Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World (PS4)- Review

Thanks to ININ Games for the review code.
The digital version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World can be purchased from the Nintendo and Sony stores and is published by STUDIOARTDINK.
The boxed retail version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World comes exclusively with the original Monster World IV published by ININ Games.

Title: Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World
System: PS4
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 05/28/2021


Story

In this 2.5D remake of Monster World IV, the story here is pretty identical to the original: you’re Asha, who must set out from her village to become a warrior and discover the mystery behind disappeared spirits that were left by an ancient hero to defend this world. Now with cutscenes, voice acting, and even extra bits of plot to further explain things that were basic in the original game! Either with scenes being longer, new scenes being added, or just extra detail in the dialogue, it really does help to flesh the story out.

Presentation

If you’ve heard of this game before, one of the things you may remember is how awkward it was when it showed up at Gamescom 2020: The trailer had weird, stilted animation, the framerate was abysmal, and it looked as if a lot of charm and life was sucked out of the colorful and vibrant world that the original Monster World IV provided. It didn’t seem like it would lead to a remake that would be anything to write home about, but rather something akin to The Dracula X Chronicles where it may play well, but look and sound poor.

Thankfully, I am proud to say that the final product is not at all what I feared it would be from that first trailer, as while it is a 2.5D game and not a hand-drawn 2D adventure like the Monster World II remake from Lizardcube, it definitely managed to succeed in the vision they were going for. The characters are all still very expressive, with cute, adorable animations and gorgeous world design with completely redesigned areas in spots, and the music remixes are all absolutely phenomenal.

Normally remixes in these remakes are ones I tend to dismiss in favor of the original score, (which is available here via a classic cheat code) but in this game’s case I actually preferred the newer score overall, something that’s pretty darn rare from a remake! With the option to choose between the old and new scores, fans will be pretty pleased with the OST overall, even if you can’t just press a shoulder button to swap them on the fly like in the MWII remake.

Alongside the great remixes and impressive 2.5D touchup, just a lot of cool details have been added that really do make this world feel a lot better to explore this way. In the original MWIV, entering a building or any interior area would cause the camera to shift and show the exit as an outline, leading to weird layering that made a lot of places in the game (especially the queen’s palace) feel like complete labyrinths.

I’m super happy to point out that in this game, that issue is entirely eliminated, as entrances and multiple layers are much easier to distinguish due to the 2.5D perspective and complete redesigns of certain areas. For example, that palace I mentioned being a huge pain? Completely a non-issue in this remake, as you can walk up the carpet and go into the individual rooms with ease, making navigation of this troublesome area way, way easier than it ever has been before.

Even the town has been improved in this regard, as certain areas like the Pepe tree and certain secrets have all been moved into the main hub, rather than being besides the palace like in the original, and requiring a weird roundabout way to get to, which easily led to me getting lost often in that original game. Heck, a ton of scenes from the original were outright altered or expanded in some ways, whether to show more context, a new perspective, or even to add a new cutscene altogether, helping flesh out bits and details to this game just a bit more. These sort of revamps are very welcome and honestly do feel like a proper realization of the vision they were trying to go for on limited hardware.

Another great addition is the Japanese Voice acting given to the characters. Granted, it’s very limited outside of cutscenes and pivotal story moments (most NPCs just do basic phrases or grunts), but what’s here is fairly well done, though you may find Asha’s constant voice whenever you jump or attack a bit irritating.

Gameplay

Asha in Monster World, like most other games in the Wonder Boy series, is a side scrolling action RPG, with this game going for a more linear structure rather than an interconnected world, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t secrets to be found.

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The controls here are very simple and responsive, with your standard double tap run, jump and attack setup, a button for controlling your Pepeloogo companion, (which acts as a glide and double jump, and gradually gets upgraded over time to improve those aspects) a button for your shield, (though holding down on the D-Pad like in the original game works too) and a dedicated button for the new magical hit.

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Starting out and learning the controls, you’ll go through a basic intro area, which takes you to the first main dungeon of the game. This will be the first test of the game’s combat, which is fairly straightforward if you’ve played something like Zelda II. You can do a normal attack, a jumping attack, and even an up or down thrust if you attack in a certain mid-air direction, but that’s it as far as swordplay goes, leaving it to be an overall simple system, with proper shield timing coming into play to block enemy attacks and come in for a counter. (with elemental shields being super helpful in negating their respective elements)

When the meter in the bottom left is filled up after using a weapon a certain amount of times, then you can hold the magical hit button and press attack to do a powered up strike that deals crazy damage to enemies and bosses. If you manage to equip a weapon where the meter fills up faster, then you can just absolutely obliterate tougher foes like no tomorrow, especially if you’re mindful with your shield usage. While it does add a nice incentive and a bit of a bonus over the original game’s combat, it does feel like a pretty overpowered move, making it apt for emergencies or tough situations.

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When reaching the main hub town of the game, Asha in Monster World really starts to open up, with the hub town offering a lot of hidden items and mini quests to take up, as well as being the main gate to the dungeons. The main goal at this point, is to go from one dungeon to another in order to free the four spirits, and each area they reside in consists of a path up to the dungeon, and the dungeon itself. The pathways up to these dungeons are fairly straightforward, with some of them requiring a basic puzzle in order to gain entry, with the dungeons themselves being the true challenge.

Luckily, unlike the original game where you were locked to select save points only, you can save anywhere at any time in this remake from the pause menu, which means the super long and tedious journey from town to a dungeon’s first save point is no longer an issue, a fantastic QOL improvement over the original. This makes the dungeons a lot more pick up and play friendly, since they start out pretty long and get even more in-depth as the game goes in, with lots of puzzles and platforming challenges to solve, minibosses to fight, and hidden Life Drops to discover.

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These Life Drops are pretty vital to getting 100%, as ten of them will form a new blue heart on a secondary health bar, acting as backup health alongside your main, bracelet-dependent life bar. And they are scattered literally everywhere in this game: from the intro area, the main hub town, to each dungeon and pathway to the dungeons. Even compared to the original, there’s quite a lot more, with some being in areas they weren’t in previously, while others occupy the brand new or redesigned parts of areas I mentioned before. Upon beating a main dungeon, you’ll get a summary of all the life drops in each part of the area, which gives a great idea on where to backtrack to obtain them if you missed any, however there are still some areas where they’re flat out missable if you don’t get them the first time, which is why the save anywhere feature comes in real handy for these moments, as you can simply reload a save if you happen to fall down a pit and miss a life drop on your way down, rather than having to warp to town with the lamp and backtrack alllll the way to the dungeon for another go!

But easily the biggest QOL improvement to Asha in Monster World, one that arguably would still make it superior to the original even if literally nothing else about the game was untouched, comes from how the game is no longer needlessly cruel about missable life drops. Outside of the few missable areas here, the main dungeons let you revisit them even after beating the boss, which was not at all possible in the original game. In that game, literally every area would close off to you after you cleared them, meaning that if you missed any life drops, which weren’t even tracked in the game and were thus pretty guide-heavy to find, you were completely out of luck, and with the sparse save points, backtracking and trying again was a lot more tedious. With this change alone making the dozens of life drops in the four main dungeons easily obtainable, the biggest obstacle to 100%ing MWIV is now eliminated, and I am very pleased that Studio Artdik made an excellent QOL call, as it makes the remake way more enjoyable and less stressful to go for 100% in!

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Speaking of quality of life, there are also some other minor enhancements added to this remake, such as multiple difficulty levels. You have an easy mode, which gives you extra starting health and makes you a magnet to dropped gold from enemies, and a normal mode, which just gives you the default lifebar and no money magnet. Either way you play, you’re in for a pretty fun time, and one that progresses at a comfortable difficulty ramp too, with no major spikes or really anything too offputting, even on normal mode, which surprised me considering how brutal the original was at points. But honestly, I think that was mainly due to the limited save points, and with that fixed now, you can pretty much have at it and play this game with much better pacing, and any remake that fixes a fatal flaw from an original is one that excels at going above and beyond. Hell, when it comes to above and beyond, this game outright flies higher than that due to how it puts nods to obscure details, whether it’s older Wonder Boy lore, or even super cryptic secrets from the original game like the Debug Merchant, to that aforementioned retro BGM code. It really does feel like a remake made by diehard fans, for diehard fans, despite a lot of OG staff members helping out with this too.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Asha in Monster World ended up being a game that definitely impressed me. The extreme attention to detail, the clear polish job from that rocky reveal trailer to something that really holds up super well in 2.5D, to being a game that improved a ton of my gripes with the original to make an accessible, yet challenging experience with lots of nods to obscure secrets really does make this a remake that is just a pure joy to play!

It may not be common that we get 2.5D remakes that actually look, play or feel good, but I am super happy to say that Asha in Monster World is one of them, and manages to hold up right alongside the great remake of Monster World II. While they both had different goals, Asha manages to successfully accomplish it in stride, offering the best take on this game to date.

Even if you bounced off the original for whatever reason, I do feel that Asha in Monster World is a much more approachable way to experience this wonderful adventure, and for those who are fans of the original and worried this would drain the charm out of it, there’s no need to fear on that front, either, as there’s plenty of charm here to go around! Definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and one that makes me honestly hope Monster World III gets a similar treatment!

I give Asha in Monster World a 9 out of 10.

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