I don’t even need to look that deeply into Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World’s history to know it’s a remake of an old game. I can tell simply by playing it. While some may still enjoy the archaic gameplay of old, I find my delight in the old-school design philosophy waning. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World sports a delectable coat of shiny new paint. But its insides still rot away with age. This new Wonder Boy game is by no means a bad one. However, like store-bought baked goods, once you’ve had one, you quickly realise they all taste the same.
“Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World follows its predecessor’s game design to a tee.”
To say that Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World has a story would be rather generous. While there are the traditionally tropey trappings of a JRPG narrative buried somewhere beneath the game’s glossy surface, I struggled to maintain any interest in any of it throughout my journey.
However, Asha herself, despite never speaking, is quite charismatic. She exuded the energy of a Studio Ghibli protagonist, bouncing around with awestruck eyes as she explores every cavern and forest. Unfortunately, the core cast of characters outside of Asha are neither here nor there. Which is to say, they’re frankly rather bland.
When you’re not engaging in the brief snippets of uninspired narrative, you’ll be bounding across platforms. Only, as you do, you’ll be praying you’re not struck by an unexpected ball of flames. Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World follows its predecessor’s game design to a tee. Just like in the arcade games of old, it’s nigh on impossible to discern what’s coming from where, or indeed how to evade it. Far too often, while platforming, Asha would be hit with a projectile or floating enemy. This would knock her off of the platform and into the bottomless pit below. This is a transparent and cheap attempt by the game to imply difficulty or challenging platforming. Unfortunately, it is neither.
“Even when combat does work, it is entirely devoid of fun.”
This cheap and unforgiving game design extends to combat too. Where other action-platformers have developed their combat to work in conjunction with the platforming, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World would rather they were diametrically opposed. Whenever Asha bumps into an enemy she is knocked back. An unstoppable animation of her rolling away plays out. Essentially, should she roll off of a platform, you’re helpless to stop it. As the majority of locations tend to be in confined, restrictive platforming segments where a pit of lava awaits below, this results in infuriatingly cheap deaths.
Even when combat does work, it is entirely devoid of fun. I found the best strategy was to just bash them with my sword a bunch of times until they dropped dead. While certain enemies have AOE attacks, the majority get stun-locked whenever you hit them. This meant, for the most part, I could just tap A a bunch of times and be rewarded with a shower of golden coins. Even when combat did get a little more engaging, it still struggled to impress.
“The Pepelogo turns the game into a living nightmare as you whistle, wait and then jump, only to repeat the process again.”
Fortunately, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is a platformer. So, even though the action plays a significant role in its DNA, platforming will dominate much of your play sessions. Unfortunately, the platforming stinks. I don’t need fancy words to articulate how dumbfoundingly bad the platforming is. Toward the beginning of the game, you are given an asininely annoying creature called a Pepelogo. It is used in platforming, for example, to double jump.
Unfortunately, the little so-and-so hovers behind you unless you whistle for him. This means that every single time you want to double jump, you have to hold the whistle button until he latches on. Only once he is on can you jump. Of course, there are frequently occasions where you need to double jump consecutively. This just turns the game into a living nightmare as you whistle, wait and then jump, only to repeat the process. Also, because he takes so long to latch on to you, it is best not to hold your breath that he’ll save you from your impending doom.
“Dungeons in Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World just go on for far too long.”
Speaking of repeating processes over and over, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is unbelievably repetitive. In the first big dungeon, after beating what I assumed was the boss, I figured I was nearing the end. However, after passing through identical-looking locations, fighting the same enemies over and over and engaging in mediocre platforming across similar looking levels, I felt as if I were trapped in some sadistic labyrinthine of which there was no escape.
This is exacerbated by the fact that dungeons just go on for far too long. At first, you settle into it, treating each dungeon as just a section of the game. You could almost mistake it for the far superior Wonder Boy games that came before. But after a while, it becomes increasingly exhausting. To make matters worse, health items are infrequent at best. This means that by the time you reach the boss, your health might as well be non-existent.
“I found that the more I played, the more it tended to just give up and let you guess what it is you have to do next.”
Before I get to the worst part of Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, I better say something nice. One of the most integral parts of an action-platformer, outside of platforming and action, of course, is exploration.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World does a phenomenal job of making exploration enticing and interesting. While the platforming can often be iffy, going off the beaten path can be extremely rewarding. Whether it’s funny asides from NPCs or unspoiled riches, there’s usually something for you to find. It was refreshing, to say the least. While it often elongated the more laborious sections far longer than they have any sane reason to be, I usually felt that it was worthwhile.
Alas, I can’t help but get back to criticising Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World. I found that the more I played, the more it tended to just give up and let you guess what it is you have to do next. There isn’t a tutorial, nor are you eased into its mechanics. At the very least, I expected a reassuring nudge as I descended into the dark, dank caves to fight gargantuan monsters. Regrettably, like a cold distant father, Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World refused to even give me that.
“This isn’t some great offence to video gaming as a whole. Rather, it is a love letter to a bygone era I feel is best left in the past.”
Unfortunately, even if Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World didn’t suffer from its mounting multitude of failings, the lack of an autosave feature would still make this game a tough one to recommend. After having sunk almost two and a half hours into this game, I died and was forced to return to the main menu. I had no choice but to start all over again. The game offers manual saving, but I don’t remember it ever mentioning that the game didn’t autosave. It doesn’t help that whenever you load into a new area, a small spinning icon appears in the bottom right. You know, like it does when every other game autosaves.
While it may seem that I’ve been overly harsh on Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World, I do truly believe that it is, at worst, a mediocre game. This isn’t some great offence to video gaming as a whole. Rather, it is a love letter to a bygone era, I feel, is best left in the past.
While Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World does offer some much-needed innovations to a game that released way back when, frankly, I don’t think it does enough. This isn’t a game I’d go out and buy, especially not for its base retail price of $34.99/£31.49/AU$52.50. Maybe on a deep sale, fans of the franchise or the original game might get a kick out of this. But for everyone else, I’d say you’d be fine giving this one a pass.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, code was provided by the publisher.
Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World Reivew
While Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World is by no means a bad game, but its innovations on the original fail to overshadow its glaring faults. A lack of an autosave system, repetitive environments and enemies, and lacklustre combat make for a delightfully lackadaisical, yet rather mundane platforming experience.