Published on June 4th, 2021 | by Alex Prakken
Wonder Boy Asha in Monster World Switch Review
Summary: Though some mechanics haven’t aged gracefully, Wonder Boy is still a lively and charming remake.
The Wonder Boy / Monster World series is one I’ve never experienced, with its origins spanning back to arcades in the mid 1980’s. After a sprinkling of remakes in the past five years, Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World is the latest from Artdink, and is a re-imagining of 1994’s Monster World IV. Though the cracks of school gameplay are readily apparent against modern day graphics, Wonder Boy’s charm and sparkle made me smile around almost every turn.
Wonder Boy’s plot is relatively conventional: an evil force is trying to spread darkness across the land, and our hero, Asha, is the only one who can save it. Aside from a mid-game shake up that really surprised me (no spoilers here!), Wonder Boy is nothing out of the ordinary for the fantasy genre.
However traditional the story is, the character and world design is bursting with life.
The game’s graphics have been remade from the ground up, and they look fantastic. Despite the occasional framerate drop-off, the world is full of color, personality, and top notch humor. Asha is a fantastic heroine, and all the friends she meets along the way create a memorable and hilarious cast of characters. However, the soundtrack feels rather pedestrian compared to Wonder Boy’s stellar visual ambience.
Gameplay melds classic 2D platforming with basic but engaging RPG mechanics. The majority of the action involves Asha jumping, swinging her sword, and using her adorable companion, the Pepelogoo, to fight enemies, solve puzzles, and navigate maze-like dungeons. The main collectables of the game are life drops, which increase Asha’s health, and coins which can be used to purchases stronger swords, shields, and armor (though I never had enough money for the best items!).
For the most part, traversing and exploring Monster World is a delight. With simple mechanics that are easy to pick up but satisfying to master, squashing enemies and collecting life drops to power up Asha kept me engaged for the majority of my play though. Most dungeons are well designed and force the player to keep their eyes peeled for an unexpected trap or enemy. The capitol city of Rapadagna is a great hub area with new merchants to interact with and secrets to discover with each return visit. Even on the harder difficulty, Wonder Boy isn’t an overly challenging game except for a few portions in the later half, so this would be a great fit for beginners.
Though the remake has completely overhauled the game’s graphical aesthetic, it left the gameplay untouched, resulting in segments that flounder compared to the game’s high visual bar.
Dungeons, though solidly designed, tend to outstay their welcome. I found myself ready for most dungeons to end ten to fifteen minutes before reaching the boss battle due to lack of introducing new mechanics, or endless backtracking if I missed an item required for progression. And because background textures look identical for the greater part of most dungeons, it is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of passageways. Out of every level, I enjoyed my time in the Ice Temple the least, as it was the biggest offender of said outdated troupes. And don’t even get me started on the infuriating trivia section required to reach the dungeon’s depths. Why did developers in the 90’s think gamers enjoyed trivia sections requiring the player to recall the game’s most minute and often subjective details? I wish a bit of time was shaved off each dungeon in favor of creating one more.
Despite these flaws, I give Wonder Boy a pass because it leans into its Achilles heel: it is hilariously self aware it is a remake. NPC’s are constantly breaking the 4th wall to comment on how antiquated aspects of gameplay are, or noting how Asha has already been told how to swing her sword at least three times. My favorite instance of this is the Save Sage, who in the original game, would pop up in designated spots so the player could save their progress. But now that the player can save from the menu at any time, the Sage remarks, “Things sure are convenient these days…I guess I’m out of a job.” For moments like this, I respect the developers for staying true to the source material, and making light of the flaws they are well aware the game processes.
Over the course of its roughly five hour playtime, Wonder Boy: Asha In Monster World made me smile and laugh on countless occasions because of its humor, radiant graphics, and endearing world and characters. Though I wish certain aspects of gameplay were modified along with the visuals, I understand the motivation to honor the original game, and applaud the developers for leaning into its shortcomings. Wonder Boy is a lovely adventure for fans of the original and newcomers alike.