That Wonder Boy is a Monster
I’ve got to be honest here: I feel a little weird going into this review. Why? Because many of you might not have any familiarity at all with the Wonder Boy series—partially due to the fact that you may not have even been born yet at the height of its popularity. However, for those of us who were game-loving children during the era of 16-bit consoles, the Wonder Boy series—especially when it transitioned into its Monster Land chapters—still holds fond memories.
So, when Sega announced that they’d be bringing Monster World to XBLA and PSN, I was ecstatic for a number of reasons. First, because the franchise included some great stuff—Japanese developer Westone was known for crafting games that combined action, adventure, and some trademark unique elements.
Far more than that, however, was Sega’s announcement that the collection would contain Monster World IV. See, Monster World IV was the final chapter of the Monster World series, and after its release for the Genesis in 1994, it never made its way to the West. Subsequently, it became this legendary lost treasure of the days of 16-bit consoles—the one import hardcore Genesis fans purchased even when they normally didn’t buy import games. (In fact, I still own my own import copy.) So, now, over 18 years later, we’re finally getting the game in English—correcting a mistake from so very long ago.
The weakest game on Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World is also the first one we’re presented: the arcade version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Here, the transition from the simple time-based arcade platforming of the original Wonder Boy to the more adventure-based elements of the Monster Land chapters was beginning. There’s still a clock to pay attention to, of sorts—an hourglass continually drains, and every time it resets, you lose some life—and stages are linear both in progression and challenge. Also, since it’s the first Wonder Boy title with actual combat (versus simply projectiles in the original game), that element’s rather clunky and unpolished compared to later games. Still, while Wonder Boy in Monster Land isn’t great, it is good. It’s challenging, it’s interesting, and despite its faults, it can be quite fun.
In comparison, the collection’s second offering—the Genesis release Wonder Boy in Monster World, the fifth game in the series—is great from beginning to end. All signs of the original arcade origins are gone, replaced with an expansive world to be explored and gameplay elements that fall far more into the adventure genre. I absolutely loved Wonder Boy in Monster World back when I got it for the Genesis, and while it does feel a bit quaint when put up against adventure games of the modern age, it’s still extremely enjoyable. It’s also, at times, even more developed than its follow-up, Monster World IV—Wonder Boy in Monster World features more of an emphasis on gaining new abilities and going back to older areas to traverse new paths, as one example.
Finally, we have what will be the crown jewel for some: Monster World IV. Playing the game now is a bit bittersweet; I’m glad to finally get the chance to do so via an official English translation, but I also realize that I can’t appreciate it as much as I would have those 18 years ago. Still, there’s no question in my mind just how terrific of a game this is when put into the proper context. Yes, it’s a little too easy at times, and yes, at other times too linear. That said, it has huge amounts of personality and charm, the control is far and away the best in the series (and top-notch for 16-bit action platformers in general), the worlds and monsters have a wonderfully creative Arabian theme to them, and the graphics are still great to this day. Is Monster World IV everything I’ve built it up to be in my mind after all of these years? No, not at all—but I don’t think it could ever have realistically lived up to the mythical aura many had attributed to it. What it also isn’t is disappointing, in any sense of the word.
The other thing to mention about Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World is the at-times-unbelievable job developer M2 has done in bringing these games back. This isn’t a quick cash-in emulation project—this feels like a labor of love by people who legitimately care about how these games are preserved and presented. Not only do all of the games feel proper compared to how they ran on their original hardware, but a long list of options are presented—controller configurations, adjustments to exactly how the visuals should look, and even the ability to choose what regional version of the game you want to play. If you’re going to bring back classic games, then M2’s work on this collection (as well as the Alex Kidd & Co. collection) is a perfect example of how to do it right.
When considering the games you’re getting in Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World, and the work that’s been put into bringing those games to modern consoles, this is a fantastic package. The problem—as unfortunate as it is—is that all three games also belong to genres that have seen huge evolutions over time. For those who grew up during the time in which the Monster World series roamed the digital landscape, you’ll probably have no problem appreciating what you’re getting here. If, on the other hand, you don’t have that history or emotional attachment to gaming’s past, then as good as I may think these three Monster World releases are, you may simply find them to be strange old relics of a long-gone era.
Oh, and you have both a PlayStation 3 and an Xbox 360, then it’s XBLA all the way—$10 for all three games versus $5 apiece on the PS3 makes that decision a no-brainer.
SUMMARY: It may be hard for some to fully appreciate the three games that make up Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World, but for those who can, you’ll find a wonderful world of retro adventure awaiting.
- THE GOOD: The long-awaited English version of Monster World IV alone makes this collection worth picking up.
- THE BAD: All three games have occasional gameplay elements that now feel outdated.
- THE UGLY: Other retro collections compared to M2’s work with their Sega Vintage Collection releases.
Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.