Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World (Switch): COMPLETED!

A long, long time ago, I played about 15 minutes of the original Mega Drive version of this game in a local game shop. It was all in Japanese but I liked the look of it. Not quite as long ago, but still over a decade ago, Sega released the first English translated version of it as part of a Wonder Boy pack on Xbox Live Arcade. I bought it, but never played it.

Then this came along. A remake of Monster World IV, with new graphics and save system, on the Switch. And, if you bought the special edition physical game card you got the original game (translated) included on the card for free. Bargain, right? Sure, it looked a bit like a 2000s Flash game, but after the fantastic remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the excellent Monster Boy, it’ll be great anyway, yeah?

Well, not really. It hasn’t aged well.

Firstly, I should say that once you’re actually playing it, the graphics aren’t nearly as bad as they look in screenshots. They’re not quite right, but they’re fine. What is more of a problem is that the levels (it’s not open world like the other related games I mentioned) are just… boring. Each is themed as per every 1990s platformer, but they’re sparse. You walk along, fight one simple enemy, then walk along and fight another. Sometimes you might have to fight two. A couple of times, there were three. But there’s a lot of walking around doing very little.

Some parts of the levels are like mazes that have loads of near-identical areas, loop round themselves if you take a wrong turn (or have to backtrack), and these artificially lengthen the game. Especially the bits you have to retread as the baddies are all gone, so you get long, empty walks.

Another issue is the “2.5D” layering the levels, and the hub town especially, employ. At various points, you can step into or out of the screen into a different horizontal plane. It’s been used a lot in other games, but here it seems mostly pointless as it’s underused and forced as part of your route rather than a way to find secrets. It makes the mazes needlessly more confusing, especially on the mountain level.

You get a companion who is a flying ball/dragon/bird thing part way into the game which acts as a double-jump and glide replacement, which makes you seem much more nimble and the platforming becomes more fun, only (spoilers) the game then nerfs him before taking him away completely later on.

Good points include the music, which is excellent, and Asha’s animation (especially the ridiculous bum-wiggle she does when opening a chest), which is much better than most of the rest of the characters and baddies. The “Persian” theme, however, just serves to prompt comparison with the Shantae games, and most games don’t have a hope in hell competing with their animation. You can also save your progress wherever you like, rather than at the badly spaced, often missable, and far too infrequent Save Sages of the Mega Drive version. They’re still here, but are now pointless.

In all, I’m pretty disappointed with Asha in Monster World. I did have some fun, and I did enjoy it enough to finish it without it being a slog, but it is a game that despite the new paint and trousers, is still stuck in the past. It was an also-ran compared to the others in the series even back then though, so I can’t complain too much.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (Switch): COMPLETED!

If you’re wondering why this looks like a new Wonder Boy game to follow in the series after Wonder Boy/Wonder Boy in Monster Land/Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap/Wonder Boy in Monster World/Monster World IV, then you’ll not be surprised that it is in everything but name. Even the heroes of those games make appearances, sort of, in Monster Boy.

The plot is similar to that of Wonder Boy III, in that your hero, Jin, has been turned into an animal (in this case, a pig), and must progress through the Metroidvania-ish world gathering orbs. Each one of these can turn Jin into a different creature, each with different skills: The snake can crawl on certain walls and ceilings, the lion can smash through certain blocks, etc.

And it’s huge. It took me a good 20 hours or more to complete, which is much, much longer than the previous games. It was actually quite a bit easier too, especially the bosses, all of which were walkovers – even the final boss who I beat on my first attempt while barely getting hit. The platforming and some of the puzzles were more challenging, but the important thing was the whole game was a lot of fun.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Switch): COMPLETED!

I thought I’d completed the Master System version of this a few months ago, but it turns out it was actually May last year. How time flies! This version is the Sega Ages remaster of the original arcade version, which I’d expected to be virtually the same as the Master System on (albeit with better graphics), and although it was very similar the differences still threw me.

For a start, it’s a lot harder. Like, several difficulty levels harder. This is for a number of reasons, not least that the timer runs down much more quickly and unless you’re legging it through the levels at full pelt (which you can’t do) you will definitely lose a lot of health – you lose a heart every time the egg timer runs out. The bosses also seem to require many, many more hits. Even with the best sword in the game, they’re just sponges. Then there seem to be more, and trickier, levels too.

This is probably the hardest boss in the game. He chucks out smaller clones who then chuck ice at you.

But it has some features the Master System didn’t. You can continue when you die, which is more than useful (until the final level where they don’t let you any more), and if you decide to restart the game from scratch, this Sega Ages version allows you to start with the equipment you had previously. This means you can get hold of the best armour, boots, shield and sword much more easily. As I said though, the bosses are so hard that doesn’t help with them so much.

When I finally reached the final level I had the choice of getting the bell (to find my way through the maze) and the ruby (to make the final boss a lot easier). I went with the ruby and hoped I could remember the route. Thankfully, I could! The dragon wasn’t too hard (way easier than bouncing mushroom guy or Snow Cong & Chums, for sure), and then the game was over.

He does that thing where when he’s dead he just changes form and you have to fight him again. Sigh.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (MS): COMPLETED!

Another game I’ve completed before, but not recently and certainly not as frequently as Mega-lo-Mania.

Helpfully, I totally missed getting the bell so had to rely on mainly faulty memory to make it through the castle at the end. I’d stocked up on Thunderflashes though, which makes taking out the dragon a lot easier when I finally got to him.

Great game, but overshadowed now by the far better Dragon’s Trap remake.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (Switch): COMPLETED!

Sometimes, I wonder if my game playing skills have deteriorated over the years. A combination of getting older, and games getting easier. It’s likely. It’s with trepidation that I tackled The Dragon’s Trap then, as I always found the original much too hard.

dragon's trap

As far as I can make out, the new version does nothing to make things easier. It’s a reskin, with everything in the same place. Enemies take the same damage. There aren’t any new powers or anything to help. I wasn’t sure I’d manage it.

It’s true that The Dragon’s Trap was indeed difficult. However, when I took my time, actually watched the baddies, anticipated their movements and attacks, I realised it was doable. Just like in the old days. Funny that. Grinding for money to buy better equipment helped too. Sure, I messed up a lot. Died one hell of a lot. But today, I beat the final boss.

Not that I realised it was the final boss. I thought there’d be at least one more after it, but no – up came the end of game sequence. Oddly enough, the final boss was by far the easiest. He was easy to dodge. You could hit him anywhere (not just his head like with the other dragons), and you automatically block all his attacks. Assuming you face him, anyway. No epic final battle, sadly, and although I was sure I’d have to return to the castle afterwards, alas, this was not the case.

It doesn’t really matter. I had my fun and beat a game I’d never beaten before.

Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (Switch)

To my forever shame, I never completed Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap on the Master System. I own it of course, and played it a lot years ago. As most people will agree, it’s a fantastic game, but somehow, even with the infamous WE5T ONE “cheat” I could never beat it.

Until now!

If only. No, it’s still hard.

This new remake isn’t really a remake. It’s a reskin. Everything bar the sound and graphics are exactly like the original. It doesn’t look like it, but all the blocks, items, baddies and objects are exactly where they used to be, and attack or respond in the same way. Only now they have fancy new graphics and animation! There’s actually a button you can press at any moment that “unskins” the game and lets you play it just as it was on the Master System. You can swap back and forth whenever you like. It’s black magic.

wonder boy

Which means, it’s the same game as before. Thankfully, it was a great game before and so still is now. But oh so hard.

I’ve worked my way through Dragon Girl (oh yeah, you can be a girl now) and Mouse Girl’s sections, and have beaten a few bosses. I can’t defeat Pirate Dragon though, as he’s clearly impossible. I’ve managed to upgrade some of my equipment, found an extra heart, and bagged some special weapons, but all in vain as I fell once more. Hmm.