Monday, June 15, 2009

Genesis/VC look: Wonder Boy in Monster World

While Monster World fits under the fairly standard classification of "action-adventure" it manages to maintain an identity through it's unique outlook on exploration and combat. This game is the second-to-last Wonder Boy game ever made(the Japan-exclusive Monster World IV is considered the final one). The series has undergone some radical changes since its inception many years ago. The action-adventure games are probably the ones we're all most familiar with.

Monster World takes place in a land where bad things are happening. To combat this a young man named Shion takes it upon himself and slowly leaves his home to destroy evil and possibly do a few good deeds on the way. This will involve a bit of shopping, lots of platforming, a bunch of killing baddies for their money, and no shortage of exploration through land, sea, and space.

The first thing players will notice is that Shion walks very slowly. This is one of the clever elements of design Monster World employs. Though Shion starts off slow he can find and buy new boots to increase his walking speed. Early on enemies don't do much more than stand still and hop in place. But as Shion progresses(and finds faster boots) he'll find that with each new area he enters the enemies become more active and their attacks intensify. 

The second thing players will notice is that Shion's weapon reach is horrible. While his sword has decent range and can effectively hit enemies from nearly anywhere in front of him the player will soon discover they have to be almost on top of an enemy to score a hit. This is balanced out by the fact that most enemies don't have a lengthy recovery period. That is if the player hits them they go into a damage animation but the player is usually free to keep hitting them until they're dead. However as the game progresses the enemies will begin to counter hits by jumping or attacking. Over time the reach and range of Shion's weaponry improve but it's still not something to rely on.

Armor and shields can also be purchased or found. This equipment not only lessens damage but shields have the added benefit of blocking projectile attacks as long as Shion is not attacking or crouching. Shields can be tricky to use since attacks that hit Shion's feet or head will still count but all the same it's still very important to the survival of the player.

Shion also has access to numerous spells. These can be useful in certain situations but for the most part players will find themselves relying on a spell that doubles their attack and a return spell that takes them back to the last inn they stayed at. To aid Shion ever further a number of helpers will follow him through various stages of the game. Some will find goodies for Shion while others simply help attack the enemies. Unfortunately for the most part these guys are useless.

The Monster World itself is actually quite linear. However there are more than enough secrets and areas that must be returned to after collecting certain items. The areas Shion explores are varied and show a good understanding of various aspects of level design(even if all of the locations aren't exactly original). There are no overly long stages in this game and most players should be able to breeze through the entire thing in a couple hours.

The dungeons and overall level design are quite good. While each leg of the journey is short just enough time is spent on them that they feel complete. Just as you think you're going to be tired of a particular leg of the quest a necessary item is found and you're off to somewhere entirely new. Also there's a fair sense of progression throughout as the platforming becomes more difficult and new enemies keep things fresh. 

There are a handful of boss-fights in this game. While one mixes it up by providing a mini-quiz game the others are standard affairs where you dodge their attacks and pound them into submission. These foes tend to be quite easy as Shion is usually more than equipped to handle them(it doesn't help that their life-bars aren't terribly long either). However Shion is a rather clunky target even after finding the best boots and the final bosses are by far the hardest parts of the game.

To go into greater detail let's look at the Demon King. While Shion is capable of dodging basic stuff(provided the player is given some warning that the enemy is about to attack) even at his fastest he doesn't have the agility to get around more complicated attacks and ones that strike from multiple directions at once. The Demon King has three heads and when you knock one off it continues to attack Shion. So in this tiny room Shion will eventually have to deal with two heads, the boss himself, and whatever attacks are being flung about. This is really too much for Shion to handle and since his recovery period is quite short this boss fight is more a battle of attrition than anything requiring real skill. Later on we have the final boss. This guy starts off easy enough with a single laser(that can be destroyed though it will respawn after a short time) roaming the area. After depleting his health however he takes on a second form and a number of additions are made. First he can only be damaged when his eye is open, two lasers enter the room, a buzz-saw roams back and forth across the ground Shion is standing on, and to top it all off he's on a conveyor-belt that's constantly changing directions. To say this is the hardest part of the game isn't enough. If this were already a challenging game and the final boss was the hardest part that would be sensible. Instead this is a very easy game that just happens to have a brutally difficult finale. 

From what I hear part of this is due to the fact that Sega of America made additions to the final boss to make it more challenging. Why these additions weren't spread throughout the entire game to help the player better prepare for sudden jumps in difficulty is beyond me. The perfect way of dealing with this should have been two difficulty settings so that gamers could have a very difficult game for 100% of the time instead of 5%. It's a completely nonsensical way to conclude a relatively pleasant experience. Just to put it into perspective someone is able to beat the final boss in the Japanese version with a mere three hearts while in the US version it's just not possible.

So unless you're interested in fighting an un-balanced final boss you might want to try Dynastic Hero. It's the same price on the Virtual Console and it's essentially the same game(the graphics, art, and music have been changed however) but it's based off of the Japanese version of Monster World so the finale is a bit smoother.

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