It may not be a wonder anymore, but boy, there sure are lots of monsters around.
We've had our eyes on Monster Boy for a few years now. It all started with a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Flying Hamster II: Knight of the Golden Seed back in spring of 2014. It was a game that borrowed much from the beloved Monster World games, developed by Sega and Westone back in the late '80s and early '90s, but it used Game Atelier's own Flying Hamster brand. The campaign would ultimately end up getting canceled before completion, the reason being that Game Atelier had found a partner in FDG Entertainment and together they would go on to create the first new Monster World game in two decades. They even got original creator Ryuichi Nishizawa on board with the project as a collaborator.
The franchise was neglected by both original publisher Sega and developer Westone for such a long time. The first sign of life this century was when Monster World IV, the previously Japan-only Mega Drive release, was published on Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade and PSN back in 2012. And this year, we got Lizardcube's lovely remake of the perhaps most cherished game in the series, Wonderboy: The Dragon's Trap (aka Monster World II).
At Gamescom we were given an extended play session with Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, a game that's now slated for release early next year. Coming off The Dragon's Trap, a game that stuck religiously to the controls of the original game, it is clear that Monster Boy has a more modern touch, a slightly more forgiving design if you will. The basics are still the same, of course, but mechanics such as using fireballs have been made more accessible.
The demo we played started at the beach, with us playing as Monster Boy, and ended after we defeated the Octopus boss and returned to town as the one-eyed pig. One thing that's important to any Monster World game is secrets and optional content on the side. Some of this will only be accessible when you're the right character (there are six transformations in the game); the pig, for instance, is able to sniff out secret platforms and doors, while the snake slithers up slimy surfaces. There's always a great sense of satisfaction as you figure out how to access an area that's seemingly unreachable at first glance.
We played the demo on Nintendo Switch, and the visuals were crisp, the frame-rate solid, and we really didn't have any complaints about the performance. One thing that stood out is the music, which mostly felt like an updated classic theme, but given the pedigree of the talent involved on the soundtrack side, there's every reason to believe it will be something extra.
It's clear seeing the game now that the visuals have been overhauled over the course of the game's development and it feels more evolved and polished at this stage. The animation and design of the enemies impressed, and if there's one area that seems massively expanded compared to previous Monster World titles it is the number of characters you'll talk to, the story beats, and the dialogue. What only used to be hinted at is spelled out here. There are lots of winks to the old games, the pet Pepelogoo from Monster World IV is seen and the cathedral in the town we arrive at after defeating the Octopus is adorned with painted windows picturing the four heroes from the previous titles.
While the demo we played of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom certainly felt like an old Monster World game in most respects, it is also good to know that the concept is being gently tweaked and evolved to cater to today's gaming audience. More forgiving in nature, more intuitive in some respects, and with a more fleshed out narrative, we're very interested to see how it all turns out when it finally sees release next year. And while delays are always unfortunate, we've been waiting so long for a new Monster World game that a few extra months isn't a big deal.