[GAME REVIEW] Monster World IV

Introduction

With Ryuichi Nishizawa and the rest of Westone having created Wonder Boy in Monster World, the versatile franchise now had a presence on the Sega Genesis. However, while Wonder Boy had arguably been Sega’s premier franchise throughout the third console generation, the company provided its answer to Nintendo’s Mario with their own mascot in the form of Sonic the Hedgehog. His debut in June of 1991 garnered a lot of critical and commercial attention, moving millions of copies. Suddenly, the Genesis could stand toe-to-toe with Nintendo’s then-newest console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES). However, the success of Sonic the Hedgehog ended up being a radical paradigm shift for Sega. Because they had a popular franchise on their hands, they focused their attention on making Sonic as versatile of a character as Mario. This ultimately overshadowed their third-generation triumphs. Most jarringly, their previous mascot, Alex Kidd, was left to fall into obscurity when his Genesis debut failed to resonate with fans.

Nonetheless, Mr. Nishizawa and his team were determined to create a follow-up to their fifth Wonder Boy game. Realizing that Monster World was far more popular than the Wonder Boy franchise from which it had spun off from, it seemed highly fitting for Westone to drop the original title for the sixth installment. The result of their efforts was thus simply entitled Monster World IV and released in 1994. Although fans of the Wonder Boy franchise existed in the West, Wonder Boy in Monster World would be the last time they ever saw a new entry.

As the century drew to a close, the internet began rising in popularity. It was only natural for the first adopters to be savvy in the art of programming and, by extension, video games. Through using the internet, they learned of the many games that never left Japan – including installments of popular franchises such as Square’s Final Fantasy. In extreme cases such as Intelligent Systems’s Fire Emblem, entire series were never released in the West. Among the games Western fans learned of was Monster World IV. The use of the internet along with the widespread availability of the titles’ ROM images allowed enthusiasts to band together to translate these Japan-exclusive games – including this one. Thankfully for Western fans who weren’t knowledgeable about emulation, Monster World IV did at last see the light of day in May of 2012 on the Xbox Live Arcade, the Wii’s Virtual Console, and the PlayStation Network. Unlike most cases of a game not previously localized being imported, Sega went a step further and provided an official translation for Monster World IV. Unfortunately, in the eighteen years since its domestic debut, Westone had gone out of business. Monster World IV was the newest installment in the series in both 1994 and 2012. Was Westone able to end their most famous series’ initial run on a high note?

Analyzing the Experience

WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for Monster World IV and the series thus far.

The protagonist of Monster World IV is a young, energetic woman from Estefan Village named Asha. For her entire life, she has been sensitive to the presence of spirits. One day, she hears the pleas of four powerful spirits. Realizing the world may be in danger, she vows to become a warrior and free the trapped spirits. In order to become a full-fledged warrior, Asha must undergo a trial. She must journey to the Tower of Silence and defeat the powerful monster dwelling within.

As you guide Asha to the tower, you get a chance to become acquainted with the controls. On the surface, the layout in Monster World IV is highly similar to that of its predecessor. With a press of the “B” button, Asha swings her sword, and the “C” button causes her to jump. Asha is incapable of ducking. Holding down on the control pad instead causes her to raise her shield. Once again, you enter doors, talk to characters, and open chests by pressing up on the control pad while Asha is in front of whatever or whomever you want her to interact with. If the door is in the foreground, you must press down on the control pad to go through it instead.

Even if the gameplay is superficially similar to that of Wonder Boy in Monster World, it doesn’t take long before you realize just how different of an experience Monster World IV offers. By speaking with Asha’s friends and family members, you can receive tips about how to play the game. When you’ve mastered the basic controls, Asha reveals herself to be markedly more athletic than her predecessors. This is primarily because she is capable of sprinting. To do this, you must tap the appropriate direction on the control pad twice in succession. On top of that, tapping up on the control pad twice while Asha is climbing a rope causes her to climb it faster. Conversely, she is also capable of sliding down the rope.

This right here is the most immediate improvement Monster World IV has over two of the previous Wonder Boy installments. While the second and fifth games forced their respective main characters to upgrade boots to enhance their mobility, Asha begins her journey as maneuverable as a typical platforming protagonist such as Mario. Although I can imagine returning fans being disappointed that a significant aspect of the series’ gameplay was removed, I would ultimately say this is for the best. There was a pressing need to upgrade boots in Wonder Boy in Monster Land because if you didn’t, entire areas of certain stages would be inaccessible. This design decision, once reintroduced in Wonder Boy in Monster World, merely made the revisiting the game significantly more tedious on subsequent playthroughs. Coupled with money itself being rendered mostly worthless due to its abundance and the game not clearly articulating the benefits of certain boots, the system was rendered superfluous.

As you journey to the Tower of Silence, you may have noticed that, unlike Bocke and Shion before her, Asha is completely incapable of using magic. Indeed, if you attempt to press the “A” button, nothing happens. It does have a use, but it’s not dedicated to spellcasting. While this too sounds like a step back from previous installments, you’ll find out before too long that Asha is perfectly capable in combat without magic. In a manner similar to Link in Zelda II, Asha is capable of thrusting her sword upwards or stabbing downwards. All you need to do is hold down the appropriate direction on the control pad while Asha is in midair and then press the “B” button.

This is such a simple change, yet I find myself lauding it. While Shion often needed to use magic just to safely pick off an enemy he couldn’t easily reach, Asha can confront them head-on with little issue. To enforce this, she doesn’t even take standard collision damage from most enemies. The only monsters capable of damaging her upon contact are the ones that actually look painful to touch. It’s not terribly wise to make contact with a living fireball or a monster covered in spikes, after all.

Upon establishing how much of a departure Asha manages to be from her predecessors, it would appear the sole commonality is that their health is measured in hearts. However, this too belies a significant change to the Wonder Boy formula. To begin with, Asha doesn’t enhance her vitality by locating Heart Containers. Instead, scattered throughout the game are blue tear-shaped objects known as Life Drops. For every ten she collects, a cyan heart is added to her life meter. At first, it would appear that Asha has two separate life meters – one pink and the other cyan, but this isn’t the case. If the pink hearts have been depleted, the cyan ones will follow suit. Otherwise, the single biggest change is that the hearts do, in fact, represent how many hits Asha can take. That is to say, anything capable of damaging Asha only takes off a single heart at a time – no more and no less. There is a single exception to this rule that occurs fairly late in the game, but it’s a fight Asha is scripted to lose. As if to compensate for this change, Asha can have as many as thirty hearts at once.

Having the ability to take as many as thirty hits before dying sounds like an overwhelming advantage, especially if Asha has a Healing Medicine to hand, but it’s not something you can take for granted. With each attack taking away a heart, you can’t afford to ever let your guard down in the early phases of the game. It doesn’t help that just like in previous installments, healing hearts are fairly difficult to come by. If anything, they’re even more precious than they’ve ever been entirely because of how quickly you can lose them if you’re not careful. It forces the player to study enemy behavior carefully before engaging them. If you fail to catch on to even the most basic monster’s patterns, you will see those hearts dissipate in a matter of seconds.

On the way to the tower, you will have happened upon an elderly man who calls himself the Sage of Save. His on-the-nose moniker is a dead giveaway as to what purpose he serves. He can give you advice on where to go and, on occasion, comments on Asha’s journey. However, if you encounter the sage while guiding Asha on her journey, you are far more likely to appreciate the fact that you can save the game by talking to him. One of the most frustrating aspects of Wonder Boy in Monster World concerned the fact that you had to clear dungeons in a single run. Monster World IV addresses this issue because the Sage of Save, just like any other traveling NPC you may have encountered in other games over the years, has the inexplicable ability to appear one step ahead of Asha. His age manifestly does not prevent him from climbing towers, surviving the harsh elements, and slipping past hordes of monsters with ease. Best of all, thanks to his tenacity, dungeons have actual checkpoints this time around.

As the first dungeon in the game, the Tower of Silence effectively foreshadows the kind of challenges to expect from this point onwards. By the time you reach the summit and fight the first boss, you will gain a true appreciation for this game’s dungeon design. Whereas dungeons in previous Monster World installments were typically straightforward, you shouldn’t be surprised if reaching the end of the Tower of Silence takes you thirty minutes or more. It’s not terribly difficult, but because Asha can only take a few hits before dying, you do have to be careful. Given that the only way you can recover health in this dungeon is by using a Healing Medicine or hope an enemy drops hearts, you may find yourself foregoing the sage’s services if you are on the brink of death. This is because the only thing worse than being in an unwinnable situation is being in an unwinnable situation after having permanently saved into it. Fortunately, the first boss, which is a monstrous millipede, is fairly easy – to the point where the act of reaching it is far more challenging.

Once Asha has defeated the millipede, she receives a Magic Lamp. Fitting right in with the Arabian motif, rubbing the lamp produces a genie. Congratulating Asha, he offers to take her to Rapadanga. This large city is the central trading hub for Monster World. The populace has taken to adopting a species of small flying creatures known as the Pepelogoo as pets. Thought long extinct, their eggs were rediscovered shortly before Asha arrived.

The kingdom is ruled by Queen Purapril XIII, a descendant of the princess who saved the world from otherworldly invaders alongside the warrior Leo. By speaking with the queen, Asha is formally declared a warrior. It is here Asha’s journey begins in earnest, for the benevolent monarch tasks the newly christened warrior with freeing four spirits imprisoned by an entity known as Fear Incarnate. Her first destination is Handera Volcano.

Up until this installment, the entries comprising the Monster World subseries could be construed as action RPGs. You never gained experience points from fighting enemies, but the basic affectations of the genre were there. You could gain money from fighting enemies or opening certain chests, and use your earnings to buy superior equipment. Monster World IV deviates from this premise slightly. Although you still have the ability to buy new pieces of equipment, it’s much more accurate to describe Monster World IV as an action-themed platforming game than a true role-playing experience. While The Dragon’s Trap and Wonder Boy in Monster World placed Bocke and Shion in realms that gradually opened up, Monster World IV is significantly more linear. Once Asha has left the Tower of Silence, she can never return to it or her village. This has numerous ramifications on the gameplay, but one of the subtler ones concerns how equipment works. For the first time since Wonder Boy in Monster Land, you can no longer select equipment. As soon as you purchase a new piece of equipment, Asha dons it automatically and what she previously had is removed from her inventory.

Asha can have equipped at any given time a sword, shield, and set of armor. Although what function they serve is obvious by now, exactly how they work has been slightly altered. How much damage a sword inflicts is indicated on the equipment menu, but you may notice that many of them possess a property called “Magical Hit”.  For every fifth time Asha swings the sword, a magical hit is inflicted. This is analogous to landing a critical hit in a standard role-playing game, though the main difference is that it’s not random. The best weapon in the game, the Legendary Sword, is as powerful as the strongest magical hit.

The particularly observant may have noted the oddity of having multiple shields and armor sets in a game in which every attack inflicts a single heart’s worth of damage. Although Monster World IV retains the basic idea of equipping better armor to increase your character’s survivability, how it is expressed and subsequently justified from a mechanical standpoint is different. As opposed to actually reducing the amount of damage enemy attacks inflict, shields instead project a magical barrier that protects Asha from harm. The barrier appears once out of every certain number of hits Asha takes. Early shields activate fairly infrequently whereas the Legendary Shield negates every other attack of any kind. Until you receive the Legendary Shield, this proposition only works if Asha’s shield is capable of blocking the element of the attack she takes damage from. Indeed, the dungeons Asha explores adhere to an elemental theme from the fire-based Handera Volcano to the frigid Ice Pyramid. It is vital you purchase the correct shield for a given situation because the dungeons in Monster World IV are long and involved, meaning your mistakes will add up if you make too many of them. If you purchased the wrong shield by mistake, you can buy back a previous one for a small fee. Fortunately, which shield is ideal for the next dungeon is usually obvious and you don’t encounter situations boasting enemies of multiple elements until the final stretch of the game.

Finally, with swords enhancing Asha’s offense and shields her defense, armor sets serve a third purpose: improving the young warrior’s vitality. Each set of armor in affords Asha a certain number of pink hearts on her life meter. This is the real reason the life drops add a cyan heart rather than a pink one. The three hearts with which Asha begins the game are being provided by her first set of armor. In effect, this means upgrading Asha’s armor is equivalent to getting multiple life drops all at once. In many games, shields and armor sets both increase a character’s defensive stat, so having all three major pieces of equipment improve a different aspect is a simple, yet novel idea. The Legendary Armor provides fifteen pink hearts, complementing the fifteen cyan ones provided by the 150 Life Drops.

Once Asha has received her orders from the Queen Purapril, the monarch generously allows her to enter the castle’s vault and take what she finds. Inside the chests are a supply of life drops, money, the Earth Medallion she needs to access Handera Volcano, and a strange egg. By taking the egg to the Sacred Statue in the center of town, a blue Pepelogoo hatches from it. The Pepelogoo is highly similar to Shion’s companions in that it follows Asha around and cannot be harmed by enemy attacks. However, there is one key difference: this companion follows Asha everywhere.

These creatures are highly popular among the townspeople, and you will quickly discover why that is as you guide Asha through the Handera Volcano. Although Pepelogoo can’t exactly attack any of the monsters you encounter, his sheer utility more than makes up for this. If you hold down the “A” button, Asha can call Pepelogoo to her. Once in her hands, she can toss him upwards or to the side. Through various interactions, you learn he is highly resilient. Depending on the current situation, Pepelogoo can activate switches, freeze himself and act as a platform, or shield Asha from plumes of lava.

Pepelogoo’s true utility shines whenever he is in Asha’s hands. If she jumps while holding him, he will slow her descent. He even allows Asha to jump an additional time in midair. In a lot of ways, Asha’s interactions with Pepelogoo are a rough precursor to the team-up mechanics that would define Donkey Kong Country 2 and its sequel. The general idea is similar; you control two characters with one following the other. You can then have the character you control carry their companion, opening up a litany of possibilities.

It is when you truly delve into the experience that you begin to realize Asha has quite a bit more personality to her than her predecessors. Bocke was primarily defined by the bizarre circumstances in which he found himself while Shion didn’t have any characterization beyond being the chosen one. Through select snippets of dialogue, character animations, her interactions with Pepelogoo, you get the sense that there is a little more to her than simply being a standard, silent video game protagonist.

If you attempt to advance to the Tower of Silence without the Courage Crystal required to access it, her father will admonish her for being scatterbrained again. Meanwhile, if you attempt to have her read the books in the castle library, she considers most of them overwhelming or dull. One book she dismisses includes details of the same powers Shion used, providing a possible explanation for her inability to use magic. She even approaches the simple act of opening chests with a lot of enthusiasm. At the same time, it would be unfair to infer that Asha is outright stupid. After all, many of the traps littering these dungeons require a lot of foresight and careful planning to successfully evade. This isn’t even mentioning her remarkable formidability in battle.

What especially allows her character shine through is that, unlike Bocke or Shion, she has another character to play off of – Pepelogoo himself. In a typical contemporary effort, reading that the protagonist has a connection with spirits in the instruction manual would either be flavor text or foreshadowing to a crucial development or two. In Monster World IV, you get to see this connection in action for yourself. Pepelogoo immediately takes a liking to Asha, and he is more than willing to lend a hand – or ear as the case may be. Although he suffers more than a few indignities throughout their journey, you do get the sense that there is a strong bond between them. He is like a loyal pet. This interpretation becomes even clearer as the game goes on, for you can feed Pepelogoo a special fruit that causes him to grow in size. Eventually, Asha won’t be able to hold and walk with him anymore, though this comes in handy if she finds herself on a frictionless surface; his newfound weight anchors her to the spot. He can even save Asha’s life by giving her a Healing Medicine if she is carrying a vial when her life meter has been depleted. The look of dismay on his face in the event you lose the game and Asha dies is surprisingly heartbreaking.

Even the genie has a fair bit of character to him. His primary purpose is to make up for Asha’s lack of magical prowess by flying her back to town when summoned. Because Monster World IV isn’t as picky when it comes to activating the pause menu, this can be done at any time. If you summon him under certain circumstances, he may give snarky responses, incredulous that Asha would require his services barely two steps into the dungeon. When he does fly Asha and Pepelogoo back to Rapadanga, he looks positively bored doing so. It is implied that this just another mundane task he gets to do before his lamp is lost for another one-thousand years. Despite all of this, you do get the sense he does care about Asha.

I also have to give Monster World IV a lot of credit for providing a surprisingly intriguing scenario. Although the town of Rapadanga seems peaceful enough, there is something very sinister behind the scenes. In one remote part of town, you can happen upon a group of men – all of whom have black beards, pointed ears, and a sinister laugh. These are the human forms of the wizards you encounter at the end of each dungeon. Although it is mildly frustrating you can’t simply confront these obviously evil wizards as soon as you meet them, it does signpost to the player that something isn’t right.

As Asha frees the spirits, the townspeople begin to change. Suddenly, the same people who welcomed Asha with open arms, gave her advice, or commented on how video game characters always repeat the same lines when spoken to become increasingly standoffish and rude. Even the queen, who was considered by her subjects to be one of the kindest souls in the land, becomes coldhearted, outright telling Asha freeing the spirits isn’t important anymore. An observant player would catch onto what is happening when they notice which characters have been affected by this madness. The owner of the weapons shop forgoes his duties in favor of spending time with his Pepelogoo. Similarly, a young boy is seen crying because his sister no longer wants to play with him. The girl in question also has a pet Pepelogoo. It is a little later that this player’s inferences would come to pass – the yellow Pepelogoos are actually evil creatures sent by Fear Incarnate to drive the townspeople insane. As a result, they wouldn’t notice or care about the queen’s increasingly tyrannical behavior. Upon freeing the third spirit in the Ice Pyramid, the Pepelogoos reveal their malevolent side, turning into flying, one-eyed demons.

Things go from bad to worse when Asha decides to confront the queen shortly thereafter. The once-benevolent monarch then attacks Asha. Although Asha manages to fend her off, the queen’s Pepelogoo launches a surprise attack. Proving his undying loyalty, Asha’s Pepelogoo shields her from the attack. Having lost her companion, Asha breaks down in tears. Although many games that predate Monster World IV such as King’s Quest III and Final Fantasy II managed to successfully convey their protagonist’s suffering, Mr. Nishizawa’s work is one of the earliest to show a character mourning the loss of a loved one. Even if Monster World IV isn’t driven by its narrative, it’s a sentiment likely to be shared by the player. The fact that Asha needed to interact frequently with Pepelogoo to traverse these dangerous dungeons only enhances the pathos of this scene.

Although I can say Monster World IV is a much more ambitious game than Wonder Boy in Monster World, it too has its flaws. I give this game credit for introducing the Sage of Save, yet his appearances are decidedly sparse. Every now and again, you’ll reach the end of a grueling gauntlet of enemies and you’re convinced the sage is just around the corner only to find yourself face-to-face with the boss. To be fair, the sage does make multiple appearances in each dungeon, and he does, on occasion, warn you of any impending dangers. There are also vending machines that dispense hearts for reasonably low prices. If you leave the dungeon for whatever reason, they will be restocked. However, the sage doesn’t otherwise stick to a predictable pattern, which may result in you having to restart entire sections of a dungeon so you don’t accidently save when low on health in an area lacking a vending machine.

I must also remark that while the inability to revisit dungeons fits the linear design of Monster World IV, it means any unopened treasure chest is forever lost once you vanquish the boss. This is especially bad if you missed any Life Drops. Although you can infer how many you’ve obtained in total by comparing it with the number of cyan Heart Containers are in the life meter, several are easy to miss. Even if you keep your eyes peeled for them, chances are great that unless you’re following a guide, you’ll miss at least a few on your first playthrough. This problem is admittedly minor because the game is possible to complete without all thirty Heart Containers, but it I do feel that the linear design doesn’t complement what few Metroidvania elements remain.

Although I give Monster World IV a lot of credit for featuring such a moving scene in which Pepelogoo sacrifices himself to save Asha’s life, this moment has a negative impact on the gameplay. The three dungeons that followed the Tower of Silence all in some way involved partnering up with Pepelogoo, using his abilities in increasingly creative ways. Whether he was called upon to use his heat resistance or pull Asha out of a deep body of water, every dungeon had its own unique challenges. This proposition comes to a screeching halt the second the narrative decides to incapacitate Pepelogoo. For the last two dungeons, Asha is completely on her own, drastically limiting what she can do.

This is especially bad because platforming games are at their best whenever they gradually build off of their few moving parts. To wit, Super Mario Bros. and its sequels introduce all of the mechanics to the player upfront. Everything you learn on level one remains applicable for the duration of the experience; you’re just applying your knowledge in increasingly advanced permutations. What they never do is take away a significant game mechanic just as you’re approaching the final act.

By the time you are nearing the endgame of Monster World IV, chances are good that you will be used to double jumping or gliding with Pepelogoo’s assistance. With him predisposed, you have to relearn how you played the game prior to hatching him. Unsurprisingly, the level design takes a significant dip in quality shortly thereafter. The Sky Castle where the final spirit is sealed involves a lot of quick running and climbing over hazards that send Asha back to the beginning of the room minus one heart upon failure. Although it does have a few legitimately interesting ideas, it reduces the game to a banal trial-and-error affair when the experience leading up to it was much more varied. Meanwhile, the Underground Fort is a fairly standard gauntlet in which Asha eventually faces the miniboss of each stage in succession. What this game does would be akin to Super Mario Bros. removing Mario or Luigi’s ability to run as soon as they reach the eighth world. The player has to then waste time building up a skill they had no reason to develop beforehand.

Even the manner in which the game gives Asha the Legendary equipment is bizarre. The Legendary Armor can be purchased as soon as the Sky Castle is unlocked, which is the ideal time to get it because said dungeon is very difficult. The Legendary Sword and Legendary Shield, on the other hand, require a bit of backtracking. Once you have gone past the final Life Drop in the Underground Fort, the traveling salesman in Rapadanga will sell both of these items. Not only is this egregiously unintuitive, it forces Asha to go through the final dungeon a second time for no reason. Although one could reasonably argue the upgrades are worth the trip, it doesn’t change the fact that it drags the game out unnecessarily. It’s a bit of a paradox because in order to obtain these pieces of equipment, you need to prove you don’t need them in the first place. Indeed, the final boss can be defeated without either as long as you’re careful and have enough hearts and healing items.

Ultimately, none of these grievances are deal-breakers, and the final encounter does have one last reveal hidden up its sleeve. For the entire game, Asha thought she was facing off against Fear Incarnate. However, it turns out this is a mere alias for Biomeka – the extraterrestrial being who invaded Monster World several generations ago. Shion had supposedly defeated him, but the being made a recovery. One of the castle’s library books in the original Japanese script even states that a hole appeared in front of his house and swallowed him up. It’s implied that this was Biomeka getting revenge on Shion for thwarting his invasion. Considering Shion’s fate is never followed up on, it’s for the best this detail was excised from the official English release.

The battle against Biomeka is appropriately challenging, and even has a few interesting story beats to go along with it. As soon as the fight begins, Biomeka sends his demonic Pepelogoos to kill Asha. When Asha defeats them, they don’t disappear like normal enemies upon defeat. Instead, they revert to their normal, non-threatening appearances and fly away. In the end, they were as much victims of Biomeka’s corruption as anyone else. It makes perfect sense that he was responsible for the villager’s madness because his fortress is hidden underneath the queen’s castle. After Biomeka realizes he is out of minions and that the mere mortals he looks down upon are quite a bit tougher than he gave them credit for, he gets off of his throne and faces off against Asha personally. The monster threatens to turn Asha to stone, but Pepelogoo, having been revived from the brink of death, intervenes. He himself is turned to stone, giving Asha a chance to retaliate and fell the monster once and for all.

Because the Underground Fort’s integrity was wholly dependent on Biomeka’s continued existence, the lair begins to collapse when he is defeated. Asha doesn’t want to leave the petrified Pepelogoo behind, but the genie convinces her to leave. When Asha returns, the queen officially knights her, congratulating the warrior for having restored peace to Monster World. In spite of her success, Asha can’t help but pray to the statue in the center of town every day, hoping her companion will return. Her faith is then rewarded when the now-freed Pepelogoos fly her companion to the spring from which he hatched. The holy waters then return him to normal, and the two are at last reunited. She introduces her friend to her family, and all is well.

Drawing a Conclusion

Pros:

  • Intricate level design
  • Likable leads
  • Surprisingly interesting story beats
  • Inventive gameplay involving Pepelogoo
  • Significantly improved platforming controls
  • Clever boss fights
  • Improved combat
  • Fast-paced gameplay
Cons:

  • Sparse checkpoints
  • Inability to revisit cleared dungeons
  • Antagonists don’t even bother to hide their malevolence
  • |Final dungeons lack Pepelogoo’s presence|

I feel that Monster World IV is the game Nihon Falcom’s Ys III tried, but failed to be. Both were linear side-scrolling platforming games with role-playing elements. However, while Ys III was ultimately hampered by its role-playing elements, forcing the player to grind levels and placing more of an emphasis on statistics, Monster World IV is a far more organic experience. As was the case with previous Monster World games, there is no need to gain experience points, and it forces players to adopt actual tactics to defeat enemies as opposed to relying on the numbers to carry them through to the end. Along those lines, I think of Monster World IV as the sequel its direct predecessor should have been. While Wonder Boy in Monster World was content to go through the exact same motions as The Dragon’s Trap without adding anything new to the series, Monster World IV didn’t even bother replicating what made past installments work and emerged a superior effort as a result.

It is a shame that Monster World IV didn’t see a Western release in 1994 because it is stands to this day as one of the Mega Drive’s hallmarks. Although one could reasonably argue that it doesn’t boast as unique of a premise as The Dragon’s Trap, I, at the very least, believe both games to have been the highlights of the Wonder Boy franchise. It’s also a bit of a pity that the success of Sonic the Hedgehog ended up overshadowing many of the properties associated with Sega before the fourth console generation because playing this series from Wonder Boy to Monster World IV reveals that Mr. Nishizawa and Westone were quite the innovators. All of the games retain familiar elements, yet no two installments provide the exact same experience. As one of the premier platforming games the Mega Drive had to offer, Monster World IV served as a triumphant note on which to end the series.

Final Score: 7/10

3 thoughts on “[GAME REVIEW] Monster World IV

  1. Pingback: June 2019 in Summary: Midyear Mayhem | Extra Life

  2. Is this the same series as those old games that had that shirtless weirdo riding around on his skateboard? Because going by both the visuals and your description, they seem absolutely worlds apart.

    Although that does seem an odd gameplay twist, taking abilities away from you in the final act. Plenty of games will temporarily limit you, but it’s not a good experience in the long run. They wouldn’t have much prior experience to draw from here, but even then, it seems pretty obvious it wouldn’t make for a good time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As strange as it may sound, and in spite of “Wonder Boy” being axed from the title, yes, this is indeed a part of the same series. Same developer, same designers, same continuity. I never heard of Westone before I began playing these games, but they proved to be rather ambitious, didn’t they? I wish they had been more famous because they had a lot of potential. Luckily, Ryuichi Nishizawa was involved in the development of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, so this story did have a happy ending in the grand scheme of things.

      I have never been a fan of mandatory gear-free levels. They’re one of those things I have no idea why developers insist on implementing, yet they have shown up in many games whether it’s The Wind Waker or Skyward Sword. Breath of the Wild finally got it right by turning these scenarios what they should have been all along – optional sidequests. While incapacitating Pepelogoo isn’t quite as bad as those games taking all your weapons away, the rest of the experience does suffer as a direct result. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that development, it could have gotten an 8/10. Although I still think it’s good overall, it ultimately lacks the consistency of The Dragon’s Trap.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.