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Wonder Boy in Monster World

Genre: Action/RPG Developer: Westone Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1991

Some games leave you in tears; others leave you giggling. Some games leave you angry, happy, empty, satisfied, disappointed, bored, or just plain stunned. Wonder Boy in Monster World left me with egg all over my face and a new respect for action/RPGs in my heart. I remember when I first encountered MW. It was a screen shot/title screen capture, and I distinctly remember chuckling to myself and shaking my head. Look at that purple dragon! Straight out of Dragon Tales. And those tiny, wimpy little sprites! How much lamer can it get?

For the next few years I lived on without giving MW more than a passing thought. That all changed with The All-Nighter, in the Stories from the Book of Genesis article line. Surely a game that commanded that much pain couldn’t possibly be all that bad, right? So I trooped out to the local used game shop and got them to special order my copy. It took a while, but it finally arrived, with manual and box to boot. I powered it up, and the adventure began.

I’ll admit it right now. I’ve got a weak spot for anime graphics, especially the mid-’90s chan style. And MW delivers on that quite well—big-eyed fairies and fluffy-looking ‘enemies’ are all over the place. Don’t expect anything dark or sinister; “The Almighty Demon King” is a dorky rabbit/elephant/dragon hybrid. Everything’s easy on the eyes and quite heart-warming. Even the backgrounds are lush and eye-catching. I give extensive kudos to the art team.

The animation and special effects are…well…not exactly up to par. Animation is as nonexistent as possible, with only a frame or two for each of the (few) animations. And don’t expect a ton of parallax or vector graphics, either. Only the basics of graphical tricks are put to use here; I find it impossible to believe that the game uses anything but a fraction of the Genesis’s power. That’s a shame, since I would have liked to see the stellar artwork in motion a bit more, and a touch of parallax is never amiss. Still, there are other games that have both horrendous animation and art as well. At least MW succeeds on one point.

So Wonder Boy in Monster World is cutesy and fun to look at. But is it fun to play, nag the hardcore gamers. Looks without dynamic structure are nothing, they point out. I say this in answer: yes, it is, mostly. It’s not a perfect game, but the designers made a heartfelt effort and the result is better because of that. Ditch any thoughts of plot from your mind before you enter, though. There isn’t any story but ‘save the world from monsters’, and this time around that RPG staple premise is (this might be hard to believe) even more bare-bones and unsatisfying than usual. Crusader of Centy had the same storyline, but it managed to wax both philosophical and touching through good use of dialogue opportunities and the gimmick of talking animals. MW‘s storyline fails to deliver any sort of emotion but pity (‘wow, this is totally pathetic’) or any philosophical thoughts but incredulity (‘man, for a legendary hero I have to fetch a bunch of junk’).

Disregarding plot for a moment, though, MW shines. Never has money-gathering, item-buying, floaty platforming, and one-button combat been so fun. It all sounds quite boring on the surface, I realize: go from town to town, beating the corresponding dungeon with the help of a villager, finding an item, buying new equipment, and expanding your heart count. There is a limited amount of variety—you have two classes of weapons, the ability to actually use your shield in real time, various boots that affect your jumping and speed abilities, and a range of nifty magic. But that still doesn’t explain why this game is so darn fun. All I can offer is that the sum is far superior to the parts. When you get right down to it, this is one game you just can’t put down until you’ve gotten every item and explored every corner, so they did something right.

Speaking of which, did I mention that Wonder Boy in Monster World has an excellent soundtrack? Well, it does. It’s not technically impressive, sure, but each and every track fits into its environment perfectly and really adds to the experience, which is exactly what a game score is supposed to do. There’s flute and whistle-based town music, funky tribal drums for the jungle, and crystalline, airy scales for the cloud cities and fairy villages. It’s unfortunate that the sound effect job doesn’t really back up the otherwise excellent soundscape, though. Most effects are the polar opposite of the soundtrack—they don’t make sense in their contexts at all. Since when does the hero make a sound like a katydid when he gets hit? That’s too bad, because otherwise MW‘s audio would get a very high score indeed.

So I’ve reached the end of another review. Now you all ask, ‘what’s the bottom line—is it worth a purchase?’ The answer is a resounding YES! This sort of thing doesn’t come your way often, so you should snatch it up. It costs a pittance and is easily found, so those with tight budgets (like me) have reason to rejoice. Wonder Boy in Monster World will give you a few hours of harmless, colorful diversion. And in this world, we all need a bit of that.

SCORE: 9 out of 10

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