If you didn’t grow up in the Sega Genesis/SNES era, deciding which retro games are essential must-play experiences can be quite the daunting task, especially as not every classic received a western release. Monster World IV is one such example, waiting 18 years from its original 1994 release to first receive a translated version on the Wii’s virtual console in 2012 before also seeing releases on the PS Store and X-Box Network.
Better late than never though, as this definition of a hidden gem encompasses everything great about the 16-bit days with its charming quirks and addictive gameplay making it perfect for children and adults alike.
This particular release is slightly unique in the sense that it’s only available as a download code included in the physical release of MWIV‘s remake Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, and there are no other standalone versions available on current gen consoles, which might normally be a cause for concern for potential newcomers. This far from accurately reflects its true value, however, as this action-adventure platformer has aged like a fine wine served with cheese with great character designs and soundtrack, fun basic gameplay and the cutest little monster assistant ever by the name of Pepelogoo.
This blue Kirby-like monster can be utilized to assist you during gameplay by reaching far-off switches, to glide to inaccessible areas and to protect you. This implementation of the buddy-type system is excellent and is on par with Yoshi and Mario as one of the best I’ve experienced in a 2D setting.
While the aforementioned features are the game’s main appeal, it’s actually the small things in MWIV that made it especially enjoyable for me -the easy on the eyes animation, the great sound effects and wise-cracking characters, such as a boss setting up three barriers to prevent your progress only to ask you three times if you can beat him while chuckling to himself.
They simply don’t make ’em how they used to.
The gameplay is a mixture of Zelda-like sword wielding and Mario-esque platforming with a hub area with 4 areas to access. Each area contains a spirit which needs to be freed to stop the world-conquering evil doers and are attacked one-by-one while being able to access a hometown where Asha can upgrade her weapons and equipment.
The controls are simple and easy to pick-up and the enemies attacks predictable, but the animation and each sound-effect makes each confrontation satisfying enough to warrant you ploughing through each screen of fixed place enemies.
While entirely linear, the adventure gives you the impression that you have the agency to take it on however you like, with conversation options of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, actually only acting as an amusing diversions which allow you to decline entirely reasonable requests just to see how characters react. Refuse to call the pets of an annoying lady cute or call out your genie only to refuse to be taken anywhere over and over, frustrating the townspeople is hilarious and does a great job filling the world with personality.
In fact, nearly everything the game has to offer will stick with you, such as the repetitive, but addictive, tunes that will loop on repeat in your head for days afterwards.
With the re-release has come some additions, but are mostly aimed at reverting the game to how it was previously than making any improvements. Added are shaders and filters to give the overly sharp colors of modern displays its original retro CRT look as well as the original resolution. One QOL addition is a fast-forward button to speed through the game, which might just be a happy medium between keeping the game as faithful to the original and difficult as possible, by not adding a save anywhere system, and at the same time, offering an olive branch to the modern gamer who can’t handle the frustration of dying over and over – like me.
Another retro quirk is that you can’t hold more than one piece of equipment at any one time meaning that if you thought that purchasing two different shields ahead of time was a good idea……well it isn’t, as you’ll lose the first one you purchase.
I don’t normally find myself compelled to complete platformers – as they are so very adept at showing me how incompetent a gamer I am – but MWIV‘s charming presentation gave me a feeling of comforting nostalgia, despite never having played it before, making it one of the few platformers that I’ve actually wanted to see through to the end.
It’s therefore a shame that the only way to play MWIV on a modern console is through the remake’s download code, as this game is most definitely worth it on its own merits, and while I can’t speak for the quality of the remake, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, what I can speak to is the quality of the original, and that its inclusion is a great incentive for those platforming fans currently on the fence.