't throw more than 2 or 3 enemies at you at a time. The backgrounds are more complex than in Wonder Boy In Monster World, and have more little details, like flowers, rocks, and grass. They also have multiple scrolling layers of fog, clouds, and mountains in the distance. The game has that unique, colorful anime style, like previous games, but the sprites have more midtones and are much more detailed in general. Asha and Pepelogoo have a bunch of cute animations for all their moves, whenever you use Pepelogoo to solve a puzzle, and for special story moments. This game has a ton of charm, and it still looks better than many modern day 2D games.

Monster World does something really interesting with it's music. It takes the main theme and remixes it in many different styles and genres. Most of the soundtrack consists of different versions of the main theme, or songs that work the main theme in somehow. There's one version the sounds like stereotypical Egyptian music, a slower more mysterious version, and a more upbeat and whimsical version, among others. A simple trumpet version of this theme also plays when you're going into a new area. It’s literally all over the game. There are also some original tracks and returning ones from previous Monster World games, which are a real treat for fans of the previous games.

This is one of those legendary import only games I always heard about, like Castlevania Rondo of Blood, and like Rondo of Blood, it totally lives up to the hype. This is one my favorite Metroidvanias. I think it's a must play for anyone who likes Zelda or Shantae, or is a new Wonder Boy fan after playing the recent Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap remake. It has a wonderful art style, colorful 2D graphics, a great soundtrack, it's challenging, and Pepelogoos are super cute.