Monster World IV Review
Nintendo Wii (Originally: Sega Mega Drive)
May 10, 2012 (Originally: April 1, 1994)
Adventure, Action, Platformer
Before I get on with the review, I want to mention that we’re getting the first official English translation of Monster World IV in 2012—and the original game was released in 1994. As a Sega fanboy, I’m stoked that this game is finally getting an official translation, and as a Nintendo fanboy, I’m stoked that it’s making its debut on Wii’s Virtual Console. Monster World IV is due to hit XBox Live Arcade and PSN later in the year.
The Monster World series is full of video game comfort food. Monster Worlds II and III are adventure/action/platformers where you do the typical RPG rigamarole: town, dungeon, boss, town, dungeon, boss, wash, rinse, repeat. Not only is there comfort in the predictability of the formula, but the combat and puzzles are relatively easy, and the platforming is nigh non-existent. The games will even allow you to farm for cash to make things easier on yourself, though it’s not required if you can play well enough.
This kind of gameplay is what you’d expect from their protagonist, a so-called Wonder Boy. He’s practically a Dragon Quest reject—a chibi lad decked out in medieval armor. His appeal to RPG tropes and his cutesy look assure you that you’ll have an easy, predictable quest.
Not only is Monster World IV’s protagonist female, but she tosses the medieval look that’s typical of RPGs for an Arabian flair. At this point, you should suspect that something is up.
It should be noted that Monster World IV does obey quite a bit of Monster World tradition. There’s a town, there’s dungeons, and there’s bosses in dungeons. You’ll fight with your sword and buy upgrades to face tougher foes.
However, on your initial visit to the game’s major town, Monster World IV throws its first wrench into the works.
You get a blue Pokemon-type thing called a Pepelogoo. Being original, you name it Pepe.
This guy follows you around. When you call Pepe to your side, you can hold him above your head. Jump, and he’ll slow your descent greatly; hit the jump button in midair, and you’ll do a double jump.
With the help of Pepe, the game creates dungeons using two distinct difficulty curves.
One of the curves centers around Pepe. At first, Monster World IV is excited about his potential for platforming. In the first area, you’ll learn to glide across large gaps, and in the first dungeon, you’ll need to weave your double jumps through volleys of fireballs. The platforming gets a little hairy.
Then, as you progress through subsequent dungeons, the platforming segments get lighter. By the time you reach the third dungeon, you’ll find rooms constructed with safe, flat surfaces. You’ll rarely need to call upon Pepe for his aid in making jumps.
At the same time that the platforming gets lighter, another difficulty curve picks up the slack. This curve hails from Monster Worlds II and III. Combat gets more intense and dungeons grow more labyrinthine.
For the most part, combat is what you’ve come to expect from a Monster World game. Many normal enemies and all minibosses flinch when you damage them, and it’s possible to keep attacking them so that they continually flinch. In other words, you can stunlock them. A large part of performing well in Monster World IV means taking advantage of stunlocks.
However, there are also enemies and major bosses where this strategy won’t be practical. This dynamic between stunlock-able and un-stunlock-able enemies adds a bit of depth to a relatively shallow combat system, and you’ll find that combat in Monster World IV is just as much about how you attack the enemy as it is about how you dodge the enemy’s attacks.
Speaking of dodging, you can press down to raise your shield at any time. This will block any hit, but the joke is that you can’t attack or move while your shield is raised. It’s another small touch that fleshes out the combat.
Just like previous Monster World games, dungeons grow in complexity alongside the combat. However, there is a larger emphasis on mazes.
It seems to me that there are two main ways to build mazes. First, you let the player wander around aimlessly looking for an exit; this is akin to a pen-and-paper maze. Second, you let the player see where they need to go but deny them immediate access. One example of this second method is a locked door; you know you need to go through the locked door, but you can’t get through it immediately. You’ll need to find a key.
While the two aren’t mutually exclusive, Monster World IV focuses on the latter. For instance, in the Ice Pyramid, the game will show you a treasure chest on the other side of a thick wall. Here, you have no choice but to find some crazy detour to get around that wall. You can see the chest, but getting to it is another matter.
As mazes get more complex, the puzzles get more difficult too, but rarely are they anything to ponder for any length of time. However, I will admit that I needed to use an FAQ to solve one particular puzzle in the third dungeon.
During all of this, you’ll continually find new equipment to buy in town. Like previous Monster World installments, the prices in Monster World IV are smartly maintained; if you don’t want to farm for gold, you’ll have to be frugal with your money and select upgrades wisely. If you want to buy everything, that’s an option too, so long as you’re cool with farming. One way makes the game easier, one way makes the game harder, but you won’t find anything absurdly difficult or game-breakingly easy.
To recap, we’ve got two difficulty curves. First, the difficulty of the platforming starts high and decreases as the game progresses. Second, the difficulty of the combat and dungeon navigation starts low and rises as the game progresses.
At the third dungeon, platforming is at its simplest, while combat and puzzles are at their peak. Then the game throws its second game-changing wrench, which I’ll let you discover for yourself. Nothing too drastic changes in how the game plays, since you’ll still have platforming and combat and puzzles. The real change is in dungeon construction and how all of those elements are used. In addition, I can’t say I’m sure what the difficulty curve is doing for the rest of the game—the established difficulty curves are dashed at this point.. The final two dungeons make an unusual ending, I’d argue.
I should mention that, during this sequence, I used an FAQ again. It turned out that I was unaware of a feature in the controls. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that if you want to climb up a rope quickly, you can mash the up button.
Curiously, the change in level design is swept under the rug aesthetically speaking. For instance, throughout the game, the music will stick to variations on one theme. Even after the third dungeon, you’ll still hear variations on that theme, ignoring the shift in design. On the bright side, it’s an awesome theme. Anyone with experience with the Monster World series will tell you that its music is great, and Monster World IV doesn’t break from tradition on that account. Likewise, Monster World IV’s graphics are cheery throughout; they have a very Monster World feel to them. Even big, tough bosses make goofy expressions when you strike them.
Monster World IV develops nicely during its first three dungeons, and it’s a shame that you don’t get to see where it could’ve gone had the game continued to develop normally. On the other hand, it’s exciting to see an adventure game take such risks.
All of the previous Monster World games were released in America under the following names:
Monster World – Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Sega Master System, Arcade)
Monster World II – Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap (Sega Master System)
Monster World III – Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis)
All of these titles are also available on Wii’s Virtual Console.
- Combat is engaging.
- Dungeons are hearty.
- Pepe’s abilities make for some interesting platforming sequences.
- If you dig RPG elements, you’ll appreciate the equipment system.
- The progression of level design throughout the game is somewhat unusual.
- If you like predictable difficulty curves, you’ll find this game offputting.
- While the overall flow of the game is unique, the gameplay itself is nothing special, even if it’s enjoyable.
- While this game is relatively light on the mazes, there is one dungeon in particular that will prove frustrating if you don’t like them.
Monster World IV is part of a fan favorite Sega action-RPG series. What’s your favorite RPG from Sega?