Monster World IV Review (English Translation)
Platform: Mega Drive and PS2 (Japan Only), English translation available on XBLA (360), PSN (PS3), and Virtual Console (Wii)
Released: 1994 (Japan only), 2012 (English Translation)
Developer: Westone (English port handled by M2)
Digital Release? Yes
Price: $8.00 (Wii), $9.99 (XBLA & PSN – part of Monster World Collection)
The Wonder Boy/Monster World series is one of those unappreciated darlings in gaming that has spread its love across various Sega consoles and even arcades but never reached it’s height of popularity in the West. So I guess it made sense that the series swan song, titled Monster World IV, was released on the Mega Drive in Japan only. It was not until 2012 that a official English re-release came out on services like XLBA and PSN, which is the version I will review here. [Editor’s Note: There is a fan translation of the original game released by DeJap in 2000, that site can be found here. Our review does not account for or evaluate this fan translation.]
Monster World IV most notably ditches the Wonder Boy portion of the title because this time you played as a female protagonist named Asha. This was not the first time you could play as a female character, in the ever popular third and final arcade edition of the series Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair you could play as the pretty pink princess Puraprill. Monster World IV, however, does a fantastic job of creating a strong female protagonist which is pretty impressive since this game comes from Japan, Asha is badass.
The story is simple: as Asha you’re now old enough to carry a sword so off you go to kill monsters. Okay, there is a little more to it than that. The game does loosely follow the events following Wonder Boy in Monster World on the Mega Drive and when I say loosely I mean basically a certain character returns from that game to cause trouble. If you successfully completed that game you will know who because it has a cliffhanger at the end hinted at a future game. I was genuinely surprised to find the story had some heart to it, especially for a game in this series. You form a bond with this little blue pet Pepe the pepelougoo, who becomes your companion early on in the game and whom you become quite attached to.
Monster World IV certainly looks like a game at the end of a console cycle. The game’s graphics are very colourful and cheerful; it has this sort of colouring book feel to it, everything just seems to have this shade of innocence, even on the enemy sprites. Much like the rest of the series a lot of the character sprites seem to lack a proper mouth or nose, including the main character, though if you love the other games in the series you will appreciate the charm of it. I have to give credit to this game a lot of the characters are very memorable and all stand out in their own way. Fans of Wonder Boy in Monster World will smile at cameos from infamous characters from that game. For me the best character by far is the sarcastic Genie who you meet early on in the game and basically transports Asha to and from Monster World, but each encounter with him just makes you laugh. There is also this old man called Save of Sage who basically pops up all over the place and allows you to save your game but like the genie this character has some humorous dialogue.
Monster World IV may look cute and cuddly on the outside, but upon playing be ready for one challenging adventure. The game plays as a 2D adventure – the controls are simple: jump, use your sword, and press a button to get your blue buddy Pepe to do stuff like flip switches (though his abilities change as the game progresses, which is a nice touch). Also some of the animations of this little blue ball will make you chuckle. Enemies and boss characters are incredibly brutal in this game so be prepared to die a lot. I found the sword mechanics clunky, making it difficult to hit targets in the game. Apart from the bosses, who you have to kill, I found myself evading enemies more than fighting them where I could. Combat just did not feel fun in this game. You have a life bar which can be extended by finding blue tears scattered round the world or by upgrading your armour. What is disappointing is that although you can upgrade your character’s gear, like armour or sword, you don’t ever see any cosmetic changes. Unlike previous games in the series, you can’t even swap out your sword for anything else like a spear, you can only upgrade the weapon you own. This feels like a step back for the series.
The music for the game, much like the graphics, is pretty cheerful, occasionally altering, and becoming slightly more gritty in the dungeons and boss fights. I should warn you the main theme for the game gets played a lot throughout the adventure, so if it doesn’t sight right the first time you may want to play your own music instead while playing the game. Also in true retro fashion all of the dialogue from the characters is text based and Asha is a mute.
Monster World IV is not very long if you’re dedicated. I would say it won’t take you more than four or five gaming sessions. There are plenty of save points and even if you take a break from this game it is very easy to pick up and play again. Occasionally you may get lost, but due to the small designs of most areas and dungeons you can usually figure out where to go. The game length seems about right, it’s just a shame the game lacks variation and feels small and claustrophobic for this reason. A lot of the dungeons feel similar and you will return to the same city after completing each area as opposed to going somewhere new, which seems like a wasted opportunity.
Monster World IV is a good game on its on merits but you can’t help wishing this was not the last entry to an incredible series. Much like the rest of the games, it does have its own personality and brings new ideas to the series, but just doesn’t feel as good as entries prior although I admire the effort. Had I not played through this game a second time I would have rated it a lot lower as my first impression was not great. Sitting back and playing through a second time I gained a new appreciation for Monster World IV. Replaying this again I think it seems clear why Monster World IV probably didn’t make it over to the Western shores originally as a cart release, because it just lacks that additional depth we have come to expect from the series, like using different weapons. It sounds like I’m being tough but I actually recommend everybody try this game. People not so fond of the Wonder Boy series will probably enjoy this game more than long term fans. It’s one of those games that proves the 2D adventure can be done well and most importantly that older retro games can still have a strong female protagonist.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
Monster World IV was played by the reviewer on the Xbox 360 as part of the Monster World Collection. It was purchased by the reviewer and no code was provided. This version has been altered with the enhanced graphics from the Sega Ages 2500 port on Playstation 2 in Japan (and Japanese) only. In addition it was given a new translation and is available in the West with English. A fan translation exists for the original Mega Drive game and a link to that patch can be found in the editor’s note at the beginning of the review.