Developed By: Ratalaika Games Published By: ININ Games Categories: Platformer, Retro, Compilation Release Date: 06.03.22
Over the past few years, I’ve gone from really having no strong opinions or ambivalence to the work of Ratalaika Games to loving the work they do. Be it either their random Genesis and PC Engine ports to Switch or the work they put out with ININ Games. I actually look forward to seeing what games they handle now. Most recently, Ratalaika handled the release of the long lost Clockwork Aquario in partnership with ININ. Now, we have Wonder Boy Collection.
I love Wonder Boy. Imagine, it’s like a 2D Zelda game, with help from Sega. Well, this only really fits for the latter half of the series. The series actually started as what you could probably compare to a runner game, slowly morphing into the adventure game it became. Wonder Boy had six games by developer Westone, lots of ports, lots of different names, and it even spawned Adventure Island. There’s quite a history to the series and Wonder Boy Collection covers the big main four titles. Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and finally Monster World IV.
First up is the original Wonder Boy. You control a young caveboy named Tom Tom, his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the evil Dark King, and in 80’s fashion, you gotta save her! Seven areas, four stages each, Tom Tom will run through whatever it takes. Run, jump over rocks, watch out for those eggs. Eggs are great and they hold many a wonder. A skateboard for instance, helping Tom Tom go faster and makes the game into more of an autorunner. He even wears a helmet! They can hold a stone hatchet to fend off monsters and break those eggs as well.
Seeing as Tom Tom is a caveboy, they’re always hungry. This is how the game contextualizes a time limit, Tom Tom’s stamina. Food is everywhere, fruits, snacks. You’ll find that avoiding mushrooms is wise, you’ll get all tired and your stamina will drop fast. Running into stones will take a big hunk off, and finding a Grim Reaper out of a nasty looking egg will drain it to super low levels. Something to keep in mind too, is that you die in one hit, this is an old arcade game after all. When you have a skateboard, you do get an extra hit, but you can’t take that into a boss fight.
Wonder Boy is fun, it has colorful sprites and some nice music. There is little avoiding the fact it gets old quickly however. Stages start becoming very similar after the second or third area, and bosses are all the same besides the head. I’m honestly not sure I have the patience to go through all seven areas, or a secret eighth if you collect a doll in every level. The series will only go uphill.
Tom Tom…no, it’s Bock Now
A year later we’d get Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Though still an arcade game, Monster Land is the beginning of the RPG elements. I absolutely detest this game. Don’t get me wrong, this is a fantastic arcade game, especially for 1987. But I hate this game so, so, so much.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land is pretty deep in terms of arcade games. There’s lots of equipment to find and buy. Magic, side arms. Lots of secrets. In fact, it gets outright cryptic. On paper, lots of secret doors, weapons, money, etc… sounds fantastic. In practice, this makes for a miserable experience. I want to beat this game. I don’t want to worry I’ll be broke because I didn’t wiggle jump at a hidden gold spot on top of a house. This compounds the game’s brutal difficulty on top of that.
I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating, and it gets everywhere
Much like the original Wonder Boy, Monster Land has a time limit. The moment your hourglass drops, you lose a heart. You can only stop this by entering a new area (like a boss room) or by finding a hidden hourglass. You get a bonus worth lots of points if you beat a level without taking damage, so this is paramount to not let your sand run out. Never, ever diddle dawdle unless you know you can do things in time, otherwise, you’re just wasting time and health.
Monster Land again, has great music and some nice sprites. Outside of Bock looking like a diapered baby at first before you get armor. Bock does look nice after you get some good armor, as it and your sword do change the better you get them. Again, all things considered, Wonder Boy in Monster Land is good. It’s a game you get invested in, and in an arcade crowd, people pointing out secrets is great. But at home, getting to the end only to not be able to kill a boss because you missed out on a hidden sword is BS.
Wonder Boy in Monster World is where I feel this collection gets real good. Finally getting into that adventure game footing. At least in this collection. Gone is the time limit, returning is the RPG elements from Monster Land. Wonder Boy now feels more like a sidescrolling Legend of Zelda game. Both Monster World and A Link to the Past arrived in 1991, with Monster World predating by a month.
Monster World is an improvement from Monster Land in every possible way. There’s an inventory for for everything. Armor and weapons can be changed at any time. You actually get new weapons like spears. Weapons occasionally have their own perks too, like a spear later in the game allowing you to swim and not just float. Magic is no longer use it and it’s gone, it can be refilled. Shops are no longer miss and they’re gone. Towns with shops, inns, NPCs. Inside of dungeons you even get help from partners. Each with their own unique skill like dropping hearts, blowing fire, even digging up money.
Graphics and sound are once again a step up. Monster World has my favorite of the soundtracks in the series, especially it’s version of the last dungeon theme used in previous titles. In a way, Monster World feels like a columniation of the previous games in the series. Callbacks to some level designs (check the first area of both Land and World), music remixes, all on the stronger Genesis.
Monster World IV, the last game in the collection and the last in the series until recently. Considered a hidden gem of the series and Genesis as it only got a worldwide release in 2012, nearly 20 years after it launched in 1994. Monster World IV is a new direction for the series. Gone is Wonder Boy, Asha is our lead in their stead. There is no more magic, no more towns outside of one, no Shinichi Sakamoto on music, and customization is cut back.
Monster World IV is a streamlined game. There’s a hub, the dungeons, and a handful of shops. Monster World IV is less of an RPG and more of an adventure game. You can get new swords, new shields, and new armor. Combat is much improved from previous games, as Asha is a bit more agile. The downward stab being my favorite addition. Asha can even double jump, something the older games definitely could have used.
Unfortunately, this streamlining also means no backtracking. And for Life Drop collecting, this can really suck. This is an issue the remake would fix.
The Pepelogoo is Monster World IV’s big improvement. He lets you glide, he grabs stuff for you, hits switches, even protects from fire! As the game progresses, Pepe will grow and gain more abilities. Pepelogoo are also related to the story, with a dark prophecy following them.
Try as it might though, Monster World IV doesn’t fall too far from the Wonder Boy tree. Hidden goodies are still a plenty. Be it either money or some really powerful gear. I don’t particularly mind it here due to it not feeling like you NEED to find the secrets.
Monster World IV is by far the best looking game in the series. I’d argue that it’s one of the best looking games on the Genesis, period. The music is no slouch either, with it using a nice motif for everything. Love the themes that the dungeons use.
All Together Now
If you’ve played a collection or port by Ratalaika, you know the drill. Unmatched scanline options, rewinds and fast forwards for each game. For games with special moves, there’s a button mapped for it, making Monster Land’s wiggle jumps a cinch. There’s a small art gallery included with some art, covers, and Monster World IV’s diorama. No sound test is a disappointment however, the series has some killer tunes.
Wonder Boy Collection is another home run for Ratalaika and ININ, but, and this is a huge but, I have an issue. Wonder Boy Collection is mostly redundant. The Switch is already home to three fourths of this collection. Wonder Boy with Wonder Boy Returns, Monster Land via the Sega AGES line, and Monster World IV is included in all physical Asha in Monster World copies. This is the lone release of Monster World on Switch, which does give merit, it’s also cheaper than buying everything separate. This also doesn’t host every game in the series, however…
The Strictly Limited Games edition, titled Wonder Boy Anniversary Collection is home to every game in the series. You’re not only getting all six games, but you also get ports of the game. At least the non-Hudson editions. This is the version I’d suggest getting if you’re even remotely a Wonder Boy fan. If you just want to play “essentials” though, you really can’t go wrong with the retail release.
Buy Now: $29.99 – $109.99 Collectors – $164.99 Ultra
*Game Download Code graciously supplied for the purpose of review