Thanks to ININ Games for the review code
Title: MONSTER WORLD IV
Price: Physical Download Code Bonus with Asha in Monster World only, via ININ Retail Version ($39.99)
Release Date: 05/28/2021
In this original Genesis classic, you take control of Asha, who sets out on a journey to become warrior and stop a dark spirit from taking over the land! Just like the remake I just covered, the story is identical, save for missing the little touches the remake added, and it marked the end of the Wonder Boy saga with a rather climatic finale, one that wouldn’t be followed up on until Monster Boy came decades later.
The first thing I thought of when hearing about this port were several things, the biggest of which being “Just how will the UI and emulation play out?” Well, I can report that if you’ve seen Turrican Flashback, then this port’s UI is literally 1:1 with that compilation, with a menu that lets you into the game and allows you to change basic settings like screen size, scaling, and button configs. Some of the extra stuff Flashback added such as a rewind feature are completely absent, and there’s no ability to make a save state at all, so you have to stick to the original game’s saving system.
Still, the screen options get the job done great, with the 1:1 pixel mode being absolutely excellent. It is a bummer that this port has less features than the Genesis game that Ratalaika and ININ already ported in the form of Mega Turrican, though. There’s no bonus extras or art galleries in this UI either, which puts it a step below the Monster World Collection for PS2, even though the screen options are better than that collection.
Still, when it comes to the game itself, it looks just as incredible as it did back in the day, with the distinctive Monster World style remaining intact, expressive sprites and all. A lot more colors shine in this game compared to the previous game, Monster World III, which has always led to MWIV being the most vibrant in the series, and that goes to the world design too, which looks incredible. The music is also very memorable, easily being among the best in the series and perfectly complimenting the send-off nature of this (for a time) final installment. Pretty much every song in this game will stick in your head for a good long while.
The english translation from 2011 is also still here, untouched from the original launch on Wii Virtual Console in 2012, and it holds up pretty well, keeping in a lot of the references to older games and still being a very great adaptation, so it’s no surprise to see that version kept for this port. Oddly enough, there seems to be no way to play this in Japanese, meaning importers from Japan will be unable to play this in their native language. A bit of a shame as the Japanese release of the remake doesn’t include this port at all.
Monster World IV plays a bit differently from the previous entry, Monster World III, (also known as Wonder Boy V: Monster World III: Wonder Boy in Monster World) maintaining a lot of the same action RPG mechanics from that one, but greatly improving upon and streamlining most of them. You still have equipment that you obtain for combat and to improve your abilities, but you no longer need to constantly switch between weapons for the situation, since your new equipment make the older ones obsolete. You attack with a sword, defend with your shield, and use your flying companion Pepelogoo for the sake of double jumping and solving puzzles, just like the remake.
Along with those changes, the game itself is a lot more linear, for better or worse. After an initial town and dungeon, you are sent off to the main hub area of Rapadanga, which is the main way you can access the dungeons and talk to NPCs inbetween your trips to find the spirits. While Rapadanga is revisited often and has a few things you can reobtain if you miss them, the biggest problem that may irritate completionists with MWIV is the fact that older areas are completely inaccessible once you clear it, which doesn’t usually matter much, except in the case of those pesky Life Drops.
Like in the remake, ten of them will get you an extra hit point, but here there’s no such thing as a tracker in the slightest. You have to carefully go after each and every one of them, and hope to god you don’t miss one that was before a point of no return in a dungeon, otherwise you have to warp back to down and make the long trek all over again if you want every last one of them. And if you clear an area and it goes bye-bye? You’re done for, and have to make do with what you have. This makes 100%ing the game beyond infuriating and easily gives the remake more of an easier time, since being able to save anywhere in that game makes missing life drops so much less frustrating and easier to fix.
Yet here in the original MWIV, you can only save when talking to an old sage who will appear every now and then, and like in the US version of MWIII, dying will send you all the way back to the title screen, meaning that death is very cruel if you’re near a save point only to die right before it, having to redo every bit of progress you made. That’s why the lack of a rewind button as a QOL upgrade is pretty baffling. The game isn’t infuriatingly hard or anything, but it is a weird omission considering how it was an option in Turrican Flashback.
Still, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some minor changes, as now you can map the double tap dash to a button. It doesn’t really do much, but it does at least make for a comfy shortcut, and leads to a funny animation bug if you do it while carrying Pepelogoo. Another change, albeit an expected one due to this being pretty obscure, comes from the inability to use a second controller for this game at all. This may sound weird, since MWIV was never a two player game, but in the original version you could use the second controller to access a secret debug mode, allowing you to go anywhere in the game (including older areas you missed life drops in!) or even just cheat and instantly boot the ending.
Of course, this lack of a second controller means no debug mode for you here, which makes sense due to how this secret is extremely obscure and would pretty much break the trophies. Still, I can’t help but think it would have been really cool if after beating the game, you could unlock a debug mode shortcut to map to the shoulder buttons so you could bring it up at anytime, just for the sake of authenticity and messing around. Granted, the PS3, 360 and PS2 versions all disabled this secret as well, leaving only the Genesis Mini and Virtual Console reissues as the only places you can do this trick in, but it would have still been a cool secret to at least allude to. (Though yes, the magic merchant is still here, fully intact and waiting to be found for those daring to get to him without saving)
Otherwise, the game is pretty much the same as the original 2012 port, albeit with a much simpler trophy list. (thankfully, not requiring the life drops for those who wanted to get the platinum) The game runs great, looks great, and is still a worthwhile experience to compare to the remake, and makes for a decent physical bonus item, though with it as a download code, you have to ensure that you buy a new copy: and if you’re ordering the SLG version, you need a PAL account as well. On switch this isn’t an issue as the cartridge includes both SKUs, but here on PS4 it is code-dependent. Either way, this is a solid enough port that’ll you at least get the full experience as originally intended, even if it may lack some QOL stuff that M2’s port did such as save states.
In conclusion, Monster World IV still holds up pretty well today, offering a great sendoff to the classic franchise, and offers a fun comparison point to the excellent remake. However, this barebones port doesn’t really offer anything special for folks who haven’t played it before, and while it offers some better visual options than any other ports save for the Sega Ages Online version, the lack of save states or rewind is a pretty big bummer, especially with ININ’s precedent on that with Turrican. Still, almost every secret is available here, and the game is exactly like you remember it from that 2012 port.
MWIV itself also still has some aforementioned quirks, such as the stupid amount of missable items due to the lack of backtracking, (With no debug mode to help you go do that, either) and the pretty frustrating gaps in save points at times that can make death incredibly punishing. Even with those though, it’s still worth at least trying to play through for the sake of seeing how the remake improved on so much, while also maintaining a lot of the charm.
I give Monster World IV a 7 out of 10.