Monster World IV Review

by

Date Released: April 1, 1994
Date Reviewed: August 19th, 2012
Genre: 2D Platformer/role-playing game
Players: 1 Player
Length: 5-8 hours
Replayability: Low

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Introduction:

Monster World IV is the 1994 platformer/role-playing game developed by Westone and released exclusively for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive. Canonically, it is the sixth and final game in the Wonder Boy series, also being the fourth overall game in the related Monster World sub-series, which grew out of the former with the release of the Wonder Boy in Monster Land for the arcade and SEGA Master System in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Monster World IV had never seen an international release, being exclusive to Japan until very recently, when it was released on the Virtual Console for Nintendo’s Wii, as well as part of SEGA’s new Vintage Collection series, which brought it and Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy in Monster World to the PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3 and Xbox LIVE Arcade for Xbox 360. The wait, however, was well worth it, as Monster World IV is easily one of the finest games for the Genesis/Mega Drive, and it is sure to become an instant classic for many who haven’t yet experienced this wonderful gem of a game.

Concept:

Monster World IV is a 2D side-scrolling platformer and action/role-playing game based around fighting a variety of enemies and bosses, exploring levels, collecting items, solving puzzles, buying new equipment, and interacting with various people and characters. The main structure of the game is fairly formulaic in that that the player is tasked with clearing four temples, each representing a different elemental theme — Fire, Water, Ice, and Air, respectively. These areas are completed sequentially and feature both a boss and a mid-boss, with each level taking around an hour to complete. In between these segments, the player is left to explore Rapadagna City, which acts as a central hub where the player can purchase items and wares and interact with its citizens (including necessary characters to further progress the plot) until they move on to the next area. Once completed, temples cannot be re-entered, so the player should take care to thoroughly explore levels before leaving. If, for whatever reason, the player wishes to exit after already entering a temple, the player can use a magic lamp to call upon a genie, who will transport the player back to the city.

What truly sets the game apart from its peers and brings its world to life is the sheer level of variety seen in its overall structure. Every level in the game is unique, with each new temple bringing a completely different experience than the one before it. No two areas look even remotely alike, and while the fundamental mechanics of the game remain mostly unchanged throughout, the ways in which they are used are not, thus offering the player a level of diversity that is not commonly seen in games today, let alone almost twenty years ago. Outside of the temples, the city offers players the chance to relax and experience the story for a bit, while also giving them the chance to take in the world and its characters. NPCs (non-player characters) can be interacted with and talked to, with almost all of them having something interesting to say, whether it’s insight into the story or world, a funny quip, or by offering subtle but very useful hints as to what to do or where to go next. It’s this commitment to great pacing that constantly keeps things in Monster World IV interesting, ensuring that the player is always in for a treat.

[The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of SEGA Vintage Collection: Monster World are presented in widescreen, with one of several backgrounds being selectable for each game.]

Story:

The game opens with Asha, a young woman who aspires to become a warrior, as she overhears cries for help, warning of a great evil that is about to befall the land. Concerned, Asha leaves her home village for the Kingdom of Rapadagna, where she hopes to find answers. Along the way, she meets a genie, who, despite his lax attitude, agrees to help her, and she also finds an egg which hatches into a small, bird-like monster known as a pepelougoo, whom she affectionately names Pepe. Soon after she arrives at the capital, Asha finds that many of its citizens also have pepelougoo, which they keep as pets, though hers is apparently unique in that it’s blue, signifying great magical power. Asha requests an audience with the Queen, who tells her that she must seek out the four holy temples and rescue the elemental spirits that reside within them before the great evil descends upon them. She agrees to help, and with that she sets out to undo the madness that plagues the land and save Monster World from destruction.

Though the plot of Monster World IV is simple, it still manages to weave a very interesting tale with its strong storytelling and great and memorable characters. There are only a few animated cutscenes, with most of the story being told either through dialogue with other characters or vignettes within the game itself. The character of Asha is unique in that, although she is silent protagonist, her bubbly yet determined personality shines through her actions, whilst Pepe also shows caring personality, exemplified through his continued character growth and willingness to help Asha in whatever ways possible. It’s the relationship between Asha and Pepe that lies at the heart of the story, and despite not single word ever being said by either character, it’s clear that they care a great deal for each other. Going into the game, I wasn’t expecting to be too heavily invested in the story or characters, but Monster World IV surprised me with its strong themes that left me emotional at times and completely moved by the end.

[Many Middle Eastern and Arabic sensibilities can be seen in Monster World IV’s art and character design.]

Gameplay:

At its core, Monster World IV is a fairly traditional platformer, and as such players familiar to the genre should feel immediately at home as they run, jump, and climb their way through various environments as they overcome obstacles, avoid hazards, and search for cleverly hidden secrets. What sets Monster World IV apart from many of its contemporaries — and indeed, what sets apart the entire Wonder Boy series — is how the game incorporates other elements into its design, such as action and combat, light role-playing, and puzzle solving, all of which serve the intent purpose of adding to the game’s variety. This, combined with Monster World IV‘s excellent pacing, means that the player is never doing the same thing or remains in the same place for very long. This kind of design choice can be a double-edged sword in some games, as the player isn’t given enough time to grow used to or appreciate any given aspect of the game, but this issue is entirely avoided in Monster World IV, as these and other disparate elements are seamlessly woven into the game in such a way that the constant variety never feels forced or contrived. What this means for the game is that the player is almost always engaged as it throws new and different things at them all the time, keeping them constantly refreshed and adding to their enjoyment.

Platforming is at the crux of Monster World IV, with most areas in the game featuring a number of platforming challenges for the player to overcome. These include rotating platforms, rising and falling platforms, moving conveyors belts, and springs which launch the player high into the air. All too familiar concepts for fans of the genre, but Monster World IV manages to keep these ideas fresh by implementing them in surprising and inventive ways. For example, combining fast moving conveyor belts with moving platforms and large fans, which will blow the player away if they stand directly in front of them, forcing the player to carefully time their jumps whilst maintaining their balance. When combined with the double jump and glide abilities afforded to the player by use of Pepe, the platforming rarely ever feels tired or uninteresting, even at its most basic.

[Pepe can be used and interacted with in a variety of different ways that continue to change throughout the course of the game.]

Like previous titles in the series, Monster World IV incorporates some light RPG elements into core design, allowing the player to outfit Asha with swords, shields, and armor, which increase her attributes of strength, defense, and endurance, respectively. These can be purchased from merchants using gold dropped from enemies or found in treasure chests hidden throughout the world. Healing items such as elixirs can also be found or purchased through vendors, while hearts can be purchased from heart dispensers located in various places within temples and dungeons. Hearts are used to represent Asha’s health and come in two varieties — red hearts and blue hearts. Red hearts are gained simply by equipping better armor, which increases Asha’s endurance, or health in this instance, while blue hearts are obtained by collecting 10 life drops, collectable gems that can be found scattered throughout the world, hidden inside treasure chests, or dropped by defeated enemies. Unlike other titles in series, Asha cannot equip boots, nor can she make use of magic of any kind. While missed, these omissions do not hurt the game in any meaningful way, as it manages to entice in different ways, such as by items with special properties and statistics, like shields that create barriers of protection when hit, or swords imbued with elemental powers.

Combat in Monster World IV seems fairly basic at first, with only a sword at Asha’s disposal and none of the special weapons or magical attacks from prior games in the series making an appearance, but as players begins to face more challenging enemies, the depth and complexities of the combat begin to shine through. Some enemies make use of ranged and projectile attacks, which require the player to either keep their distance or defend with their shield, while other enemies make use of their own shields, deflecting the player’s attacks and requiring them to use finesse and timing to break through. Unlike prior games in the series, which limited the player’s attack to hit only what is directly in front of them, Monster World IV allows the player to attack vertically as well as horizontally, targeting enemies above and below them. This adds a huge dynamic to the combat, as the player can effectively take on several different enemies from multiple directions, in addition to being able to deflect most enemy attacks with their shield, which can be brought up at any time. All of this makes for combat that is always fun and engaging.

[Bosses are often several times larger than the player and go through multiple stages before being defeated.]

The puzzle design in Monster World IV runs the gamut in terms of variety, with everything from simple block pushing puzzles to logic, pattern recognition, and complex timing puzzles. Puzzles are very rarely self-contained, as they flow naturally out of other elements of the game, such as the platforming, and as such they almost never feel arbitrarily forced on the player. With that being said, some puzzles do suffer from being a bit too obtuse, such as one which requires the player to collect several statues and place them in a set order to unlock the next area, a task which must be done three times in order to complete a dungeon. The order the statues must be placed in is dictated by a simple logic puzzle in two of the three cases, while the third has no clear indicators of how the player should place the statues, and even worse, if the statues are placed in the incorrect order they will all vanish and return to the place where they are originally found. This can be overly tedious as the player is left grasping at straws trying to figure out the solution, which itself is overly vague and easily missed, thus turning an otherwise simple task into an arduous one. Moments like this are very rare, however, and for the most part the puzzles manage to be challenging, yet rewarding and fun.

The most distinctive feature of Monster World IV and one of the defining characteristics of the game is the character of Pepe, Asha’s pepelougoo friend who accompanies the her throughout most of the game. More than just a cute companion, Pepe and his wide array of special abilities form the central mechanic around which many of the games elements are built. Utilizing Pepe allows the player to double jump and carefully glide around the environment, which not only aids in platforming, but also helps the player reach otherwise inaccessible areas to find secrets and treasures. Pepe also plays a vital role in overcoming many puzzles and challenges. For example, one area of the game has the player traversing areas of deep water in which the player cannot swim, so Pepe can be used to propel Asha up and out of the water when called, creating interesting timing puzzles, while another situation might call for him being placed on top of a geyser and used as a platform to reach higher areas. These and other examples usually pertain to one area and are never encountered again, so these unique mechanics never feel overused or forced. As the game progresses, Pepe’s uses only increase, all of which perfectly suit the player’s needs and work well in tandem with the platforming and puzzle segments.

[Platforming segments are very diverse and involve a mixture of running, jumping, gliding, and climbing.]

The Wonder Boy/Monster World series is somewhat infamous for the difficulty of its games, which tend to assault the player with incredibly difficult enemies and bosses, precision platforming segments, and sparse details of what to do or how to proceed, making them very hard games to recommend to all but the most seasoned of players. Monster World IV manages to avoid all of these issues with grace, however, striking a near perfect balance between difficulty, player accessibility, and fun. Combat is fluid and engaging, but never frustrating; platforming is rewarding but never too harrowing or difficult; puzzles are challenging, but rarely ever too much for the player to handle, and while some sections of the game can be somewhat irritating, these feelings never last, and are always instantly rebutted with something entirely new and pleasing. The only shortcoming of Monster World IV‘s lessened difficult is its length, which can be completed in about five to eight hours, somewhat short for a game like this. Because there is no new game plus mode or indeed any additional modes aside from the main game, there is little replay value to be had outside of collecting every last life drop and obtaining the best equipment in the game, which can be easily done in a single playthrough.

Controls:

Most games benefit greatly from having tight and responsive controls, but in a platformer this is an absolutely essential feature that is paramount to one’s overall enjoyment of the game. Thankfully, Monster World IV delivers, offering incredibly fluid controls, especially when compared to some of its predecessors, which feel particularly slow in comparison. The controls are simple, with three buttons being used to jump, attack, and call Pepe to your side. Jumping is very smooth and intuitive, and the player is able to control the height of their jump to some degree, allowing for greater control and precision when needed. Attacking is robust and can be done in several different ways due to the fact that Asha can stab both upward and downward whilst jumping, in addition to attacking any enemies directly in front of her. She can also defend against enemy attacks by using her shield, which is brought up by holding the down button. Basic movement is very responsive and consists of walking, running, climbing up and down ropes, and more, all of which is controlled with either the directional pad or thumb stick.

At any time, the player can call Pepe to them by pressing and holding the call button, which allows Asha to utilize him in a variety of different ways, including gliding, double jumping, and flinging him through the air. Pepe cannot aid in combat nor can he be used as a weapon — he can, however, make use of a myriad of special abilities, most of which are context sensitive and used in specific situations. Most of the time this can be achieved simply by calling Pepe and then throwing him towards an interactive object, such as a button, which he can active from afar. Though it’s a fairly simple mechanic that’s easy enough to understand, its application isn’t always completely intuitive, leading to some confusing sections. A few other niggling control issues may pop up from time to time, such when trying to quickly scale ropes, but these are all incredibly minor issues at best, and in no way mar the game’s otherwise excellent controls.

[Environments in Monster World IV are incredibly varied both in terms of their visual style and in the kinds of challenges and enemies faced.]

Sound: originalreviews

Much like the rest of the game, the music of Monster World IV is stylistically rich and greatly varied, featuring over thirty tracks across multiple genres of music, all with a distinct Arabic flavor that works incredibly well with its art style. Thematics is clearly a central part of the Monster World experience, and it definitely shows through the music, which works thematically in several different ways, such as by introducing recurring motifs throughout the soundtrack, some of which are borrowed from other games in the series. This works brilliantly in unifying not only the music, but every element of the game including the story, which relies heavily on the music to conjure just the right mood for any given scene or level, a task it never fails at. The only real issue with the music is that tracks tend to be too short, causing them to loop often, something which can become a bit tiring after awhile.

It’s clear within a few minutes of playing that a great amount of detail has gone into the sound effects of the game, which are often times very subtle, but work seamlessly with others elements to create a rich and engaging world. Ambient sounds are used to great effect in almost every area of the game, with wind sound effects in particular working well with the game’s desert setting. Basic sounds effects are good, while the sound effects for things such as jumping and combat are satisfying and well detailed, an example of which being the sound of your attack producing different sounds if you hit an enemy made out of slime versus one made out of stone.

Visuals:

The art style of Monster World IV draws heavily from a number of Middle Eastern influences, namely from works such as One Thousand and One Nights, with iconic imagery such as vast deserts, pyramids, flying carpets, and genies all being used to great effect. This style is very pronounced and distinct, which creates a unique look for the game that separates from crowd and affords it the creative freedom to do things that wouldn’t have been possible in other titles in the series. Though it was a risky design choice, the dramatic change in style absolutely pays off in creating a wholly interesting and beautiful new world. This decision proved so successful that Monster World IV has since gone on to inspire several other games with similar art styles, such as WayFordward’s Shantae on Nintendo’s Game Boy Color.

The graphical quality of Monster World IV is excellent, with vibrantly colored and well detailed sprite work for all of the characters and monsters. Lush backdrops and beautifully detailed backgrounds and foregrounds are used to flesh out the world, while parallax scrolling is used to tastefully animate some background elements, adding a real sense of place to locations. The animation deserves special mention for its exceptional quality and detail, especially those involving Asha and Pepe. The sheer number of unique animations used is in and of itself quite a considerable feat, with many appearing only a few times in specific sections of the game, but it’s the strong sense of character and personality in each and every one of these animations that impresses the most. It’s strange then that most of these unique animations are used fairly late into the game, given the otherwise flawless consistency of the visuals.

[The player can explore both the exterior and interior of main city and its many buildings, some of which may contain hidden items and treasure.]

Special Notes:

Despite widespread critical praise and success in the decades following its release, Monster World IV never saw official release outside of Japan until May 10th, 2012, when it was released on the North American Virtual Console for Nintendo’s Wii. On May 23rd, 2012 it was released on Microsoft’s Xbox LIVE Arcade for Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3 as part of SEGA’s brand new Vintage Collection series, which brought Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and Monster World IV to HD consoles. Developed and altered by M2, the original game of Monster World IV was given a full English translation, while a variety of new changes and enhancements both inside the game and out were also included, such as the addition of save states and video replays, online leaderboards, and fully customizable controls. Several brand new features were also added, including unique trials and challenges for the game which tasked players to beat specific sections of the game as fast as possible, with the best overall times being posted to the leaderboards. A jukebox mode was also added, which allows players to listen to any track in the game or customize their own unique playlist.

Conclusion:

I must admit that prior to playing SEGA Vintage Collection: Monster World, I had very little knowledge of the series, having never played any of them. It’s fitting, then, that I had been given the opportunity to play these three games, because in doing so I have discovered what I now consider to be one of my very favorite games — Monster World IV. Within minutes, I was completely enthralled by it, and the more I played it the more these feelings grew, which by the end culminated into something very special to me. While other games in the series are equally as important for their innovative design, a lot of which was well ahead of its time, I found a deeper personal connection in Monster World IV that seldom occurs in games nowadays. If you have yet to play it, you owe it to yourself to experience this masterwork and enjoy your stay in Monster World.

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Formats: SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive, Virtual Console for Nintendo Wii, Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360, PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3

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