Monster World IV
Genre: Action RPG/Platformer
Release Date: 05/22/12
The lineage of the Wonder Boy/Monster World series is, to put it politely, a confusing mess at the best of times. Developer Westone created Wonder Boy as a goofy little caveman character for Sega, then licensed out the concept to Hudson to create the Adventure Island series, while Wonder Boy became a medieval knight character instead. The various Wonder Boy games continued to come out for various Sega consoles, starting with Wonder Boy in Monster Land/Super Wonder Boy: Monster World, while Westone continued licensing the games (under different names) to other platforms. As such, this is why we have games like Dragon’s Curse and Monster Lair that play identically to Sega published Wonder Boy titles. Anyway, Sega considered the Monster World and Wonder Boy franchises to be related, but different, meaning that we ended up with games like Wonder Boy in Monster World, or Wonder Boy V: Monster World III as it was called in Japan. Seriously. The point of all of that is that Monster World IV, aside from being basically the last game Westone released in this series, is part of the series, but is the only one in the series lacking the Wonder Boy name. In other words: if you’ve played any of the various Wonder Boy titles, you have an idea how this game is going to be from the get-go. This being the game’s first appearance in the US, however, lends it something of a specialness that the other games released in Sega’s recent push on the PSN Store lack. While the Wonder Boy games don’t make too many appearances on Sega compilations, they’ve been released previously in the States, while Monster World IV is basically brand new for those of us who don’t import and such. Having said that, let’s jump in and see if Monster World IV pays off that specialness in any meaningful way.
As the game came out towards the tail end of the sixteen bit era of gaming, Monster World IV has a fairly solid story attached to it, all things considered. You take on the role of a young girl named Asha, who has dreams of becoming a hero, as she begins her journey to do exactly that. She ends up in a prime spot to do so, as the Kingdom of Rapadagna is in a bit of a bind when she arrives. The four protective spirits of the kingdom have gone missing and everything is in absolute shambles… though some incredibly cute new pets have arrived… and the queen tasks Asha to look into restoring the spirits to power and discovering what’s going on. As silent protagonists go, Asha is a fairly likable one, and while the plot is utterly stereotypical in most respects, it’s fairly well handled given the time period in which the game came out and the concepts behind it. The game also comes with the same extra options as Alex Kidd in Miracle World, meaning you can play through a trial game to get a rank on the leaderboard, view and create replays, look over the manual and listen to the game music in the jukebox. Interestingly, the games in the Sega Vintage series also seem to link up their jukeboxes, so you could theoretically make a playlist featuring the music from any game you download, as I discovered when the music from Alex Kidd in Miracle World popped up while I was looking over the jukebox for this, so there’s that.
Monster World IV holds up well on the visual side of things, and while it’s apparent that the game was pushing the limits of the Genesis color palette, the game still looks great. The animation quality is excellent for a game of its time, and Asha has a ton of personality in everything she does, from her fists-out run to the way her knees buckle and her eyes bug out when carrying something heavy, and she’s an awesome main character in general. The enemy animations are a little less impressive in comparison, but get the job done fine, and the enemy designs themselves are generally quite nice throughout the game. The game environments are suitably varied and all fairly impressive given the age of the game, and the different levels change environmental designs several times, keeping things interesting as you progress. The game music is very nice as well and fits the theme of the game well, and several of the tracks are enjoyable to listen to on their own as well. The sound effects are generally fitting as well, and while there’s nothing that particularly stands out, the effects work well enough for the game.
Monster Hunter IV is fairly simple to play, as have been prior games in the series, though there are some interesting additions here that make it a little more involved than its predecessors. The game works off of the standard Genesis 3-button controller design, meaning the D-Pad moves Asha around, and she attacks with X and jumps with Circle by default. You can attack up or down during a jump by pressing the direction and X, and pressing down brings up your shield to defend against attacks, but otherwise the basic mechanics are fairly standard. Where the game changes things up a bit is when you get your pet, a blue Pepelogoo named, well, Pepelogoo. You meet these little domesticated monsters when you enter town, as most of the townspeople have yellow versions following them about, and after raiding the castle and acquiring your own, you’ll find that he’s more than just a mascot. Holding the Square button brings him to you, allowing Asha to carry him overhead until you press the button again to toss him, though he’ll follow you around otherwise so you don’t need to do so. While you’re holding him, however, if you jump you’ll find Asha can glide long distances (as he flaps his ears) or jump again to get an extra boost, allowing her to reach out of the way places and clear long gaps. Pepelogoo can also be used to solve some puzzles, by plugging up holes, standing on deadly surfaces, blowing out fires and more, allowing Asha to make progress in some of the more complex parts of the game.
The game uses Rapadagna as a hub of sorts, allowing you to come back as needed via a genie lamp in your inventory or once you’ve completed a section so that you can buy new gear, sell off Gold Bars, move the plot forward and so on. From the hub you can access a temple that allows you to access the four main stages of the game to rescue the trapped spirits. These are generally broken up into smaller subsections that are often full of enemies, traps and puzzles, and usually broken up by one or more midbosses, before you eventually come to the final boss of a section. Defeated enemies will usually drop gold coins, which add money to your inventory, allowing you to buy new gear when you get back into town, though they will occasionally drop hearts to refill your life bar a bit or herbs that you can use to the same extent as you wish. You can buy new swords, shields and armor in town to improve your performance as well. Swords improve your overall attack damage, and can come equipped with a magic attack that deals added damage every so often. Shields deflect attacks and can occasionally provide temporary invincibility against specific attack types. Armor adds pink hearts to your total life meter, though you can also add blue hearts to your life meter by finding shards throughout the game world. By killing enemies or finding them in hidden locations, shards will come into your possession, and once Asha finds ten, a small cinematic plays and another blue heart is added to the life meter. The two types of hearts are only colored differently to explain where they come from, however; in all other respects the hearts act identically and can be refilled from power-ups, healing medicines, or heart vending machines scattered throughout the levels.
You can basically plow through the game in around six to eight hours, depending on your skill level, though there are all sorts of hidden areas to find throughout the different stages and difficult sections that can expand that somewhat. There are several upgrades to acquire for Asha throughout the game that you may want to spend some time grinding for, as you likely won’t be able to afford all available upgrades when you come back to town, which may increase that as well. The game also offers the expected Trophies to earn for completing the various boss battles, as well as for some more random actions, which may motivate you to come back. Additionally, you can attempt to take on the trial option to add your name to the leaderboard and post your best performances, record replays, and listen to the soundtrack for this and other games in the Sega Vintage lineup, which can give you additional reasons to come back if you’re interested. Sadly, there’s only one difficulty to the game, so there’s no option for additional challenge, though the game supports both normal saving (via the Sage of Save that pops up infrequently) and save state options, so you can change up the challenge by using the save points in the game instead of save states, for example, or forcibly use weaker gear if you’re looking to make your own challenge, at least.
The biggest issue with Monster World IV is, honestly, the uneven difficulty. It’s not that the game is massively unbalanced so much as it is that the game has sections that don’t compare appropriately to others and leave you scratching your head as to what happened. The Fire Wizard (basically the first boss you face) is significantly more problematic to deal with than his successors, for example, and the fourth stage, between a loss of some of your abilities and the heavy use of jumping puzzles, is far worse than anything before and anything after it. The game is more linear than its predecessors in some respects, as there are less surprising secrets to find and less options to play with, for example, and while the levels change a good bit, Asha never really evolves significantly. The game compares well enough to its contemporaries from the time, but doesn’t hold up as well now, which is fine for those looking for nostalgia… but as this is the first time the game is coming stateside, it’s more nostalgic for fans of the time period than of the actual game. It also bears mentioning that, aside from the third and fourth stages of the temple, the game isn’t exceptionally challenging, and I managed to get through the game without dying at all. Most of the enemies and bosses have easy patterns to work with, the final stage in general is a step down after the prior two, and if you have good puzzle solving skills (for the third stage) and platforming abilities (for the fourth stage) you’ll likely be in no significant peril throughout.
Monster World IV is a fine game in general and a fine part of its series, and fans of platformers or action RPG’s will have fun with it, but it doesn’t hold up as well as similar entries in the genre from this time period, leaving it enjoyable, if not notable. The plot is cute and functional given the release period, and this release offers some fun options to play around with beyond the main game itself. The graphics are cute and hold up well relative to the original release of the game, and the audio work is mostly functional at worst and excellent at best. The gameplay is very simple to understand but offers a solid amount of challenge through the level designs and combat, the game offers a solid amount of depth and a decent length, and there are options should you choose to come back to the game. However, the balance of the game can be suspect, especially late in the game, the game is a bit more linear and limited than similar games from the franchise and genre (relative to the time period), and the overall difficulty (aside from a couple spikes) is on the low side if you’re even a little experienced in the genre. Monster World IV is a fine game for its price and it’s great for fans of the series who haven’t experienced the game yet, but it brings nothing amazing to the table, unfortunately, so those who aren’t looking for a nostalgia trip might find it limited.
Story/Game Modes: GOOD
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Monster World IV is a solid action RPG/platformer and a solid entry in the Wonder Boy/Monster World franchise that’s worth the five dollar asking price, but some mild balance issues and general mechanical limitations leave the game solid, but not amazing. The plot is cute and interesting, there are a decent amount of options added to the package beyond the game itself, and the graphics and audio are charming and hold up adequately (at minimum) across the board. The game is simple to play but offers some mildly interesting mechanical options and level designs to compensate for the simple gameplay, the game offers adequate depth and length, and there are some options to bring players back to the game after it’s initially completed. However, the game has some balancing issues with levels and enemies, especially later in the game, the game is a bit linear and limited compared to other genre entries from this time period and in general, and anyone who has experience in the genre will find the difficulty a little on the low side. For those looking for a fun throwback to the sixteen bit era or those who love the franchise, Monster World IV is easily recommended, but its limitations make it harder to recommend universally.