The Wonder Boy games started out as slightly unique platformers at the genre’s beginning but it wouldn’t be long before the series would explore other genres. Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair was a weird shooter/platformer hybrid that wasn’t successful at either part and is just plain weird. Wonder Boy in Monster Lair is where the series would first dabble with RPG elements and an open world structure. While a bit dated the game is awesome and one of my favorite Sega Master System titles. The third game in the series, Wonder Boy in Monster World was one of the first action RPGs for the Genesis and a very good game overall that is still enjoyable today.
One thing is for sure: this won’t win any awards for its story. Monster World was once a peaceful land until it was invaded by a horde of demons. A young man named Shion vows to defeat the monsters and restore peace to the world. You won’t get any backstory on Shion and will just have to accept that he is the only one in the world capable of fighting the monsters.
Technically this is actually the fifth game in the series overall but the third in the Monster World sub brand. It’s a bit confusing especially when you consider the various ports to different consoles using different names and numbering. I imagine even Sega found it to be a bit much which is why they dropped the Wonder Boy branding for the sequel.
You still pick up gold to buy items and equipment. Weapons are broken down into two categories. Swords have a shorter reach but allow you to equip a shield and spears that are longer but require two hands. Personally I never noticed the difference in damage. Plus spears have an awesome spin move that enemies are stupid enough to walk into and they can deflect projectiles. Magic has been redesigned so that you learn the spells rather than having to find items.
Coming off of the Dragon’s Trap some pretty significant changes have been made. The various animal forms have been removed which is a bummer as they were extremely cool. However there are various items that give some of the same abilities. The Poseidon spear lets you swim underwater and the pygmy armor shrinks you down to squeeze into tight passages. It’s not as cool but still worth mentioning. In their place are four characters that will accompany you in certain dungeons and provide certain benefits. Priscilla will randomly drop hearts, Hotta can dig for gold and break walls, while the Grim Reaper (yes seriously!) will actually fight beside you.
With its large open world the Metroid influence is pretty apparent. The majority of the world is open for exploration immediately even though there is a set path to follow. As you gain new items and abilities there are plenty of secrets to go back and find. The numerous dungeons actually have expansive maps this time rather than the straight linear paths as in its prequel. Really the only complaint I have is the excessive backtracking. Shortcuts start to open up midway through but you will spend unnecessary amounts of time wading through prior areas with respawning enemies.
I found the game to be perfectly balanced overall which is a bit rare in an RPG. Most heart containers can be found in the open and enemies inflict so little damage you have to actively try to die. Since the demons respawn endlessly you can grind for gold at any time. Not that you’ll need to often as equipment is reasonably priced. The challenge picks up toward the end but it’s nothing any gamer with a modicum of skill can’t handle.
The visual style is a bit simple but extremely detailed and colorful. Wonder Boy in Monster World is host to a diverse set of locations that span the usual video game tropes such as forests, lakes, and desert themed zones yet they are all highly stylized. The sprite work is excellent and really brings the denizens of Monster World to life, especially the animation. The soundtrack is similarly excellent with a diverse set of themes throughout the length of the game. The one area that is lacking are the sound effects. Normally I wouldn’t notice but the music is generally excellent, making the tinny sounds stand out as a result.
Despite two decades of progress within the genre Wonder Boy in Monster World is still pretty enjoyable and a solid game overall. Despite vague direction the game isn’t very long and you can easily suss out your next destination. For the few bucks the game will run you an excellent action RPG awaits.