Wonder Boy / Monster World

I never saw that many arcade machines as a kid, and also couldn't afford to play them. However, the ones I did come across on trips to exotic places were etched into memory despite the unfortunate brevity of the encounters. I had never seen such graphics... Gryzor, Bubble Bobble, a shmup I might find again one day, and then... Wonder Boy. That a kid's imagination went wild with what was hinted at in the games' attract mode made them seem a fair bit more impressive than they were. I didn't know Wonder Boy really doesn't have much more content than the axe, skateboard and some snails, but I imagined it.

It's easy to play these games nowadays, but when after building my own arcade joy-board I just confirmed that the interest and patience had left me. The magic of the arcades is now beyond my grasp. I still enjoy researching, analysing and drawing though, so that's what will happen here.

Series Critique

There's something charming about the games, but they doesn't seem to have much of an identity. The environments are quite derivative with e.g. bland cartoon-Egypt theming. Most of the enemies are just animals drawn in a sort of blobby shorthand. Some stand out a little though, like the backwards shell snails, a few of the snakes, the MW4 centipede centaur, and Biomeka. It's also interesting to see small and large versions of enemies, though the larger variants are sometimes just drawn larger rather than getting adult features and new details.

The level design is a bit barren, even in MW4. What do I mean by barren?

Whether deliberate or not, the Zelda 1 dungeons had this... spooky, abstract monolithic feel, further accented by the music. My imagination would willingly go with that. What ancient elder things built this? Also, I guess 8-bit games set different expectations than 16-bit because of the increased potential for fidelity.

Zelda 3 featured more figurative castle dungeons and because of this I expect to see furniture, clues to function or other contextual elements. Despite the nice tile details it's all just architectural nonsense... obviously just levels for the player to navigate.

It's really quite understandable that a developer can't give every area special attention, but when it comes to remakes, I'd rather see updated versions. Hardly any single player games get content patches.

Now there's a MW4 remake coming out, but it's going to experience the same barrenness problem, perhaps even more-so because it's 3D which is much more time consuming and GPU limited when it comes to detailing.


Asha Sprite pixel-over.

Pixel tests using original palette & sprite size. A bit noisy perhaps, because I wanted to squeeze in all of the details of the figurine/title screen. It might disappear against some backgrounds because I got rid of the upper outlines.

If keeping the outlines I'd probably add some height. Would allow keeping the articulated hands, but I'm not much for smooth/twiddly animation... I think spending the time on more contextual frames (actions/reactions) gives more bang for the buck.

Monster world IV Armoured Asha

Perhaps the designs can be expanded into more adult forms so detail can be used to give them some identity.

Monster world IV

No idea for a game really. Maybe... a tutorial in MW4 area, Asha leaves on airship to investigate MacGuffin along with a professor and pet. Is shot down by pirate monsters. Crash-lands on MML1 type island (hub city), digs for repair parts, finds other things in the depths. Perhaps a legendary armourer/smith once lived there, leaving legendary treasures behind.


The C21 scale works pretty well.. it's about 4.25 heads. If the characters are more realistic in proportion (5-6 heads rather than 3-4), some of the enemies need to match that I guess. Maybe the cute monsters were put into robots, Dr.Robotnik-style? It's kinda neat when the animals pop out.

I don't much like painted 2D side-scrollers... looks very paper doll, even with a lot of frames of animation. Pixel art works well but can be time consuming due to the amount of optimisation needed. 3D side-scrollers often look stale I think, but low poly 3D is quite attractive. If I were to pick, I'd go either Megadrive 2D or Megaman Legends 3D. 3D is very nice when the landscapes are important. I think its often distracting when 2D games go for (unreachable) detailed backgrounds and parallax.

I'd say the strength of 2D is precise platform jumping, blocking, melee fighting, and for 3D it's roaming, dodging and shooting. You can decide to explore a feature visible in the distance, and have about half axis more of movement (U/D movement is there but generally limited... maps are often quite planar). With over-the-shoulder 3D it's possible to get back some of the situational awareness that 2D offers. If going 3D, I think it's better to focus on "being in the world". The earlier WB/MW games in the series could be hectic, but having looked at some MW4 let's-plays, there seems to be a fair bit of just moving around the world, going back to town. Its focus doesn't seem to be strongly on hectic or tactical melee. The enemies are not the main dish.



Art by Arne Niklas Jansson