Wonder Boy in Monster World is a 2D action adventure that was originally released in 1991 for the Sega Genesis and is now available for purchase from the Wii's Virtual Console shop for 800 points ($8). In the game, which is the sequel to Dragon's Curse (also available in the Virtual Console shop), you assume the role of a warrior named Shion and visit different lands to do battle with numerous monsters large and small. Much of what you do entails jumping across platforms and hacking away at enemies with a sword like you would in any other side-scrolling action game, but the game also has some role-playing nuances, such as the ability to travel between areas at will and to collect weapons and items that make you stronger. You probably won't be blown away by anything you see or do in Wonder Boy in Monster World. Nevertheless, its levels are well designed, the boss fights are challenging, and the graphics and audio exude a sort of cutesy charm that makes going through the whole quest a thoroughly pleasant experience.
Monster World consists of six interconnected lands, each containing a village, multiple countrysides infested with monsters, and a dungeon populated with more monsters and a menacing boss creature. Most monsters take one or two hits to kill. As you'd expect, the bosses take a lot more punishment. Shion's health and abilities increase as you go through the game. You'll collect hearts to increase his health meter, buy swords and armor to increase his attack and defense ratings, and occasionally acquire new magic spells that have various effects. Some shops sell shields that will let you block projectiles, or boots that can boost Shion's speed or protect him from certain terrain. Of course, if you have any gold left over, you can also buy potions to recover the health you lose in battle.
Even though the lands are all interconnected, certain areas are blocked until you've collected the appropriate item or fulfilled a side quest. In Dragon's Curse, you could transform into different animals to access new areas. You don't get to transform into cool beasts in this game, but the various armor, items, and people you come across have similar uses. For example, you won't turn into a fish when you need to swim underwater. Instead, you'll acquire a trident that will give you that ability. No longer being able to turn into animals does make Wonder Boy in Monster World less interesting than its predecessor. Thankfully, the developer compensated for this by fleshing out other aspects of the sequel. There is a wider variety of weapons, armor, and items to collect, and magic is actually useful in this game. The quest also takes twice as long to complete, though six hours seems short even by 1991 standards.
Anyone who played Dragon's Curse will also notice that the graphics and audio have been upgraded for the sequel. The characters come in a wider range of sizes, and the animations are smoother. The backgrounds in Dragon's Curse were plain 2D backdrops, whereas the backgrounds in this game have multiple foreground and background layers that are intricately detailed and have, in spots, been inked to resemble comic book pages. The music is still upbeat and catchy, but there's more of it and the compositions flaunt a wider range of instruments and melodies. Compared to some of the other Sega Genesis games that are available in the Virtual Console shop, Wonder Boy in Monster World doesn't constantly fill the screen with sexy visual effects or pipe digitized voices through the speakers. However, the graphics and audio consistently convey a happy charm that overcomes the game's technical shortcomings.
That charm is why Wonder Boy in Monster World has held up so well. Nothing about the game is particularly groundbreaking, yet all of its parts come together to make for an adventure that's enjoyable from start to finish.