Trying to put an involved RPG experience into an arcade game is a tricky process because it has to be easy to get into and relatively short, but it still needs the characteristics you would expect from an RPG, like character-building and side-quests. Westone Bit Entertainment’s Wonder Boy in Monster Land does a pretty good job of balancing the two seemingly at-odds game styles. If the Legend of Zelda were an arcade game, it might be something like this.
While Wonder Boy in Monster Land is the second game in the Wonder Boy series, it’s actually the first in the Monster World series. The confusing naming process of both series (which overlap) is too involved to explain here. The story, however, takes place nine years after the original Wonder Boy, and the land has been taken over by a dragon that is said to have descended from the sky. The titular Wonder Boy, Bocke, sets out to defeat the dragon and save his homeland. Along the way, he’ll gain cash from defeated foes, which he can use to purchase new equipment and items from shops. He can also get hints from taverns, and try to solve optional side-quests. The game is mostly linear, going from one round to the next, so you’ll never revisit previous areas after leaving them.
As with most arcade games, Wonder Boy in Monster Land is very challenging, and it takes multiple playthroughs to figure out the best way to get through the game. You’ll also need to figure out how to get the best equipment and find hidden items and rooms in order to even have a chance at beating the game. You can credit-feed your way through to a degree, but all bets are off once you reach the last round, which must be done in one try. That might be frustrating for some, but it all gives the game a lot of replay value.
While the story and setting of Wonder Boy in Monster Land, as well as most of the games in the series, may seem a little generic, there’s a very distinct charm to the Monster World series that’s a little hard to describe. The graphics are colorful and cartoonish, and they have a lot of personality. The music is simple, yet catchy and memorable. The games just play really well, overall.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land is available in numerous ways. The original arcade version is available on the Wii Virtual Console, as well as on Xbox Live Arcade as part of the Sega Vintage Collection: Monster World. Most people, however, are probably familiar with the pretty good Sega Master System port, which is also on the Virtual Console. There are also various European computer ports, as well as a couple of strange re-licensed ports for the Famicom and PC Engine in Japan.
I really enjoy the Monster World games, and I would like to see more people get into it. Wonder Boy in Monster Land is a great place for newcomers to start. It would be wonderful to see a new Monster World game some day, and since its creator, Ryuichi Nishizawa, has expressed interest in making one, the chances of it happening aren’t too shabby.