Saturday, June 19, 2021

Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World (NSW, PS4, PC) Review

With SuperPhillip Central's 1,000th review in the rearview mirror, let's look forward now to new heights and new goals! How about we aim for 2,000 reviews next? Too much? We'll see about that, but first, let's check out Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, a recently released remake of a 1994 Sega Genesis / Mega Drive game. Here is the SPC review!

Will wonders never cease?

The original Monster World IV released over 25 years ago. With Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, Inin Games has taken the foundation of Monster World IV, prettied it up with newfangled cel-shaded visuals, added an accessibility improvement here and there, and pretty much then called it a day. For a title originally released in the nineties, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World nowadays feels like a bit of relic of a bygone gaming era. For some, this will be to this remake's detriment. For others, this makes for an "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" mentality. Either way, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World serves as a fun-filled adventure with some caveats to be discovered in its tantalizing retro-themed package.

Our heroine Asha is a "cut" above the rest!
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World's heroine, Asha, doesn't have too much in her repertoire of moves. She has a simple sword slash, as well as the ability to bring out her shield to block enemy attacks. It isn't until she meets an adorable blue companion named Pepelogoo that her move set grows, though not that immensely. 

No need to fear with the trusty and adorable Pepelogoo at Asha's side!
Upon calling on Pepelogoo, Asha can carry her blue buddy around, and use him to double jump. This feat takes some getting used to--that is, hitting a button to summon Pepelogoo, waiting for Asha to grab hold of him, and then initiating said double jump. Pepelogoo can also be gently thrown to collect faraway items or even to hit buttons that Asha can't interact with. As Pepelogoo evolves and takes different forms throughout the duration of Asha's adventure, he gains further abilities, such as being able to save Asha from sinking under the water, discern the whereabouts of hidden doors, and even get frozen to serve as a stepping stool for Asha to reach higher places. 

Pepelogoo has all sorts of actions in him. One such feat is activating buttons.
Unlike other games in the Monster World series, Asha's adventure is not a Metroidvania game by design. Instead, after the starting village and climb up a tower, Asha arrives in Rapadagna, an Arabian-style city serving as the main hub of the game. It connects to various shops where Asha can purchase new sabers to up her attack power, bracelets to add to her collection of hearts, and shields to defend against all manners of elemental attacks. Rapadagna is also where the temple containing Wonder Boy's four main dungeons is located. Generally, pursuing various events and antics within Rapadagna unlock medallions that each opens a new level within the game. 

Compared to the original game, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World fully takes advantage of its 3D design. Of course, the characters, enemies, and such are beautifully cel-shaded in 3D, but much of the level design, too, takes advantage of 3D. Many places, most notably Rapadagna itself, features intersections where Asha can move on the Z-axis, walking towards and away from the camera, in order to reach new areas. Entering doorways in the dungeon-like levels reveals entertaining transitions in how Asha moves between rooms. 

The four levels--these serve as the places where Asha does battle against the game's evil magicians in order to rescue the various captured sages--are quite large and expansive areas. Some seem to go on for ages, but they're mostly enjoyable to explore. I say "mostly enjoyable to explore" because the third is a pretty obnoxious ice labyrinth that's easy to get lost in. Regardless, exploration awards items like elixirs to heal Asha mid-battle or when her hearts run out (this only works if Pepelogoo is alongside her), as well as money to purchase equipment, and Life Drops that are sprinkled and scattered throughout levels and in Rapadagna itself. For every ten of the latter collected, a new heart gets added to Asha's health, making her heartier and able to endure even the most frantic of battles. 

It's a hot time in the ol' volcano tonight with this particular boss!
I mentioned accessibility improvements early in my review, and Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World does deliver on these--for the most part. Life Drops were previously unattainable if you missed them in a level, but now you can return to the majority of levels to collect any you've missed. There's even a helpful tally that says how many you've collected and how many there are total. Unfortunately, even though you can return to some levels, not all of them are available. For instance, the areas Asha visits prior to arriving in Rapadagna are a one-way ticket. Once you've beaten them, you can't return to them. There are also several side quests and events that reward Life Drops that only happen at specific points in the game, and once the windows of opportunity to get them are closed, they're closed forever unless you load from a prior save. 

I "saw" what you did there! You were cutting it quite close there, weren't you, Asha?
Saving is no longer relegated to a Sage NPC. Instead, you can save pretty much anywhere and everywhere. The only issue here is that there is no auto-save feature available, so remembering to save is paramount unless you wish to redo sections of the game because you forgot. Fortunately, this did not happen to me, but I would imagine it would be a massive demotivator if it had occurred. Still, being able to miss Life Drops and by extension miss the opportunity to get the best ending really stinks. It's a part of the game's design I wish hadn't been brought back from 1994's Genesis/Mega Drive original. Even though Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World isn't exactly the longest game out there--it took me about five hours to beat--having to redo the game because I missed some Life Drops (and because I am a completionist) wasn't the best feeling in the world.

No matter how big and mean the enemy may look, they all do the same amount of damage to Asha!
Finally, accessibility-wise, there is an easy mode, which I happily partook in, offering more health replenishment as well as coins dropped by enemies automatically getting siphoned towards Asha. That's pretty much the only difference here, as playing normal mode was just as enjoyable for me after my easy mode run was completed. 

(Piggybacking off the last caption) Unlike Asha, who depending on the sword equipped, deals variable amounts of damage!
Compared to previous remakes of Wonder Boy/Monster World series games, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World feels a bit too simplistic for its $40 price tag. Yes, the visual style is lovely to look at, and the increased personality in Asha's animations--whether she's sliding like a figure skater on ice, or shaking her can as she prepares to open a treasure chest--is also pleasant to see. However, by a gameplay and game length standpoint, Asha in Monster World isn't the strongest experience. Again, the gameplay is rather simple, and the length is quite short. These aspects notwithstanding, there is a lot to like about this remake of Monster World IV (especially if you get the physical version as--at least the Switch port received the original game on the cartridge), and now a new generation of players can join Asha on her fun-filled adventure.

[SPC Says: B-]

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