When Monster World IV came out in 1994, it was well-received and helped cement some of the foundations of games we see today. Series like Shantae owe Asha an awful lot. Flash forward 27 years and a glossy new remake of the game is available. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World (trying to please all of the national naming conventions of the series) is a curious beast though. A nice game is still very much present but its not as remade as it could have been.
Usually, remakes fall into replica purist or adapted to new technology. Asha takes a highly unusual line of doing a half and half job. For instance, the save system is no longer manual checkpoints, but it isn’t autosaved either. It is a save wherever you like but manually in a menu system. Graphics are cel-shaded but lacking character and frames – so they feel glossy and a bit cheap at the same time. Asha can move between background and foreground in some of the more elaborate city hubs but only at weird binary telegraphed ends. The movement of Asha is more modern-day but she also has a very forgiving hit detection, meaning you’ll jump into places you shouldn’t or get stuck on things occasionally.
These kinds of design decisions are rife throughout the whole 6-7 hours of adventure time with Asha. It all leads me to wonder – who is this game remade for? Purists will think it’s changed too much, newcomers won’t find the modern gaming standards and think it’s archaic. I don’t think the game will truly satisfy either end of the spectrum.
That’s a shame because at its core, there is a lovely game to be played. Whilst it’s a bit by the numbers by today’s standards, Asha and her cute Pepelogoo make a cute and sassy team. By battling through four elemental worlds to restore life to normal, you’ll be using your cute sidekick to solve elemental and platforming puzzles. The same issues that plague 90’s platformers are still present. For instance, there are too many trust jumps where you aren’t sure where you’ll land off-screen is safe. There are a few cheap deaths too but these are minor annoyances.
When things click, they click beautifully. There is a sonic inspired level where you float on water through tubes. Asha is chilling in the water, the music has a good arrangement of the main theme and the puzzles to open doors require timing, precision and a tiny bit of brainpower. It all clicks together and gives you moments of greatness. These moments are then tamed by boss battles that you can easily cheese by standing in certain places or abuse the many heart powerups you’ll earn. It feels like a real mixed bag.
The physical edition comes with a download code for the original Monster World IV and that plays excellently. In many ways it made me appreciate the remake more as I ran both games side by side in playing sessions and could see some areas are identical. It’s clear love went into the remake – and a lot of respect. It just would have been handy if the game chose whether it would be a polished replica or a completely redesigned modernisation – not a mishmash of both that doesn’t scratch either itch.
Retro gamers, go in with eyes open and I think you’ll enjoy yourselves. Newbies – if you want to see the origins of where Shantae styled games came from, enjoy. Just know that you are stepping back in time to when certain quality of life features didn’t exist and sadly, they still don’t in Monster World.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World
A strange mix of archaic design and new gloss. There is a nice game here for retro fans but newcomers may not quite be so easily won over.
A fairly faithful replica of the original idea and style - with bells and whistles.
Elemental puzzles are well implemented with unique moves for your sidekick to support you.
Download code for the original (physical edition only).
Feels strangely lifeless and mobile-ish at times. From the way it looks to the way it plays and the bugs you get - it evokes mobile game origins.
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