Wonder Boy may not be a household name to most video game fans, but the series holds a special place in the hearts of Sega aficionados. What started as a simple arcade side-scroller eventually blossomed into fantastic action/adventure games that were usually overlooked by virtue of them not being on a Nintendo system. Now Sega has compiled the series on the most recent volume of the Sega Ages 2500 series for the Playstation 2, the Monster World Complete Collection, which includes all six games, including arcade and console ports, in addition to a wealth of supplemental materials.
The original Wonder Boy was a simple arcade side-scroller that borrowed a lot from Super Mario Bros. You played a little blond boy in a grass skirt, running through tropical climates in order to save his girlfriend. Although our hero starts off defenseless, he can find hatchets to toss at enemies, or skateboards to speed through levels. You’re constantly pushed to rush forward due to a quickly draining timer, which can be replenished by picking up pieces of fruit which are liberally sprinkled throughout each stage.
If that sounds a lot like Hudson’s Adventure Island – well, it is. Wonder Boy was created by a company called Escape (which later became Westone), and since they had an agreement with Sega, they couldn’t port the game to any other platform. So Hudson licensed the game, replaced the hero with its own character, and published the classic NES game. The Adventure Islandseries later saw several sequels, none of which are related to the Wonder Boy games.
In addition to the original arcade game, the Monster World Complete Collection includes the Sega Master System and Game Gear versions, both of which are quite faithful. As a curiosity, the SG-1000 version has also been included. The SG-1000 was Sega’s first console, and while it came out in a few territories outside of Japan, it never came to America. It’s not exactly a powerful machine, and this version of Wonder Boy is plagued by chopping scrolling, poor control, and neutered level design. But it’s cool to see for historical purposes.
Monster Land is the second game in the series, and drastically strays from the original’s platformer roots by turning it into an adventure game. Our hero has graduated from an island boy to a sword-wielding knight. Although the game’s strict time limit once again forces players to constantly move forward, there’s a lot of secret stuff to find, usually in the form of extra cash, which can be used to buy new weapons, shields, boots, and armor. Both the arcade and Japanese Mark III versions are included, although it appears to be missing the English Master System version for some reason.
Wonder Boy III: Dragon’s Trap (simply known as "Monster World II" in Japan) uses a device that was later reused in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. In the first stage of the game, you’re actually playing through the last level of Monster Land. Once you beat the "final" boss, you’re turned into a dragon, and need to explore the land to turn back into human form. Along the way, you can the ability to transform into a mouse, a fish, a lion, and a bird, each with unique capabilities. This is the first game in the series to be made specifically for the console market, which allowed for non-linear levels and exploration-based gameplay. The collection includes the English Master System version (there was no Japanese version for the system, oddly enough), and the Japanese and English versions of the Game Gear game.
Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair is a strange mix between the first game and a shooter. Part of the game consists of auto-scrolling platforming segments, with plenty of different projectile weapons used to destroy your enemies. And much like the first game, you need to collect lots of fruit to keep your timer from running out. The collection includes the arcade game and the Mega Drive/Genesis port, which was released in Japan and Europe, but not America.
Wonder Boy V: Monster World III wins the "Most Unnecessarily Complicated Title" award, although it was simply known as Wonder Boy in Monster World when it was released for the Genesis. Much like Dragon’s Trap, it’s a hybrid action/adventure game, although the animal forms have been removed and replaced with mundane familiars that help in certain areas. Included are the Japanese and American Genesis versions, as well as the Europe-only Master System version.
The final (and most recent) game in the collection is Monster World IV. There’s also a reason why it’s not called a Wonder Boy game – for the first time, you control a female character, a green haired Arabian girl named Arsha. It’s yet another action/adventure title, although with drastically improved with better controls, more involved level design, and some of the most gorgeous graphics the Genesis has ever produced. The game unfortunately never left Japan, so naturally there’s no English version included.
All of these games are emulated, and seem to use the same software as the Space Harrier II Complete Collection and Gunstar Heroes Treasure Box Collection. They’re fully featured with multiple display options, including the ability to change filters, or change resolutions to 480i, 480p or 240p. Most of the games offer save state functions, as well as the ability to record and replay demos. The first two games also offer multiple super plays of the entire game, some illustrating where all of the secrets can be found. The sound still isn’t quite perfect, but unless you’re a stickler, it’s barely noticeable. Also included with each game are full scans of the
packaging and manuals for all territories, as well as additional artwork. Each game has a sound test as well, and a few have really obtuse stuff like sheet music.
The only potential complaint is that this collection is missing the Turbografx-16 ports of these games – nearly all of them appeared on NEC’s platform at one time. But this is acceptable considering that Sega doesn’t own the rights to any of them, and most of them had some graphical alterations, so they aren’t technically "Monster World" games anyway.
The more recent Sega Ages series have proven to be one of the most complete collections of bonus material, and this one is just as good as the rest. In some ways, it’s an even better value, since it contains six games rather than the paltry three on some of the previous packs. Here’s hoping that Sega continues to provide such quality packages rather than focusing on overpriced Virtual Console downloads.