I've been pretty fascinated by the Wonder Boy/Adventure Island series for years. That's the best title we can come up for these games, but man, who knows. You could also call it the Monster World series. But it gets confusing. Heck, the most recent game is called Monster Boy. So yeah.
At any rate, I'd dabbled in quite a few of the old 8-bit and 16-bit games over the years. But it feels like the series has had a bit of revival in recent years for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the completely unrelated Shantae games by WayForward are absolutely inspired by Monster World. And those games have grown a cult following over time, thus sort of leading people to Monster World. Then there were some HD remasters of old games like Adventure Island Returns, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, and Asha In Monster World. And finally there was an honest to goodness new entry in the form of Monster Boy In The Cursed Kingdom.
Earlier this year I spent a good few nights playing through The Dragon's Tap (a remake of Wonder Boy III on the Sega Master System) and having a blast. It was a beautiful looking game that kept the original's difficulty while beefing it up with some quality of life improvements. So when the remake of Monster World IV was announced in the shape of Asha In Monster World, I was excited. And... I almost bought it.
Then I realized that I actually owned a digital compilation on Xbox which compiles Wonder Boy In Monster Land, Wonder Boy In Monster World, and Monster World IV - the original 16-bit version. So... I figured, while the HD version is probably much prettier, I could save myself $40 and just play the game I already have.
Monster World IV is a bit of an interesting story in its original state. It was released on the Genesis in 1994, and yet never made it to the US. I'm not exactly sure why. It was an extremely good looking game - colorful and gorgeously animated. I'd say it rivals anything that Treasure did on the platform. And I mean, Wonder Boy felt like a legit Sega mascot, sandwiched in between Alex Kidd and Sonic. So it wasn't until 2012 that it finally got localized on XBLA.
Coming off of Dragon's Trap, Monster World IV feels a lot more linear. There are indeed Metroidvania or RPG-lite tones. There's currency and new gear to buy and ways to increase your max HP (hearts) and so on. But the game's flow is less open world, and relies a lot more on platforming and (slight) puzzle solving.
I love the way the game looks. There's no doubt in my mind that Asha was the inspiration for Shantae herself. The music is solid. The platforming and action is tight. The boss battles are interesting and impressive with their huge sprites calling back to the animals you could morph into in Dragon's Trap.
But my issue with this game is that while it's generally pretty tight in that there's a hub world and basically just four dungeons to get through... those dungeons are huge. Like, way too long. Like, overstay their welcome long.
Case in point: I had gotten through what I thought was the first major dungeon after the intro levels and introduction to the hub world, and fought a boss based on the eagle form from Dragon's Tap. After he was defeated it spit me back into the dungeon. I assumed I had beat this dungeon since it had been a fairly long trek up to that point. So instead of backtracking, I used the item I was given to escape back to the hub world... only to find that I had only beaten the mid-boss. And I'd have to go back and do it all over again to proceed. Very disheartening.
So yeah, the flow of the game feels off. And that's based only on my own experience playing these games. But I've played quite a few. Granted, they all are pretty different in their mixture of pure platforming and RPG-ness.
One thing that's awesome in this game is your little flying companion thing. He's great. You can use him to float up and double jump. You can use him to slowly descend a drop. You can send him out to trigger traps or levers. He can even be a shield. It's a neat added mechanic.
At any rate, Monster World IV is not the best of the series, but it's fairly up there. Not top tier, but just below that. With extra points for visuals and style. I'd still be interested in playing the remake if the price was right. It's at least that good - good enough that I'd want to see how much they could have improved on the original.