Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World Review
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On 07/10/2012 at 11:55 PM by Angelo Grant
Even if you didn't like the similar adventure in Zelda 2, you may still like this game.
Anybody with even the slightest appreciation for action RPGs should give Monster World a try.
One question frequently asked about the Monster World games is “Did Zelda influence the Wonder Boy franchise?” While there’s a well-documented commonality between these games and Nintendo’s Zelda franchise—particularly Link’s second NES adventure— there’s enough done here to make it feel unique from its rumored 8 bit Hyrulian influences. It is safe to say however, that if you enjoyed even the concept of Zelda 2, you can stop reading now and hit the marketplace to pick this up. If the mere mention of The Adventure of Link brings fear or loathing to your soul, read on, as the game may still be right for you.
Sega Vintage Collection Monster: World is a trio of 2d side-scrolling action/RPG gems, albeit of differing qualities. The first game, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, is a port of a classic arcade title, as is represented by its lovely cabinet on the menu screen. Since Julian already did a great job of explaining the SVC front end, I’ll not repeat his descriptors in my own language, other than echoing his praise of M2's work. Instead, I want to touch on the only thing they neglected that holds this collection back; the button mapping.
When M2 ported these games, they never bothered to change the in-game commands to match the modern controller inputs. This presented a particular problem when saving, or attempting to play the Ocarina in Monster World. The saving system bounces back between using in game commands and the commands recognized by the emulation software when saving in game (save states use the emulation software only.) This causes the buttons used for confirm and cancel to switch places on the actual controller. Additionally, during sequences where the player is required to rapidly press a sequence of buttons, such as answering a quiz or playing an instrument, it’s easy to mistakenly hit the button labeled A or B on the controller, instead of what the game recognizes as A or B, which would be X and A, respectively. While the game does allow you to map the buttons to whatever you want, I was unable to find an arrangement that I felt comfortable with using a 360 controller.
The first game in the collection is the arcade game Wonder Boy in Monster Land. I’m not one to dump on a classic, but I found this to be the most difficult game to appreciate in the collection. Perhaps, since I was never able to experience it in its natural habitat, the nostalgia factor is simply lost on me. The environments and character animations look very dated, and some of the mechanics—such as finding gold by jumping and wiggling the joystick in random locations, as well as having to press up on the controller all the time in an attempt to find hidden doors in later levels—simply don’t hold up well. At the time of its original release though, the technology on display in the cabinet was impressive, and many games made a habit of hiding items in random locations with no hint to their whereabouts. For those not put off by the dated mechanics, there is fun to be had here, and one could always find an online walkthrough to eliminate the need to jump all over like a Jack Russell terrier in an attempt to bank enough gold to buy the necessary items.
If scan lines were the secret sauce to appreciating the Golden Axe collection (and they make a dramatic improvement in these games as well,) than M2's decision to implement save states is Monster World's parallel equivalent. The arcade game is designed to munch quarters, and as such, it does not have a built in save system. In order to record any progress in this game, save states are a necessity. There are also some bosses in Monster Land that are extremely cheap, and can bounce your character around the environment causing almost constant damage without allowing you to recover, so saving prior to engaging them is a good idea. Additionally, all three games have areas where the difficulty of the platforming spikes radically. Using the emulator’s save state ability means you can save anywhere in the game, enabling you to 'cheat' your way past these challenges as well. Of course, if you’d rather experience these games as they were intended to be played, the in game save features in the Monster World titles works just fine, so you can elect not to use the emulator’s save feature.
Wonder Boy in Monster World improves on the original in every respect. Where Monster Land was a linear level-by-level affair, Monster World is much more open, featuring multiple dungeons, villages, and pathways linked by a hub world. Animations are smoother, and controls are more finely tuned and responsive. The story elements are minimal, but are more interesting and better developed than its arcade predecessor. I only found myself using the save state feature one time to get through a ridiculous section of platforming in a late game dungeon. Other than that, the game is very approachable and playable.
Along with gameplay, the art style has also dramatically improved. There are a lot of common elements between Monster Land and Monster World—including some very small areas that were duplicated from Monster Land— but never does this feel like a cop out at all, and never are any of Monster Land's sprites “recycled.” Where the original game is easily described as a fantasy action platformer, Monster World has a cuteness to it that gives it a personality all its own. It gives the entire experience a lighthearted warmness without sending it over the top into super saccharine territory.
Believe it or not, Monster World IV refines the formula even further, although it does sacrifice a bit of Wonder Boy in Monster World's openness. This time, after passing an introductory dungeon, you are thrust directly into the hub world, which serves as this game's only village and contains all the shops you will need to visit throughout the course of your adventure. Also, upon purchasing upgraded equipment, your character automatically equips it, and the option to go back to your old weapon or armor is not available. This isn't a big deal though, as there really is no need to do so.
Monster World IV also takes the series in a different direction thematically. Monster Land and Monster World had a clearly western fantasy theme featuring European-style castles and villages, dragons, and full suits of armor with tower shields. This time, the entire game has an Arabian Nights feel to it, complete with pointy shoes, flying carpets, and genies in their lamps. Your character's attire is also eastern, and not unlike Jasmine's from Disney's Aladdin, although she still uses a Roman style shield, which looks slightly out of place with the rest of her clothing.
While some things may look and feel different from the previous titles, don't let Monster World IV rattle you. None of the spirit of Monster World was lost. In fact, I found this game to be the most enjoyable of the three. Dungeons are more cleverly designed, characters and story were better developed, and nothing ever felt cheap or broken (even though there is another section of insane platforming that had me using the save state feature again.) It's also the most technologically advanced game in the series. Enemies were again redrawn and given new abilities to counterbalance the new abilities of the main character. Even if you didn't particularly care for the first two games, just about anyone should be able to enjoy Monster World IV.
I haven't talked much about music yet, but the scores of all three games also showed steady improvement over time. Monster Land had a few good themes, but only had one that I would consider truly great. Monster World's entire score was very good, and a few of the tracks would genuinely get stuck in my head, including a different version of the previously mentioned theme from Monster Land. Monster World IV was so good that I found myself sitting on the game select screen just to hear some of the music play. Many pieces in the game have an Arabian overtone that does wonders on conceptually holding the experience together. In every way, Monster World IV is the crowning jewel of this collection, and needs to be played.
I can't recommend this collection enough to anyone who enjoys classic games. My final suggestion is that after buying this collection you should play the games in order. Not only does it help show the progression the franchise makes from start to finish, it’ll also keep you from becoming spoiled by the later games enhanced mechanics. Seriously, go get it. Now.