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Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis) artwork

Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis) review

"So ends another episode in the adventures of “Wonder Boy”. "

So ends another episode in the adventures of “Wonder Boy”.

That is one of the final lines of text in the script to “Wonder Boy in Monster World”, a magical adventure on the Sega Genesis. It’s not the kind of game that would have graced the covers of “EGM” or “GamePro”. You would've had to discover it in the recesses of a 1990s video store, guided by nothing but sheer curiosity. Unlike the “Epic Mickeys” and “Brutal Legends” of today, a game like “Monster World” didn’t have its audience manufactured. It earned its followers.

The hero, Shion, isn't morally complex. His quest is ignited by a simple desire: To restore peace to Monster World. As Bocke Lee Temjin did before him in the original “Wonder Boy in Monster Land”, Shion seeks the Oracle for guidance. He’s given the sword Gradius and an elixir, and off he goes in search of beasties to slay and distressed damsels to rescue. The melody for the first screen our protagonist explores is the very same that played over the credits of “Monster Land”, thematically tying the two games together.

From the Myconid’s Cave to the sewers beneath Purapril Castle, from the ruins in the Lilypad jungle to the dunes of Maugham Desert, we are guided by our inclination to explore. NPCs provide directions, but do you need a Fairy Queen or villager to tell you to dive beneath the waters for treasure? To search for invisible doors? To take that odd route that leads to a treasure chest with a Heart Container inside? I had collected all the Pygmy equipment long before realizing I needed it to shrink to the size of a mouse and open a tiny door into a volcano.

When we’re not poking around the corners of various lands, we’re on the outskirts of town pummeling monsters for gold. Shion amasses a minor fortune to spend on gear, to facilitate his next adventurous excursion. Should we carry a spear, with its greater reach and attack power, or should we go with the slightly weaker but reliable sword, with the added defense of a shield? Sometimes the curiosity shop will have magic on the counter. There are spells like “Power” and “Shield”, which augment your attributes, and magic like “Thunder” and “Quake”, which clear the way of enemies. By the way, you might want to pay attention to the shopkeeper’s inventory; you never know what that crafty Sphinx will quiz you on.

There are tricky patches, for those who favor some trial with their adventuring. The first dungeon requires you to memorize three Ocarina songs to open three doors. The Pyramid is rigged with conveyor belts and spikes, with the added perils of spooky ghosts and shuffling mummies. Handera Volcano poses the challenge of staving off fiery demons and phoenixes while reduced to the size of a pygmy. (“Monster World II” fans will have flashbacks to playing as Mouse-Man.) And true to the tradition established in prior games, the final dungeon repeats itself when you take the wrong turn. Stand out bosses include the twin rock heads Gragg & Glagg, who spit boulders and fire pebbles out of their nostrils. (I think.) Runners-Up: A giant snow man who spits little snow people and a Demon King who has a penchant for switching heads. (One of them a chipmunk’s.)

It all leads to a final confrontation in the stars, echoing “Sonic the Hedgehog 2”. How the game ends, I won’t say, except that it’s as off-beat as you’d expect from the rest of the game. If you must know, I spill the beans in my “Monster World IV” review.

An important component of “Wonder Boy in Monster World” is its jovial attitude. Its environments evoke the atmosphere of Disneyland in their color and variety. The monsters are goofy, and the music cheery. The dialogue in the message boxes never takes itself seriously, and it never stunts the pace as it does in modern games,... and it’s not often that an Action/RPG features a quiz game for a boss battle.

Don't let the dorky cover fool you. Rule #1 for browsing games at the video store: Flip the case to its back and check the screenshots. They're kind of dorky too, but in a more endearing way.

Rating: 10/10

joseph_valencia's avatar
Community review by joseph_valencia (November 06, 2009)

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