A fun, if unspectacular little game
SEGA has finally published an English version of Monster World IV, the final entry in the Wonder Boy series (originally released for the Genesis / Megadrive in 1994). In this game the titular hero Wonder Boy has been replaced by a gypsy girl named Asha (which explains why Wonder Boy isn’t in the title), but it otherwise retains the action-adventure flavor the series is known for.
It is now available as a download for the Wii’s Virtual Console (900 Wii points or $9) and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 for around $5 (Nintendo’s price brackets are more rigid and out-of-whack than the other consoles).
Similar in style to other 2D adventure games (such as Zelda 2, the Dragon Slayer series, and the sidescrolling Ys games), you’ll jump on platforms, slash enemies to ribbons, and solve puzzles in mazes. Along the way you’ll collect gold to upgrade your equipment and find items that are needed to progress. Combat is very simple: like in Zelda 2 you can stab upward and downward when jumping, and pull out your shield by holding down to defend yourself. Each enemy has its own unique patterns that can be memorized to help you dispatch them more easily.
Early in the game you’ll befriend a flying creature called a pepelougoo, which can be called to Asha to help her perform a double-jump. When Asha holds onto it she will slowly glide to the ground, and it can be sent out to interact with switches. It will also perform specific actions if you send it towards areas of interest in the environment (like lava spouts, torches, and so on). Unfortunately the button layout on the Wii’s remote makes calling Pepe slightly annoying (but this isn’t a problem with the classic controller or on other consoles).
As the most recent entry in the series, it makes sense that this one looks and sounds the best. The short music loops will get on your nerves, but the visual style has been refined beyond the somewhat clunky earlier titles. Asha’s character is particularly well animated, with several unique actions when using items. The settings are also really nice, but it can be a bit disorienting when navigating areas with multiple rooms at first.
Things start off pretty slow and easy – almost to the point of being boring – but things do get interesting. In fact, you may have to call on your stinky onion-like Genie to whisk you back to the village when things start to look dangerous.
Luckily, it never takes too long to get back to where you left off since the major areas can be accessed close to town. And you can save mid-dungeon or simply pause your adventure thanks to modern conveniences like interrupt saves.
The nostalgic charm of the Wonder Boy games may be hard for modern gamers to comprehend, but I jump at the chance to play buried 16-bit treasures like this. The colorful graphics had registered on my radar awhile back when some dedicated fans decided to do a fan translation, but it’s nice to play the official version. It starts out rather slowly, and the cheerful music quickly becomes repetitive, but don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you – this is the most polished and playable game in the Wonder Boy series. It should be noted that the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are cheaper than the one on the Wii, and also come with some extra features like challenge modes and achievements / trophies.