Originally released in 1994, Monster World IV is the final game in the Wonder Boy series. It's a very well-liked game and another great entry in the franchise, but there was just one problem: it was never released outside Japan. Until now that is, because SEGA has finally given the rest of the world a chance to experience the game, and unlike any other import game on Wii Virtual Console, it's fully translated as well.
Like most of the games before it, Monster World IV is a mix of an action platformer and an RPG. You move around in a 2D space, kill enemies, collect coins and use them to buy upgraded equipment. This final entry takes both a step forward and a step backward compared to its predecessors, though. There are several new combat moves to put to use, and the game's dungeons are a lot bigger and have a lot more puzzles. Blocking with your shield is also no longer done by simply standing still, you'll have to push down on the D-Pad to pull the shield out.
On the other hand, however, some things have reverted back to the way they were in Wonder Boy in Monster Land: it's very linear and doesn't feature one big, open world, only making one dungeon accessible at any given time. Clearing it unlocks the next one, but the one you just cleared will be permanently locked. Also similar to Monster Land is the fact that you don't keep old equipment for use at any time — the only equipment you have on you and will automatically use is the gear you've most recently purchased. This doesn't matter in most cases, but there are some shields with elemental defence bonuses which you might want to use over others, so be careful what you buy.
For the first time in the series, you play as a female character, Asha, which rather explains why the "Wonder Boy" part has been dropped from the title. You'll also quickly gain a cute companion called a Pepelogoo, a round, furry, floating creature which can be used to hover, double jump and interact with certain objects, by throwing him at them. Your companion also plays a key role in the game's plot, which is focused on a lot more this around, and between each dungeon you'll get some more story advancement. Despite the game's relative simplicity, it's a pretty interesting story too, and if you pay close attention you'll even notice some nods to the previous game, story-wise, Wonder Boy in Monster World.
Secrets are a lot less prevalent this time. There's a handful hidden throughout the game, but 90% of all collectibles (most of which are crystals which give you a permanent extra heart upon collecting ten) are in plain sight at the end of an easily spotted alternate path or simply the reward of a puzzle. That means no more wandering around aimlessly trying to find hidden doors, although you'll still have to do some of that later with some assistance.
The game is also noticeably less difficult than previous games. Strong equipment becomes available fairly early on and, coupled with medicine which refills your entire life bar, makes it a piece of cake to get through just about anything, except maybe the bosses. If that wasn't enough, you can also summon a genie at any time to pull you out of danger and return you back to the game's central town to restock. The game does have a handful of challenging platforming segments and a couple of tricky puzzles, but for the most part it's an easy road to the end — an enjoyable one, however.
The translation work must be commended, too. We're not sure of who exactly is responsible, but dialogue is pretty faithfully translated from the original Japanese, and all the humour is intact as well. One funny example is a man in the main town: a lot of identical men walking around say exactly the same thing, but one of them will remark, after spouting out the same line, that it's simply because he is a character in an RPG. A lot of the game's puzzles also would've been very hard to solve if left in Japanese, due to the reliance on text hints, so we assume this is the primary reason the translation was done.
Although the gameplay is probably the most solid of the whole series, where Monster World IV really shines is in the technical department. As is to be expected of a Mega Drive game from 1994, it features some very, very impressive graphics and, as seems to be the standard for the series, another highly catchy soundtrack. One minor annoyance is that the main theme seems to be repeated an awful lot; it pops up in a lot of the songs and might start to get old after a while. Thankfully, some older songs from the series also return towards the end for a nice bit of nostalgia, including a certain catchy tune which always seemed to play in castles belonging to dragons.
It might've taken 18 years, but the Monster World series is now, finally, fully available outside Japan. Monster World IV might not be very challenging and thus less satisfying to beat than previous games, but it makes up for it in spades with a ton more charm, more varied, enjoyable gameplay and some of the finest sprite work and music the Mega Drive has to offer. Now let's hope it sells well, so SEGA finally decides to make a new instalment.