Classic action RPG fans have their work cut out for them, as the Sega Virtual Console Monster World pack on Xbox Live features three games from the franchise. For 800 points, fans can jump back in time and play the arcade version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land and two Sega Genesis titles, Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV, available outside of Japan for the first time. The games won’t appeal to everyone. But for those who remember the series from their youth, it’s a solid collection with some nice additions.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a port of the original arcade version of the game from 1987. Starting with nothing, you lead Wonder Boy on a quest to restore peace to a land overrun by monsters. This was my first time playing the game, and I was surprised by how deep it is for an arcade game. You collect coins, which you use to purchase better items and weapons, making it much more than just a standard arcade platformer. It’s still a quarter muncher, though. You’ll progressively lose health over time, so it’s nice playing with an unlimited supply of credits.
Wonder Boy in Monster World on the Genesis finds the land once again threatened by monsters. The game feels similar in tone to the arcade game – environments and enemies are similar but prettier, and the same basic gameplay mechanics are at work. The game expands the RPG elements, though, and you’ll be able to find and purchase different types of weapons that will have different effects on your stats. You can also assign spells to two active slots, giving the combat more variety and strategy.
Monster World IV is the standout of the package for a few different reasons. It’s available in the US for the first time, has a completely different visual aesthetic and is also the most fluid and modern-feeling game in the group. The game replaces Wonder Boy with a female protagonist, Asha, and the medieval setting has been replaced with an Arabian theme. The general gameplay remains, but the game moves faster, with tighter controls and more satisfying combat. It also introduces the Pepelogoo, a creature that will travel with you and allow you to double jump, glide and trigger remote switches. It’s a significant departure from the deliberate pace of the other two games, and it was the one I enjoyed the most.
All of the games feature a emulator-style save system, which allows you to bring up the menu and save the game state at any time. It’s really nice. The two Genesis games have in-game save features as well, but they’re not very frequent, and dying loses all of your progress since the last save. Once again, the additional save ability is very welcome. My only complaint is that with all of the unused buttons on the controller, mapping a quick save function to one of them would have kept the action moving better. Wonder Boy in Monster Land has a selectable difficulty level, and you can choose between the US and Japanese versions of each game. There are a host of visual options as well, like smoothing and the ability to add in CRT scan lines for that authentic look.
The controls for each game are configurable, although the interface is kind of clunky and it’s hard to get it set up if you’re not familiar with the game’s original controls. There is a manual covering all three games, but it’s sparse and isn’t particularly well divided, so it’s sometimes confusing which game you’re reading about. The translation is standard for games of that era, and you’ll see plenty of text like “Someone be beyond the wall” in Monster Land and Monster World. All three of the games look and sound fine and run well, although I did experience some slowdown in Monster Land. In addition to the single player, each game has trials that can be completed and ranked on Xbox Live.
The Monster World collection isn’t for everyone – people who like side scrolling action RPGs will enjoy Monster World IV but may be put off by the slow pace of the other two games. It’s a nice package though, and a great way to enjoy some older games. For fans of the series, Monster World IV is probably worth 800 points alone; the two other games and the trials mode is just the icing on the cake.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.