Overview – developed by STUDIOARTDINK and Monkey Craft, with publishing handled by ININ Games, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a remake of Monster World IV that was originally released as a Japanese exclusive for the Sega Mega Drive in 1994. Explore a world of sword and sorcery with the warrior Asha and her monster friend Pepelogoo in this revamped release by the original Westone development team. This title is available on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, links to both versions will be available at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound for providing the copy of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
IMPORTANT: please be aware, the physical release of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World contains the original version of Monster World IV. The PS4 version contains an additional code for MW IV inside the box, whereas the Nintendo Switch version features the extra software on the cartridge. The digital versions of this title DO NOT contain the original Monster World IV and it cannot be purchased separately, please take this into consideration if you are making a purchase.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story. I will be calling this title by the shortened name of just Wonder Boy: Asha for brevity during the review.
Story – Asha, a young girl who wants to be a warrior departs her village in search of adventure. Upon reaching the city, Asha is tasked with freeing four spirits that have been sealed away by evil forces who seek to take over the world. The young warrior is not alone in this quest however, as she finds a companion to aid her, a special blue Pepelogoo. Together, these new friends will take on many challenges and dangerous obstacles as try to save the world.
Gameplay – Wonder Boy: Asha is a platform adventure title, featuring light action RPG gameplay reminiscent of other titles in the Wonder Boy series. The player controls Asha and her companion Pepelogoo, as they traverse Monster World, exploring dungeons and fighting creatures to rescue the trapped spirits. The game starts at Estafan Village and the Tower of Silence, teaching the player all of the basic mechanics that will be used during the course of the game as a tutorial.
There are several basic skills that Asha is able to use throughout the game, here is a breakdown of those skills (which can be upgraded as discussed further down);
- Platforming – Asha is able to run, jump and climb in the various areas of the dungeons. The platforming makes up the majority of the action, with precise movement and responsive controls throughout.
- Sword – the only offensive option that Asha can use in battle. The sword can be used in three ways, a ground/jump slash, an up thrust that allows aerial enemies to be struck and a down thrust that causes Asha to bounce off monsters. The attacks will charge up a meter on screen and when full a special magic attack can be used.
- Shield – Asha can use a shield to protect her from various attacks both physical and magical. The shield can only be used when facing left and right, so care must be taken when fighting enemies that can attack from above.
- Save – you can save and load at will in almost every area, giving freedom to retry areas and take a break before taking on the bosses. Be sure to save often because if Asha is defeated entirely, then the latest save will be used to retry from.
- Genie’s Lamp – at the end of the tutorial, Asha can obtain the Genie’s Lamp, a special magical item that allows her to travel to Rapadagna. This fast travel ability can be used in later areas to return to the town in order to heal and use the facilities there.
After the tutorial, Asha will reach the main town of Rapadagna, where they can interact with various NPC characters, access shops to trade and meet the magical blue Pepelogoo. The magical monster can help Asha while exploring the dungeons, granting the ability to glide, double jump and even access switches that are out of reach. The effective use of Pepelogoo is the key to making it through the dungeons, so be sure to experiment and speak to the NPC characters to learn more about the monster companion.
From the town, Asha can access four transportation stones that require a medallion to open. These stages are filled with monsters, puzzles and treasure to obtain throughout the hazardous environments. The different zones that are explored each have their own themes, including an ice covered pyramid and a volcanic cave filled with Lava. The stages have enemies that fit the theme of that area and the element featured, making the equipment that Asha has very important.
At specific points in each dungeon, there are boss battles that must be cleared in order to progress. The battles can be tough, but each of the monsters has their own patterns and can be overcome if the player is prepared for them. This makes the save feature very useful, since a save can be made before jumping into the battles, providing an opportunity for players to quickly retry without risking any loss of progress.
The platforming and combat is solid for the vast majority of gameplay, but there are some minor issues that can be encountered during play. When trying to be precise with some platforming sections, the collision detection can be awkward, causing Asha to pass through the very edge of a platform and causing her to fall. It is also possible to hit the edge of a hazard and take damage which can be bothersome, as well as getting pinned in a damage loop during some areas due to awkward physics.
There is also a slight problem with the field of view, which can make leaps of faith dangerous since it can be easy to miss a ledge and fall into a trap or pitfall, which will send Asha back to a preset checkpoint. These minor issues aren’t that much of a problem, but can break the flow of gameplay and cause some irritation. However, it doesn’t hurt the overall quality of gameplay for this release.
Speaking of equipment, when fighting monsters many of them will drop gold coins after being defeated, adding to the total that Asha carries. The gold can be used in Rapadagna to purchase equipment upgrades, such as new swords and shields that help Asha in her quest. Different equipment also has varying benefits which allow Asha to perform better in different areas, such as a shield that can protect from fire or a sword that deals more damage and has a stronger magic attack.
There is also a vending machine that can be found in the different dungeons. This machine allows Asha to purchase healing items to replenish health, including an elixir that can fully restore and revive Asha when defeated with the help of Pepelogoo. The gold and healing items aren’t the only things that can be collected, during the exploration of each area, special items can be picked up and even gold bars that can be traded in Rapadagna for money.
The last thing I want to mention is the Heart Drops, a special collectable that are scattered throughout Monster World. These pick-ups can grant Asha an extra heart container when 10 drops have been collected, increasing the total blue hearts available. The drops can be hidden in hard to reach areas, such as hidden in chests or off screen that can only be reached with the help of Pepelogoo. Be advised that some parts of a dungeon may become inaccessible after completion, losing the chance to collect all of the items.
Now with gameplay covered, I will be moving onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – Wonder Boy: Asha uses a relatively simple control setup that has been refined to work on modern systems. The limited buttons of the Mega Drive version have been replaced with a set-up that spans the entire controller, making for an enjoyable gameplay experience. There are no issues with button inputs or lag when using the Joy-cons and pro controllers, which are very comfortable when playing in handheld and docked mode.
Difficulty – there are two difficulty options for this release, an easy and normal setting. The normal option provides an experience as close to the original Monster World IV, whereas the easy option increases the amount of health pick-ups and some other changes. The two settings are well balanced, providing an experience that anyone can pick up and play right through to the end.
Presentation – the visual style of Wonder Boy: Asha is a delight with 3D cell shaded graphics in a 2.5D perspective, which is a pleasing update to the pixel art of the original release. The colors are just as vibrant for the different locations, and the inclusion of cinematic style cutscenes is a welcome addition. The only issue that was encountered with the graphics was very rare frame drops, occurring only when there is a very high amount of objects on screen.
The soundtrack has been completely redone, with brand new orchestral arrangements of the original music that still maintains the unique charm of the Mega Drive release. The melody of the main theme is used in the majority of tracks presented in a way that doesn’t become repetitive, but does create a cohesive overall product. There is also voice acting employed during the game, featuring the vocal talent of Ai Fairouz, an up and coming voice actress who works in the anime industry.
Final Thoughts – I am a fan of the Wonder Boy series and when Asha in Monster World was announced, I was very excited to get hands on with the game. I can safely say that my excitement paid off, as this is a fantastic remake of a once Japanese exclusive title. The platforming and combat are fun, the puzzle solving is rewarding and overall it is a joy to be able to play a new title in the Wonder Boy series.
There are some minor faults but they don’t do anything to spoil the experience. I can happily recommend this title to fans of Wonder Boy, both old and new, especially the physical version that includes the original title as a bonus on both PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. I hope that the revival of Monster World IV opens up the opportunity for more titles from the Westone library to be brought to a new audience.
In the end, I give Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World a final score of 4.5/5. This is a fantastic remake, with vibrant cel-shaded visuals and a newly arranged orchestral soundtrack that manages to capture the spirit of the original. If you want to check this title out for yourself, links to each version of the game will be available below, including a link to official website to get the physical version.
Link to Official Site (HERE)
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)