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.