Remakes from the 16-bit-era are pretty much commonplace at this point. With the indie scene fuelling a new wave of popularity for retro-styled games, it only make sense that major publishers would want capitalise on this and make a return back to some of their older titles. One of the latest classic games to receive a modern remake is Monster World IV - a platformer that is held in high regard as being one of the Mega Drive's finest titles. The remake is titled Wonder Boy: Asha in Monster World and it makes several quality-of-life improvements to the 27-year-old game, as well as providing it with a complete visual overhaul.
If I had to sum up Asha in Monster World's gameplay in an easily digestible way then I would describe it as being a mix between the Legend of Zelda and Rayman. Just like Zelda games, you are armed with a sword and a shield and must wait for the perfect opening to slash your foe's life bar to pieces. The Rayman comparison, of course, comes from the core platforming. Using your cuddly Pepelogoo companion, you can soar down to lower platforms, just like Rayman does with his helicopter hair, and you can perform double jumps to gain height.
The game also features explorable dungeons that are filled with traps and some well-crafted boss battles for you to conquer. The second dungeon, for example, tested my reflexes with moving platforms, falling debris, and soaring fire balls to avoid when platforming. Exploration is also a key part of these areas, as the path is never often linear and you'll usually be required to backtrack to grab an item such as a key or a bomb to be able to move ahead.
It also features some very basic RPG mechanics. Using gold that is found by opening treasure chests or slaying enemies, players can purchase a range of swords, shields, and bracelets. Each of these contain their own stats and secondary abilities, so whilst exploring you'll need to be conscious of collecting gold and upgrading your loadout of equipped items. Players can also permanently expand their health capacity by collecting Life Drops that are often held by tricky enemies or found within hard to reach areas.
The remake's biggest change is its revamped visuals and sound. We've seen remakes like Secret of Mana and the recently revealed Dragon Quest 3 HD-2D Remake completely overhaul the look of their predecessors, but Asha in Monster World remains pretty faithful. The visuals here still contain the same bright and cartoonish feel, but they've been elevated to modern day standards and the game now takes place from a 2.5D perspective. The music has similarly been treated with care with the tracks from its excellent soundtrack still sounding as elegant as ever despite no longer having a chip tune feel to them.
Besides the changes to the presentation, there are also several quality-of-life tweaks that have been made. Players can now manual save from the main menu and there is now the ability to revisit previous areas to grab any Life Drops and secrets that you have missed. An Easy Mode has also been added to the game and this helps to relax the difficulty by making heart pickups more readily available. Besides small tweaks like these though, there are no major additions when it comes to the story and the areas that you will explore. It's simply the same adventure it was back in 1994, but it has received a new coat of paint and a few fixes.
Having a manual save present is much more handy then having to talk to an NPC every time you wanted to save, but I still found it to be a source of a lot of frustration. Auto saving isn't present at all within the game (something that has become a modern standard) and this means that you could lose significant progress if you die or forget and turn off the console. Another gripe that I had with the game is that it is disappointingly short. Obviously this issue isn't exclusive to the remake, but there's just not a lot to lose yourself in here with it having a runtime of 3-4 hours. Sure, you could spend time going back and finding all the Life Drops that you have missed, but it won't be long at all until you've seen all it has to offer.
Something that I should point out too before concluding is that the retail version comes with a code for the original Mega Drive title. This can only be obtained within the physical release, as there is no option to be able to purchase the game digitally (unless you purchase yourself the Monster World collection on PS3 or Xbox 360). Having the option to return to the original and experience the differences between the two games was a lot of fun, and I would certainly encourage you to pick up this retail version if you have the ability to do so.
It might not offer too many new additions, but Asha in Monster World is still a competent remake that doesn't abandon the spirit of the original when making modern changes. The revamped visuals here are gorgeous and vibrant and I really appreciate little changes like being able to return to previously visited areas. That said, the lack of an autosave system is certainly perplexing and there isn't a great amount of content on offer with it being 3-4 hours long. Still, if you're a fan of classic 16-bit era platformers and have the ability to remember to save once in a while, then I'm sure that you'll have a blast with what it has to offer.