Game: Sega Ages 2500 Vol.29: Monster World Complete Collection
System: PlayStation 2 (Ports of Arcade, Master System, Game Gear and Mega Drive games)
Emulators: PCSX2 (MAME, MEKA, Gens, Fusion)
While one that lacks consistency, the Monster World / Wonder Boy series is one of the most underrated of Sega’s 16-bit legacies. Spanning 4 entries in the Monster World continuity and 2 separate Wonder Boy adventures, the Monster World Complete Collection is an extremely well-featured arrangement of not only the 6 games from genres as disparate as side-scrolling shooting and RPGs, but also the various arcade and home renditions of each title. Perfect emulation aside, the sheer amount of customisable options, new save-schemes, and wealth of scanned manuals, official / concept art and other extras, combined with its 2500-yen price point (as part of the renowned Sega Ages 2500 collective) make this a dream come true for anyone with fond memories of these games. In short, this is as ‘complete’ a collection as could be put together and, for its price, is extremely hard not to recommend.
The individual games you will find here are, as per their western regionalisation, Wonder Boy, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Wonder Boy in Monster World and the Japanese-only Monster World IV. While all unique games in their own right, they are all based on the loose premise of a cyborg horde of aliens introducing ‘monsters’ to the otherwise peaceful ‘Monster World’ which was purportedly, according to the 5th game, ‘once a peaceful region’. Yeah right. Anyway, as mentioned, the two individual series’ became amalgamated somewhere along the way. Wonder Boy is the original Sega alternative to Mario (think pre-Sonic)- it features linear side scrolling gameplay where your character (a primitive caveman type) throws hammers at snails and attempts to cross a finish line before the time runs out. Basic as it was, its direct sequel, in Japan, was Super Wonder Boy: Monster World (Wonder Boy in Monster Land), a level based arcade action game with rudimentary RPG elements- you could collect gold and buy stronger equipment. These new features were expanded upon in Monster World II (Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap), which picks up directly from the end of the previous game (Symphony of the Night-style, except about 5 years before) and also introduces the ability to change between 6 animal forms with special abilities – Hawk Man can fly, and Piranha Man can swim. Also like Metroid and the mentioned Castlevania, the game relies on the various abilities being unlocked to allow access to new areas of a single large gameworld. This impressive achievement is topped only by Monster World III (Wonder Boy in Monster World), which takes these elements to a new extreme, as is quite possibly the best title in the collection. Monster World IV is almost like a step back. Although featuring some impressive animation and new platforming mechanics, it loses the magic and equipment elements that made the previous games so deep for their time. Monster Lair (localised erroneously as Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair) exists outside the Monster World canon, instead being a direct successor to the original Wonder Boy. That game’s side scrolling, time-dependant gameplay remains and is accentuated by portions of free-flight shooting. In part to alleviate the confusion arising from the nonsensical naming conventions, Sega has decided to incorporate not only the Monster World games, but also Wonder Boy and Monster Lair into volume 29 of its classic series. Confused about which game is which? It gets worse…
It is a given that the original Japanese releases of these games would appear here. It was unexpected, though, that additional versions were slated to be included as well. So now not only is Wonder Boy’s original arcade version available to play in the Monster World Complete Collection, but so is the Sega SC-1000 home port, as well as the Mark III (Master System) release. The enormous graphical difference between the coin-op and home games should illustrate that this is not a trifling addition, particularly when you consider that the RPG contingents of the franchise are heavy on the Japanese text. Luckily for the kana-illiterate, the two big RPGs, Monster World II and III, have their English Master System and Genesis ports respectively included, and be played through entirely with full English text. Monster World II also benefits from the included English Master System release. In Japan, where the Master System had been discontinued, Monster World II was hastily ported to the Game Gear for the native version, which suffered not only lower sound quality output, but a lower-resolution display that stifled the on-screen action, both of which are remedied by the inclusion of its console cousin. Although it would seem no expense was spared in compiling this title, the PC-Engine remakes of some of the series constitute an obvious omission. From the MWII-derived Dragon’s Curse, which boasted a 16-bit environment as compared to the Master System and Game Gear’s 8-, to The Dynastic Hero, the enhanced version of MWIII with a richer colour-depth and a completely redone redbook audio soundtrack, these missing entries are a glaring hole in what is otherwise an impeccable round-up of editions. To Sega’s credit, those IPs belong to Hudson, who even released the Wonder Boy inspired Adventure Island as part of their own budget series a few years ago, and to use this point against the integrity of the collection is a very nitpicky whim on my part. There may well be more than 16 variations of the 6 core games to play on the one disc, which is certainly nothing to scoff at.
In case it has not been mentioned in point, Monster World Complete Collection offers flawless emulation of all included titles. Fans who would like to pick apart compilation discs like these, finding places where there is slowdown or muddied sound as compared to the original cartridges, will come up empty-handed this time. Meticulous efforts have obviously been made to ensure that the games offered are absolutely perfect representations of the originals. Monster World II is an excellent example. Released in Japan on the Game Gear, and in Europe on the Master System, MWII is available here on both. However, if the game had been released on the Japanese Master System equivalent (Sega’s Mark III hardware), it would have benefitted from a specialised FM modulation chip that was not included in the consoles from other regions, and thus had a soundtrack that was significantly different. To solve the problem, you can play with the FM chip emulation turned on or off, which suitably exemplifies the level of detail in the emulation options integrated into the collection. All the standard fare is present here- screen size, stereo / mono sound, but each hardware has specific emulation options like the FM chip. You can disable the Genesis’ hard-coded sprite limit, for example, or deactivate slowdown that was present in the System 1 version of Wonder Boy. Another nice addition is the ability to select screen resolution and frame timing for each game individually, which allows you to set up a centred, low-res Game Gear configuration, alongside a 480p output for the Mega Drive, if you were so inclined. All of these settings are stored in a general ‘System File’.
The menus are the lacklustre offerings that have become characteristic of the Sega Ages series. While there is a veritable treasure trove of content behind them, the plain blue and white typography belie it well, and border on offensive, given the quality invested in other areas of this release. On the positive side, they are by and large in plain English, so no confusing menus to navigate through. The only confusion (apart from each instalments various titles) to be found here is to do with a new feature called the ‘Suspend File’. Not available to all games, the ‘Suspend File’ is basically a dedicated save state that retires the laborious password systems of some of the titles. However, changing emulation settings and then saving a ‘System File’ will render your Suspend Files invalid. What’s more is that if a System File is loaded, Suspend Files can no longer be saved at all. Whether this is a bug or not would perhaps be clearer if I had been able to decipher the game’s kanji-laden manual, but as it stands, gives the impression of a broken feature.
Any complaints about the menu or the outlandish saving methods will disappear when you first behold the unprecedented behind-the-scenes compliment of media. Although there is not much in the way of video features present, there is most everything else imaginable here. First off, manuals of each of the different versions of each of the different games have been scanned in from the archives. Various levels of concept art, official drawings and such are also included. Each title is also served with the usual compliment of BGM and SE galleries, which in some cases like MWIII, contain sound samples and tunes not available in the game, or in the roms of the cartridge releases either, which rouses many mysteries as to their original intention. A surprise feature are speedrun options for some of the arcade titles. All of this is unlocked right off the bat, mind you, with the sole exception of MWIV’s compliment, which is largely only available after clearing the game once.
In all, the Monster World Complete Collection is hard to fault – it does everything that a good compilation disc needs to do effortlessly, and contains additional extras to boot. Although quaint and charming in their own way, the Wonder Boy and Monster World games admittedly haven’t aged that well. While they might bridle your interest for some hours, there isn’t a great deal of replay value to be had here. That said, like the bulk of Sega’s Ages series, this is aimed squarely at the nostalgic oldies, who likely played the games with the battery-packed cartridges they originally sold on, and it certainly delivers where it counts to its target audience. Even if you missed these gems the first time round, the 2500-yen pricetag ($26.30AUD or $21.20USD) makes the game a worthwhile purchase, and I would even have recommended it had it been sold for a slightly steeped price (to Australia, with shipping, it cost me less than a Platinum / Greatest Hits game, and less than a third of the price of a new release). Highly recommended.
Don’t let the grade fool you- it is mostly due to the fact that these are all 3- and 4-generation old games. But if you have a taste for the 2d realm, definitely give Monster World a go.