|Wonder Boy – Asha in Monster World
|Artdink, ININ Games, G Choice, Studio Artdink, United Games Entertainment GmbH
|May 28th, 2021
|PC, Switch, PS4
|E for Everyone 10+ – Fantasy Violence
Even though I had never played any of the original Wonder Boy games, I’ve been looking forward to Asha in Monster World for a while. The reason is quite simple – I loved the visual aesthetic of the game. It instantly spoke to me, and reminded me fondly of another series I love, Shantae. Sure, Asha’s not a genie. But she dresses an awful lot like Shantae, and she even gets her own genie of the lamp to teleport her around. Plus, both of them feature a lot of levity and fun platforming. The only question then is this – did Asha in Monster World live up to my hype? Or was it too old school for its own good?
The game starts off nicely, with a call to adventure for young Asha. She wants to prove her mettle as a warrior, so off she goes. Though all she can really do is swing her sword, use her shield, and run and jump, she’s pretty capable. Luckily, once the game starts in earnest she gets some new maneuvers thanks to her monster buddy, Pepelogoo. He’s basically Asha’s own personal Pokémon. Grabbing hold of him lets her float slowly down, and jumping while floating gives Asha a double jump, of sorts. You can also throw Pepelogoo into danger, using it cleverly to solve puzzles. He’ll even evolve as the game progresses, allowing new techniques. The rotund little guy is also unkillable, so you don’t have to feel any concern about using him like a crash test dummy. The one you have to worry about is Asha herself. Even though you can only take one heart’s worth of damage from anything, she’s pretty frail, and it’s easy to get steamrolled by overeager foes.
I should mention, you will gradually get more and more health by picking up blue gems, which should make it harder for foes to chip it away. But in my experience, I never had enough health. I especially didn’t have enough to prevent taking damage from traps and other cheap tricks. Perhaps my biggest complaint in the combat department is how some foes cause Asha to fly backwards when she touches them. Granted, she doesn’t take damage from this, but it’s easy to get stunlocked by enemy attacks once you’re cornered. An especially egregious example of this happened late in the game, when Asha gets shrunk down and has to face a giant slime. It keeps spawning more and more slimes that rush you, and your sword slashes can’t harm it. I was so frustrated by the fight I had to look online for how to win, and found you basically just have to survive long enough till you can finally damage the boss.
Which brings me to my real complaint with Asha in Monster World – the difficulty. In many ways, the game is fair. But it becomes apparent very quickly this remake is built on the bones of a sometimes unforgiving old game. You’ll get lost cause you can’t see a platform just out of reach, or work through a maze of interconnected rooms without a map. There’s even one pyramid you have to get through by using magic spells (essentially button prompts). The trick is, the game only tells you one spell, and has you guess the rest based off clues. Which I found pretty irritating. There’s also one water dungeon that required me to use Pepelogoo to help me navigate water currents. But I had missed a room that explained this mechanic, and so I kept falling into electrical traps and dying instead.
Also, while I generally enjoyed the combat, many of the mini bosses have a bad tendency of rushing you mercilessly. I even got knocked off the stage more than once by these foes, which of course resulted in the loss of a heart. I tend to prefer fights that have distinct patterns and visual or audio cues to let you know how to react. Though the boss fights are better, they can be a bit annoying as well, and they usually have a couple phases to get through. This game was much more frenetic and frustrating than I expected from the candy colored packaging.
There are a few things Asha has in her favor. One is that you can find magical elixirs that will revive her upon dying, so long as Pepelogoo is with you. These were literal life savers, and helped me get past the more difficult battles in the game. Asha also has a magical attack, activated by pressing two buttons simultaneously. I found the timing a bit tricky with this, and found the attack itself a bit underwhelming. That’s not to say it had no purpose, just that I expected a more bombastic technique.
As you play, you’ll get tons of cash you can use to upgrade your inventory, making Asha hit harder and sometimes evade damage. And worst-case scenario, you can always buy a ton of healing items from the vending machines found in dungeons. Another thing I found very helpful in Asha in Monster World is that you can save literally anywhere. They make it apparent this was not the case in the original, and it was really convenient. Especially given how each dungeon is progressively longer and more complex than those that came before it.
I really don’t want to be so harsh about the game, cause there’s a lot to love. Asha is freaking adorable, and full of giddy energy. She even wiggles her butt whenever she opens a chest, which is the cutest thing ever. Likewise, the artwork in the game is stunning and charming, with bright colors and expressive faces. The music is also catchy and enjoyable, though not life changing. If I were to review the game solely on the aesthetics, it would get a much higher score.
Ultimately, Asha in Monster World is held back by too many awkward design choices. I mentioned earlier your Pepelogoo can revive you with elixirs. What’s odd is you can’t buy elixirs, and only find them in random chests. Worse, late in the game you and your pet get separated, which means you face some bosses without the use of your restorative elixirs. This includes the boss of the game, which just adds insult to injury.
Much as I wish I could rave about how amazing the game is, it’s unable to reach the heights I thought it capable of. But since the ending hints there’s gonna be a remake of the next game in the Wonder Boy series, I hope that can fully realize its vision while still being a balanced experience. A fun trip down memory lane, but hard to recommend for anyone other than expert platformers, especially for $34.99.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher