(Wii Virtual Console / Virtual Console Arcade)

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Wii Virtual Console / Virtual Console Arcade)

Game Review

Wonder Boy in Monster Land Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Mike Mason

Boy wonder

The Wonder Boy franchise is one of many treasured relics from SEGA's past. Dedicated fans have clamoured for a new entry in the platform series ever since the 1994 Mega Drive release of the sixth title, Monster World IV. For now, though, they'll have to make do with the splurge of digital download re-releases.

This time, it's the arcade version of Wonder Boy in Monster Land's turn to come adventuring to Wii's Virtual Console, several years after Wonder Boy in Monster Land on Master System hit VC. It's best described as a 2D action platformer with a few scant RPG elements for good measure. You leap across land, over sea and through caves, stabbing away at enemies as you seek to destroy the Meka Dragon to bring peace and quiet back to the world.

You begin the tale underpowered to the extreme, wandering around in nothing more than a crotch-swathing cloth. You're kindly given a weak sword in the opening minutes, but from there it's your responsibility to frequent any shops along the way to purchase upgraded armour, shoes and shields. Bosses must also be taken down to gather up increasingly powerful blades and keys to new realms.

To help you along, each enemy dispatched drops a random item, from valuable coins to temporary pieces of armour that fit over your main suit for a little boost in protection. Wonder Boy can also buy finite magic abilities that let him shoot fireballs and whirlwinds – or just good old bombs.

Ever critical is the hourglass that spills its sand in the corner of the screen. Each time it needs to be turned over costs you a heart of your health, so you've got to keep an eye out for sand-replenishing power-ups or get to the next area as soon as possible, which will reset your time without penalty. Time perils only add to your worries; the frequent vicious bosses tear away at your health quickly, while even standard enemies can overwhelm in sheer number later on.

Some level of curiosity and investigation is encouraged by clandestine background elements. If you hit certain veiled points while leaping around you're rewarded with extra gold. More significantly, knocking on some walls will allow you entry to secret shops, or diving into select bodies of water will tip you into extraneous routes for added challenge and further opportunity to expand the range of tools and armour at your disposal.

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a tough game by today's standards, and the lack of save functionality means you'll have to complete it in a single sitting – unless you sneakily use Wii Virtual Console's temporary save state. Luckily you have unlimited continues as long as you remember to keep your credits topped up with the B button.

The beasts that dwell within Monster Land follow heavy patterns, continually jumping and attacking in the same manner. To compensate for these rigidly programmed routines, the cycles each incorporate a blistering attacks that can destroy you quickly despite their predictability, particularly in the case of guardians. The best way to conquer boss foes is to study them and learn the safest frames to dodge and attack in.

The endless blue skies and chunky, pixellated actors epitomise the golden era in which Wonder Boy in Monster Land was first released. The visuals are clear and colourful, even the dank caves brightened by aqua pools and magenta bats, which makes it a joy to look at even a couple of decades later. Despite the dire circumstances the world is in, the cheery music is also typical of the period, though it has a tendency to get repetitive.

There is, however, infrequent slowdown in areas where too much is going on; a few enemies running in and out of the screen accompanied by extra platforms, for example. It can actually affect the game and cause you injury via mistimed jumps – an unfortunate side-effect of remaining completely faithful to the original.

It's also possible to get stuck with no way out in certain areas; you might hop down a gutter to search around for secrets, only to find that there isn't a platform to help you step back up. The only option is to let the hourglass run down over and over, stealing away your hearts one by one. These are irregular technical faults, though; for the vast majority of its length, Wonder Boy in Monster Land plays well.

Conclusion

Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a tight, tough game that, thanks to its upgrade system and masses of secrets, is very replayable to this day. While you wait and hope for a brand new title in the series, this is well worth revisiting.

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User Comments (27)

47drift

#1

47drift said:

I opted to download Monster World IV and have been absolutely hooked! It's really one of the best Genesis games I've played.

Bass_X0

#3

Bass_X0 said:

I wouldn't have given it a second glance even if I had. Its no Joe & Mac.

MAB

#4

MAB said:

I remember playing this when I was about 9 yo at a pub on the corner of our street. My old man was friends with the owner and I played this with his daughter also the same age as me. He would give us the keys to the arcade so we could click up infinite credits and we had hours of fun in 2 player mode. Downloaded this and it has hit me with nostalgia +10 max even to the point of having unlimited continues. Great game Sega and Monster World IV is even better than I expected :)

CanisWolfred

#5

CanisWolfred said:

Saw the Backloggery Stream of this the other night. It looked pretty good, but not something I'd want to play. At most I'd get this version for the unlimited continues.

Alucard

#8

Alucard said:

I think this game deserves much more recognition than it gets. In terms of actual gameplay (both innovation and playability), it's as important as the first few Mario and Zelda games. It was integrating what are sometimes termed "RPG elements" into sidescrolling platformers quite early on, at least around the time that Zelda II was doing it, if not earlier. And, like Mario, the platforming is spot on, with fluid movement and precise response.

The actual gameplay is pitch-perfect, deep enough for multiple playthroughs (choice of equipment, talking to NPC's, sidequests, etc), is full of secrets, and yet retains a streamlined arcadey "top your previous effort"/high score attack feel. There was no other game quite like it when it came out, and it's a shame that, due to its obscurity in some parts of the world, it is sometimes seen as "second best". In my opinion, it's a perfect arcade game and possibly the best in the whole Wonderboy series.

Ristar42

#9

Ristar42 said:

I really enjoy this game, it balances arcade gameplay with a bit of exploration, strategy and character upgrading - really tough bosses, the autofire on my Hori arcade stick helped!

Managed to get to the last (maze like) stage then must have forgot to add credits, or you cant continue from there, as found myself at the title screen when I lost. Another very worthwhile SEGA VC arcade release. Also runs in 60Hz in PAL regions, with a nice scan line option on the emulator for that 80s look.

Alucard

#10

Alucard said:

@romulo

I think that the arcade version is the definitive version of this game. I've played many different conversions over the years (it was released on almost everything, it seems!). The Master System version comes close in some ways - it's surprisingly accurate, and sounds great with the FM synth. But the only ideal version of this game is the arcade one.

The Master System version doesn't have continues, so it's often considered harder - but actually in many ways it's far easier. You can find enough life potions to make continues redundant if you play reasonably well, and bosses take far less hits than the arcade original. This may be a pro or con for you, and it still provides a worthy challenge. The SMS version also includes an extra level and boss, which is nice but feels like a bit of an afterthought to me.

The arcade version has a lot of small touches and flourishes that make it pretty much perfect.

Alucard

#11

Alucard said:

@Ristar42

Congrats on making it so far. You actually can't continue from the last stage, but completing the subquest throughout the game can help immeasurably.

Ristar42

#13

Ristar42 said:

@Alucard I'll be trying again with the subquest and extra gold exploit, Snow Kong was very difficult to beat! I did download the Master System version but found it a bit slow in 50Hz, glad to see this arcade release.

DarkEdi

#14

DarkEdi said:

This game is fun. It has challenge. I downloaded this and MonsterWorld IV the first day so Sega could notice there still are people supporting the VC and the great games.

Alucard

#15

Alucard said:

@Ristar42

Oh, they kept the gold exploit in? I tried it but didn't seem to get much. Snow Kong is very hard, I can barely get to him without a continue, but then he does me in pretty quickly. I agree about the 50hz SMS slowness, the arcade version is lightning fast in comparison and feels like I can't catch a break at all!

Splashman

#16

Splashman said:

@Alucard At last! Someone who shares my opinion on the game. Monster Land 1 definitely deserves more love, as it's a near perfect blend between RPG and fast-paced Arcade action.
Instead of Zelda, I used to play the Commodore 64 port back in the days. There was no other game like it on the system.

Henmii

#17

Henmii said:

Maybe a silly question, but did I already play this? I don't remember having a Master system Monsterworld/monsterland title. But I have 1 or 2 Genesis titles! Maybe I have played the Genesis version, or is there no Genesis version?

Ristar42

#18

Ristar42 said:

@Alucard The 'waggle' jump exploit seemed to increase the number of 68 golds earned, I didnt play the arcade before so not sure if its altered. Snow Kong took many attempts to beat, but as is the sign of a great arcade game, I kept hitting continue!

Nintenbro

#19

Nintenbro said:

I don't know what it is, but I just don't see the appeal of sidescrolling RPG titles. I've watched some gameplay videos of Wonder Boy titles, but I still don't see what's so great about the series. Can somebody please explain why/how this series has accumulated such gathering of followers? Is it just because of it's certain 8-bit retro charm, or is there more than meets the eye? Also, are there any puzzle aspects incorporated into the gameplay?

odd69

#20

odd69 said:

I think im just going to buy it. I have them all .@G4L It has all that and feels good to play for a game as old as it is. Some of my favorite games really. Dragons curse is my favorite and 4.

SparkOfSpirit

#21

SparkOfSpirit said:

This game is massively underrated. Just watching videos or seeing pictures and it looks too simplistic.

Until you play it.

The game is addictive in an old school way, despite the difficulty and simplicity of the gameplay, I just keep coming back to it. This is easily one of my most favorite purchases from the VC.

Now if only we could get Wonderboy and Monster Lair's arcade versions to get the complete series out.

I can't wait for NL's Monster World IV review! I'm expecting an 8-9.

ToxieDogg

#23

ToxieDogg said:

@romulo It's far superior to the Master System version....the Master System version looks the part but is hampered by some extremely dodgy collision detection in places making it far more fiddly and harder than it should be. This (the original arcade version) is still tough but the unlimited continues up to the last stage help significantly and it feels much more 'tough but fair' than 'tough and cheap' like the Master System port unfortunately is. Just my opinion though.

Brando67854321

#24

Brando67854321 said:

Not again sega!!! 7/10!?!?!?!?!?!? again not a bad score but the master system version was scored higher again rip virtual console arcade :(

SNK

#25

SNK said:

this is the best deal:
Xbox Live Arcade

Release Date: 5/23:

Monster World Collection (800 MSP)

Wonder Boy in Monster Land (Arcade)

Wonder Boy in Monster World (Genesis/Mega Drive)

Monster World IV (Genesis/Mega Drive)

all them for only 800mp

Scottie

#26

Scottie said:

Is this game really that good and worth getting over the master system version? Is it worth more than a seven then and why. I have the master system version and just want to play this in 60hz.

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