Growing up in a small town I never got much of an arcade experience. I did have a couple of chances, but save for one or two years at a local festival, most of that experience was on a Ms. Pac-Man machine at a Pizza Hut. On top of that, I grew up as a Nintendo kid. So while I did get a chance to play with a friend’s Sega Genesis, I had never even heard of the Sega Master System until probably around high school when I saw an ad for the Master Gear Converter for the Game Gear. Those two things combined (lack of arcades and lack of Master System knowledge) meant that I completely missed out on the Wonder Boy series as a kid.
The Wonder Boy Collection consists of four games: Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and Monster World IV. Each of these games have seen ports and re-releases on several systems and now, with ININ Games is releasing them all in one collection, it gives the chance for players like myself who didn’t have a lot of arcade or Sega Genesis/Master System experiences to finally play these classics. The big question is if the games still hold up today.
Before getting to the individual games, I want to note that the Wonder Boy Collection adds a couple of extra features to each game. Similar to other game compilations, Wonder Boy Collection adds save states to each game with up to six save slots for each game. If that’s not enough to help you out, each game also has rewind and fast forward, letting you back up any mistakes you make and fast forward through any text you may not wish to read if you’re not much of a story person.
As for the four games, let’s start with Wonder Boy. Fans of classic games may notice it bears a striking resemblance to a certain NES game. Back when the game was released, the developers had the rights to the game design, but Sega retained the trademark to the Wonder Boy name. The developers then teamed up with Hudson Soft and Wonder Boy was ported to the NES as Adventure Island.
The original Wonder Boy is a simple side-scroller where you play through eight worlds - four stages each - while avoiding obstacles and taking out enemies with your axe, provided you picked one up. You die in one hit to enemies, but you do have a health bar that decreases over time if you hit rocks along the ground. Your healthbar can be replenished by collecting fruit. It’s a simple concept, but as is the case with arcade games of the time, it’s kind of designed to eat your money. While the bosses at the end of each world aren't that difficult to defeat, just getting there can tough, especially once you hit later stages due to some difficult jumps or lack of weapon pickups (if you die with a weapon you start the next life without one).
Next up is Wonder Boy in Monster Land, and from here on in the series eases up on the platforming mechanics and becomes more RPG-like, while still being a side-scroller. Despite being an RPG, Wonder Boy in Monster Land is still very linear, with a dozen or so stages to clear. You start out with a simple sword and no armor or upgrades, but as you progress you’ll come across various shops that sell new armor, spells, and healing options. Sword upgrades can be obtained by defeating certain bosses you come across throughout the game. I have played Monster Land on an actual arcade machine and it’s definitely a money eater. Each stage has a timer in the form of an hourglass in the bottom-left corner of the screen and once it runs out, you start to lose health until you die. Between that and some problematic physics, this is probably my least favorite game of the collection. Still good, but not great.
The third game is Wonder Boy in Monster World, which introduces a new character named Shion, a save system, and more RPG elements. Many towns in Monster World have been invaded and the Fairy Queen Eleanora prays to the gods that a hero will step forward and save them. Monster World kind of has a Metroidvania-style feel to it; level design is less linear and you will have to return to prior areas now and then to proceed. While you can find and purchase upgrades in the previous game, here you can equip any weapon, armor, shield, and boots that you find to suit your playstyle. Weapons such as swords and spears not only affect your offense, but also determine whether or not you can use a shield for more protection. Boots increase your speed and armor raises your defenses. You can also have up to two items or magic spells equipped, though using spells here is kind of awkward. I didn’t find myself using magic all that much, to the point where when I want to, it took a few moments to remember how to do it.
Wonder Boy in Monster World was my favorite of the four games to play through as I've always liked this style of RPG. The non-linear non-timed style of play means if you need to grind enemies for gold to purchase upgrades, you can do so with little risk involved. The controls feel pretty fluid (spell casting not withstanding), which makes sense as this was initially a Sega Genesis game with later ports for the Sega Master System and Turbo Duo. On that same note, since Monster World isn’t an arcade title you don’t feel like the game is trying to find ways to kill you and gobble up coins, making the difficulty curve a lot more natural and relaxed.
Last up is Monster World IV, completely dropping the Wonder Boy name. It makes sense here, as we have a new female protagonist in Asha. Upon hearing spirits call for help, Asha heads out to find and help them. Once reaching the city of Rapadagna she learns more about the four spirits and heads to the temple to save them, each of them requiring a medallion to open up. While I did enjoy my time with Monster World IV, it kind of felt like a slight downgrade from Wonder Boy in Monster World. Rapadagna is basically a hub of sorts where the temple is located with four doors, each leading to an area that has one of the spirits, so not quite as much running around various towns as in previous titles. On top of that, upgrades you purchase are once again automatically equipped instead of letting you pick and choose from different weapons and such. In fact, if you go crazy spending money in the town you can almost become soft locked and not have enough money to purchase a special set of armor that will allow you to proceed into the temple. (It is possible that I simply missed something, but a slight word of caution: do not purchase the most expensive sword right out of the gate yet).
That doesn’t mean Monster World IV is bad by any means; it’s definitely my second favorite of the four just behind Wonder Boy in Monster World. Asha has the ability to stab upwards and downwards when she jumps and you’ll come across a nifty little pet early on that lets you perform a double jump, allowing you to explore more of Rapadagna to find hidden gold and progress the game. The controls feel very nice and fluid and everything looks and sounds great. For a lot of people this may be their first time playing Monster World IV as it wasn’t initially released outside of Japan, but I can definitely see how this is a lot of players’ favorite of the four games, if not of the entire Wonder Boy franchise.
So that’s all four games in a nut shell, but what about the collection as a whole? The fun part of reviewing a collection like this is summarizing the games involved, but then remembering I still have to talk about the actual collection. Do the four games still hold up today? Absolutely. Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land can be pretty difficult for gamers not too familiar with them, especially since they have the arcade mindset of “how can we take their quarters quickly?”. These are faithful arcade ports, right down to having to click the left control stick to enter a quarter (it took me a couple minutes to figure that out), so if you played them in the arcades you know what you’re getting into. For someone like me who mostly played console games growing up, the latter two games are more up my alley. A bit less frantic, since there’s no timer rushing you to the end of each level and RPG-like elements to keep you improving the hero/heroine, making you feel like you are getting stronger as the player. That combined with more fluid controls makes for easier entries for newer players.
However, there is one thing I do have to criticize with the collection and that’s the lack of any additional content. There is some such as the aforementioned save states as well as fast forwarding and rewinding (all three of which I used extensively for this review). Other than that there is a Gallery on the main menu that shows you some artwork from the games, and the Master System/Genesis covers of the games, but that’s really it. All four games do let you tweak gameplay controls and several video options, and Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land do let you alter the gameplay settings such as starting lives, difficulty, and how often you score an extra life. While there’s not really much beyond that I’m okay with that as the collection does include four solid games from this franchise. At the end of the day I’m glad I got the opportunity to play these four games, a couple of them for the first time. For these four games, the cost of thirty bucks is definitely a deal.
Wonder Boy Collection may be a bit short on the extras, but the four games included still make for a very solid collection. Wonder Boy and Wonder Boy in Monster Land are great for arcade gamers and the options let you tweak things to make the games easier or harder to suit your skill level. Meanwhile, Wonder Boy in Monster World and Monster World IV are great for console gamers, offering very fluid controls and a more relaxing style of gameplay where you’re not rushed by a timer wanting to devour your quarters. Whether you’re a fan of the series or just stepping in for the first time, Wonder Boy Collection is bound to have at least one or two games that everyone can enjoy.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.