How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Monster World does the Metroidvania Exploration, and predates both Super Metroid and Castlevania Symphony of the Night – though it’s not a perfect match to either of those games. Platforming is de-emphasized and combat has a more ''RPG'' focus.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: Wonder Boy in Monster World was played on Steam using the Sega Classics Collection Emulator
Buy Wonder Boy in Monster World if you like…
- Sega Genesis/Master System games
- Creative Locations
- Goofy 90s plot swings
- Old Arcade Style Difficulty
▼ Review continues below ▼
I would have loved Wonder Boy in Monster World if I had played it when it was originally released. It’s game that is full of creativity. At every turn there is some magical moment that instilled within me a sense of child-like adventure. Though, that may be just a bias; I play a lot of games that are trying to capture the nostalgia of an era, so it’s interesting to go back and play a game that is both new to me and from that era. Even with all the modern copycats, there’s a certain uniqueness to the style of music and the MIDI instruments used in an original 1991 game that puts me right back on my couch in a cold winter playing video games on a noisy CRT with mono speaker sound. Of course, the Sega Genesis emulator available through Steam plays off this nostalgia nicely; you can even curve the image to simulate one of those old screens. Putting all of this aside though, Wonder Boy in Monster World unfortunately captures some other aspects of the era that I’m pretty glad we’ve left behind.
The only way I can think of to describe the controls is “Slippery”. When you walk around Monster World your character doesn’t stop the moment you let go of the button – your character sort of loses momentum over a very short period. This was actually pretty common for the time, I mean, it makes sense, that’s how motion works in real life. Even Mega Man 2 behaves like this a little bit, the sliding momentum wasn’t changed until the third game in that series. Unlike Mega Man 2 though, your primary method of attacking enemies in Monster World is a disgustingly short ranged sword swing that puts you dangerously close to your enemies – all of which have the era’s usual contact damage. When I first started the game I spent a lot of time just ramming into enemies by accident. The usual trick of jumping and landing straight down works to control that momentum, but it takes a tremendous amount of time to get used to.
I wouldn’t feel so strongly about the controls if the level design played more to the game’s strengths, but unfortunately Wonder Boy in Monster World apparently came out before good level design was invented. I’m being facetious of course, there were plenty of great examples that came out before and within the same year, so if it weren’t for the game’s unique features for the time I can only imagine that its long boring hallways would have caused Monster World to be met with less enthusiasm. There are SO MANY long boring hallways in Monster World, and because you’re only ever gifted with a bunny hop for a jump, you’re forced to grind through its rows of enemies in order to progress. Compounding the matter, the enemies also respawn very rapidly, meaning that if you’re not treating each screen like a wave-based combat game, you need to move quickly down each hall to get the spawn point off the screen lest you be overwhelmed.
The combat is mind numbingly simple too. You hit an enemy, it gets stunned, and then you repeat until it dies. Sometimes the enemy will immediately jump after it gets out of stunlock, sometimes it’ll fire an untelegraphed projectile that you have to stop and block with your shield, but generally speaking the greatest danger you’ll ever be facing is accidentally walking into the enemy’s face. Bosses can get a little more interesting. Most of them provide plenty of space to get used to the enemy’s pattern and navigate around their attacks, and some bosses are well-designed within the game’s system. It ends on a very sour note, however, with a boss that puts so much stuff on the screen and exploits your terrible jump so hard that if I wasn’t playing on an Emulator with built-in cheats, I can only imagine that grinding for hours to get more screen clearing spells would be my only recourse against the challenge.
Thankfully, for those wanting to experience the piece of history that this game represents without (as much) frustration, the Sega Classics Collection Emulator comes with a lot of bells and whistles – and to the game’s credit there are some good design decisions helping it as well. The emulator of course includes the ability to save whenever you want, which is certainly helpful for creating your own checkpoints. But my favorite feature is the rewind button, which allowed me to completely avoid the “Git Gud” phase of dealing with the game’s jumping physics. This may have stunted my ability to tackle (and perhaps even enjoy) the final boss, but man it was sure nice not to have to repeat entire dungeons to make it through to the end. It did mean though that a lot of my game time was spent rewinding the same encounter over and over until I finally avoided sliding into an enemy – but doing that was my preference over grinding out gold to get better gear. I’m sure there are those out there that will balk at my misuse of these cheats, but the Steam Version of the game is the version I’m reviewing, and these tools are available to all who play it. If you really want to skip out on the game’s more frustrating aspects, you can also mod the game with things like the Chill Edition Steam workshop patch, though ironically, making your character invulnerable technically makes the last boss unbeatable thanks to an event.
Hax aside, Monster World does seem to at least recognize that its more boring parts aren’t worth repeating. Every zone you visit will give you a shortcut back to the game’s main hub area, allowing you to skip its worst padding when you want to go back to areas and look for secrets. In general the backtracking is handled very well. When you get new powers you’re expected to go to previous sections of the game to collect pieces of an armor that you need to enter one of the game’s final dungeons. Finding secrets is a joy in general, especially when you find spells that are tremendously overpowered and very good for skipping through content quickly (though unfortunately most bosses are immune to the better spells.) There are some secrets that are of the “how on earth could I have known?” variety however. Some treasures can’t be accessed unless you push “up” in arbitrary areas and reveal a secret doorway. There are only a few of these that provide significant benefits though, many of them are just gold that are a welcome replacement for grinding, but otherwise unnecessary.
Exploring the game world for secrets is easily the best part of the game, but there’s also a certain charm to the bonkers early 90s goofiness that represents the game’s story. I actually laughed out loud at some of the bizarre situations I found myself in. Just as an example, you meet a dragon at some point in the game who tells you to take his son with you on your adventure. After the text box disappears, an egg rolls up to you and hatches out an infant dragon. I’m sure as a 90s kid who dropped many a Yoshi off to their horrendous deaths I might not have seen this as anything particularly strange, but as a mid-30s father of three I couldn’t help but break down into tears laughing at the utter ridiculousness of someone giving me their baby – not even minutes old – to take with me on my adventure into a blazing volcano. The pure illogical and unbridled imagination of Monster World just can’t be bottled and sold anymore, you just have to experience it for yourself.
It is for that reason that I tentatively recommend Wonder Boy in Monster World
in spite of all my complaints. I can’t honestly say that it would have
much value to anyone who didn’t grow up in the time it was released, but
it sure was fun for me to get to see what is a classic for many. Just
be prepared to either git gud, git grindy, or to put that rewind button
on a hotkey, because you’re in for a classic game with all the good and
bad that designation represents.
Your character slides slightly when you stop walking, and your weapons are extremely short ranged, meaning you'll often bump into enemies by accident
You never get much better than a small short hop. In combination with the slippery ground you're likely going to be fighting with the physics. Some good challenges otherwise
The world is chock full of secrets. Some of them are a bit unfair, but for the most part it's fun (and extremely important) to check every corner
Not a focus. Probably could have used more riddle type dialog to telegraph some of the invisible doors
Surprisingly you save the princess pretty early, but it's really just ''Go kill more monsters'' for most of the game
Graphics are really impressive for the Era and would certainly be lauded if they were used in a modern retro game
Utilizes Sega Genesis instruments that really aren't all that common today, making the soundtrack relatively unique
No real incentives to play twice other than to just do it
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