Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review: A Retro Return of Adorableness
The Wonder Boy series has been around a very long time and had many variations on its side-scrolling jumping and hitting theme. Asha in Monster World was originally a 16-bit Sega release called Monster World IV. Now, it’s been revamped for the modern era.
Available on the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, this is a Wonder Boy game without an actual Wonder Boy. Instead, we have the arabian-themed adventures of young warrior, Asha. Asha starts off to prove herself as a local warrior and guardian but soon finds evil afoot in the magical land. The world’s four elemental protection spirits have been trapped by a nefarious group of dark wizards who are all about to get their butts thoroughly kicked by our plucky heroine.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review: A Retro Return of Adorableness
Each elemental spirit has its own distinct world of course, full of monsters to hack, treasures to find, puzzles to solve, and a couple of bosses to defeat. As the game progresses, these worlds become noticeably maze-like with a heavy focus on item hunts. To help, Asha finds a strange blue floating creature called a Pepelogoo, which is key to overcoming obstacles.
The Pepelogoo can do all kinds of convenient tasks. In the fire-themed world, it can act as a safe platform for lava spouts, protect Asha from falling fire, and light lamps. In the ice world, it can melt ice and get turned into a slidable ice cube. The biggest perk is that holding the little bugger lets you float fall and double jump.
This pet mechanic is likely to endear itself to some and just annoy others. First, to grab Pepelogoo, Asha whistles. Since you have to use the creature pretty much constantly, you’ll be pressing that whistle button a lot. At first, it’s fine but after a while, one might find it to be the music accompanying a slow descent into madness.
Amusingly, you evolve little Pepelogoo by having it eat the fruit of one special tree in the main city. Each change causes it to increase in size and by the third update, it has gained enough weight to cause Asha consternation. She can still float fall, throw it, and double jump, but otherwise, she can’t move while holding it, which changes the game's dynamics a bit.
Overall, Pepelogoo adds an interesting air to the otherwise classic Wonder Boy gameplay and level design.
The level design is hit and miss on the whole. While Asha’s adventure is undeniably charming, with equal mixes of challenge and cute, there are some issues.
The most problematic is the ice world. This is a very Egyptian-like desert now encased in ice. Every floor is ice-covered, so Asha slides everywhere. This is, as one might imagine, annoying, but ok, it’s ice. The level opens with a completely flat sequence where you jump over some obstacles and hack a few bad things, and there’s almost nothing else going on.
The world then takes you inside a few pyramid mazes. Multi-leveled, but also painfully flat. You actually get a map for these levels, unlike the other worlds, because there’s so much back and forth through largely identical hallways. Here, Asha inflicts an interestingly old-school phenomenon on players: there are code-locked doors, with different designations and d-pad unlock codes.
Sometimes, the game gives you the code or part of it, and you’re left to work out the full code of up to five or six directional presses. These codes aren’t a one-and-done thing, though. You have to input the code every time you need to use a door (which is a lot), and getting the sequence wrong makes spears fly at you. That’s a fair bit of memorization in a tight space with stiff penalties.
Another sequence in this particular world requires Asha to answer questions from a Sphinx. The answers are all just tidbits about the world and characters you’ll glean from talking to the characters, so if you didn’t pay much attention, prepare for pain.
It’s not just a few questions here, either. The Sphinx has a lot of questions it will ask you, and getting just one wrong sends you through this annoying loop of having to start the pop quiz again. Things about what Asha’s parents said at the very beginning, whether your genie pal has teeth or ears, the colors of things, food preferences of characters… it’s an insanely annoying sequence for anyone with a poor memory or dislike of talking to every NPC standing around in the world.
Finally, while Pepelogoo evolves a bit and presents new puzzle-solving abilities, Asha really doesn’t. She can buy better swords and elemental-themed shields, along with bracelets that increase her base hit points. There are also magical drops all over levels (along with gold) that will further increase her hearts after collecting 10.
Asha herself, however, never gains new moves. Her swordplay options are the same throughout the entire game. She can guard, slash, or jump, and you can press either up or down to do a slash in that direction. She has a terribly short attack range (and no distance weapons) and combat quickly feels repetitive.
Oddly, while pressing the LS button puts her in immobile guard mode (though she can turn to guard in either direction, which is important), so does pressing down on the stick. To say this is a slightly confusing holdover from olden times is a mild understatement.
There are plenty of bright points in Asha in Monster World though. The sharp, vivid graphics look gorgeous and the game, while the all-2D gameplay has some interesting use of 3D and perspective elements, such as finding ways to get into the background. It’s well-animated and full of great characters. We could definitely have done without the weird butt wiggle Asha does every time she opens a chest, but otherwise, Asha is a fun, likable protagonist.
The various enemy types are fun as well, even if they’re mostly mindless, just slogging forward to hit you. The bosses are much more interesting, with shape-changing wizards, a large harpy, and other goofy-cartoon monsters.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Review — The Bottom Line
- Charming character and world design
- Pepelogoo creature adds some distinction to the platforming
- Wildly different environments with some fun challenges and puzzles
- Looks great
- Asha doesn’t evolve much through the game
- The whole ice world is kind of annoying, but that Sphinx sequence is hateful
- Many levels are noticeably flat
- Memorizing stuff isn’t that fun
Pop-quizzing Sphinx aside, the use of riddles and hints to figure out puzzles and object placement is a fun element, and overall Asha in Monster World is a fun old-school trip.
There’s a bit too much doggedly vintage design at work here, but this is a remake of an old game. We hope Asha returns in something decidedly more expansive and modern though. With a bit more refinement, she could give Shantae a real challenge.
[Note: ININ Games provided the copy of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World used for this review.]
[Editor's Note: "The digital version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World can be purchased from the Nintendo and Sony stores and is published by STUDIOARTDINK. The boxed retail version of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World comes exclusively with the original Monster World IV published by ININ Games."]