Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review

Developer: Monkey Craft/Studio ArtDink
Publisher: Inin
Platforms: PS4, NS, Steam PC
Price: $40 Physical, $35 Download
Version Played: Switch

Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World is a remake of the 1994 Sega Mega Drive/Genesis game, Monster World IV. Monster World IV was the 6th Wonder Boy game and it was never released in English until it came to PS3 and the Wii Virtual Console in 2012. It’s also available on the Sega Genesis Mini. This remake features new 3D graphics, a remixed soundtrack, new cutscenes, voice acting, and a bunch of little gameplay improvements.

If you've played the original Monster World IV, you know that the game world was laid out in layers. There were doors in the background and doors on the invisible wall in between Asha and the camera. Thanks to the new 3D graphics in Asha in Monster World, that original diorama style vision finally feels like it's fully realized. The world makes more sense now because it has actual depth and feels more like a real place.

The hub town of Rapadagna makes the best use of the 3D graphics with its new design. You can now walk around and behind all the buildings in Rapadagna on preset paths. If you've ever seen the unreleased Mario Land for the Virtual Boy, it's sort of like that. The layout of Queen Praprill's castle has also gotten a redesign replacing the old layered maze design with a fully 3D castle. This layout makes the game look like a 3rd person game at times, like Mario 64 or Zelda OoT, but you still can only move Asha in 2 directions no matter which direction she's facing. I have to wonder if the developers are thinking of making a 3D Wonder Boy sequel.

You can totally play this game with a 3 button setup, just like on Genesis, but you don't have to. In this remake, you can have your shield on a separate button and you can run without double tapping the d-pad by using the analog stick instead. A few other changes to modernize the game have also been made, like being able to carry up to 9 healing potions instead of just one, counters for collectables in each level, and the ability to use items without having to go to the inventory screen, which makes a few sections in the game, like the intro, a lot simpler. Sadly, the ice pyramid is still the only dungeon that gets a map. There's also a special meter that allows you to do a special move when it's full, and Asha's sword slash covers more space than in the original. You can also save anywhere at any time now, which basically gives you save states. That's kind of a weird thing to put in the game because the emulated Genesis version of MWIV that's bundled with the physical version of this game doesn't have save states.

Another very cool change is that you can go back into completed levels. Levels were closed off after completion in the original, so you could totally miss out on life drops, which work like heart containers in Zelda games. You’re still losing Pepelogoo abilities as the game goes on in this remake; though, so you can still miss your chance to get the life drops. There is a way to get any Pepelogoo form at any point in the game, but you have to beat the game to unlock the item that allows you to do that first.

I love how this version feels. I love the control options and I feel like the graphics give you a better idea of what’s going on with the hitboxes than in the original game. I also really like being able to save anywhere and being able to carry more healing potions. I think this remake plays much better than the original. All these little changes do make the game a lot easier; though, which some people might not like. This is the best playing version as far as I'm concerned.

The most glaring flaw in this remake is the new script. It's full of typos, punctuation and word spacing errors, and straight up missing words. It’s terrible. I don’t know how something like this gets through or why they felt the need to redo the script. The English script they use for the Genesis version is fine. I'm hoping this is fixed with a patch because it's a real eyesore.

Sadly, I don’t think this remake’s new graphics stack up to the original’s. I love Asha and Pepelogoo's cute animations and I think the cel shaded characters do a good job of recreating the art style of Monster World IV as seen in the manual and art work, but the environments just aren’t very impressive. The textures look very simple and repetitive, and they make the backgrounds look bland when compared to the Genesis game’s sprites. Monster World IV is one of the best looking Genesis games. This remake just looks like a low budget indie game.

The framerate in the Switch version is also very inconsistent. It aims for 60fps, but hardly ever reaches it. Most of the time the game hovers around 50fps and I’ve seen it drop as low as 39 fps during gameplay, even with 1 enemy on screen and barely anything going on in the background. I’ve heard that the PS4 version mainstains a smooth 60fps, but I have not played it myself.

Asha in Monster World features quite a bit of voice acting, but it’s all in Japanese, so I didn’t understand much of it. There is no English voice acting at all. I think Asha and Pepelogoo’s voices sound very cute, at least. You have the option to turn off the voices if you want. This remake also features a remixed soundtrack. It's the same great songs redone with more instruments and in higher quality. They sound great, but they're not played with live instruments or anything. You also have the option to play with the original soundtrack with a code. I prefer the new soundtrack. The Genesis soundtrack sounds a little out of place here.

As I mentioned earlier, the physical versions of the game come bundled with an emulated version of the original Monster World IV for Genesis. The Switch version has it on the cart and the PS4 version has a download code for it. I messed around with it and thought it was pretty good. It doesn't have save states, borders, or rewind, but it does have fast forward and pretty much every display option imaginable. The CRT and scanline options are especially in depth. It also has button remapping. It's nice, but I think I'd rather play it with save states, like on the Genesis Mini.

Asha in Monster World is a fine remake. This is still a great game. It's just not going to blow anyone away. It’s a low budget indie game from a tiny Japanese developer and it shows. It plays better than the original in a lot of ways, but it just can’t match how awesome MWIV looks and sounds for a Genesis game. The framerate on the Switch version and the embarrassingly bad script are also a real downer. This is the version to play in my opinion, but it’s far from the Zero Mission to Metroid. This remake is supposed to also serve as a reboot for the series, so I guess we can expect a sequel at some point.