Based on the 2015 film of the same name, Monkey King finally makes the jump to consoles with a brand new game that is based on the film, albeit a few years overdue. You play as the title character travelling around the world battling different monsters and collecting items to restore your power and collect some new friends along the way. The story is a re-telling of the film with some added story elements and while it will probably be the first time that a lot of Western audiences have seen this before, it is a fairly standard movie tie-in game that is only outdone by some beautiful graphics and kid friendly controls, could be a great entry game for some younger gamers.
The main character you control is Dasheng, a 500 year old monkey king who has been frozen for 500 years. You are awaken by a young child Liuer who joins you on your mission to rid the world of the evil that has been taken over the land while you were trapped. Along the way you free other characters who join your party. Regrettably they don’t get in on any of the action, rather just running off to the side whenever enemies attack and yelling repeatedly “MONSTER!” It is one of the most frustrating things about the game. It almost feels like a missed opportunity to not include these other characters as it could have added a great multiplayer option or co-op element to the game.
There are 10 levels in the game to play through with a boss battle at the end of each one. While there are some magic bonuses to collect from fallen enemies that can add things like fast running or a stronger punch, it is quote often really difficult to control and turns into a why did I bother situation. These added powers are controlled by a magic braclet and need to be unlocked by getting past certain areas of the game. Most of the times it was easier to just punch and run and grind away at the enemies rather than be stuck with frustrating controls with some slightly added powers.
The levels are quite sparse and the total gameplay clocks in at just a little over 5 hours which doesn’t make for a long game experience. There is also an autosave function which can be handy during more difficult battles, however if you dont manually save, you will be forced to go back to the previous save point and do it all over again. It can be quite maddening and is definitely a massive flaw in the game.
What does work are the gorgeous characters that are well detailed. Monkey King himself is beautiful with fur that stirs when a breeze picks up and the cut scenes look straight out of a Pixar movie (albeit early Pixar…) and they transition from cut scene to in-game graphics is flawless. Say what you will about the combat and monotony, graphically the characters stand out. This would also be enhanced by the involvement of the movie’s animation studio Oct acting as producers. The only problem is the background, it seems like they made the characters for a Playstation 4 game but left the background and scenery for things like grass and water locked in the Playstation 3 era. I thought it may have just been a pre-release version that would be fixed via a patch, but regrettably it is the full game and it looks awful. It is quite surprising that the Playstation 4 was chosen as the console, when it may have been a perfect fit and better look for the Nintendo Switch. That being said the frame rate never dips and there were no other game breaking bugs or unexpected shut downs during my playthrough.
It is really hard to think of the perfect audience for this game as it is way too kiddy for adults to want to get into, but also probably a little too difficult for kids. Most of the humour is aimed at a teenage audience so it feels a little mashed together without any clear vision of who the audience really is. It is a shame, it almost feels like a wasted opportunity on what could have been another Playstation platforming classic to add to the cannon after hits like Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter previously, and while sometimes this game does look stuck in that older time period, it never does antything to earn its place in the current gaming landscape (it is also worth nothing that this game is also available on Steam).
Audio wise the music is endearing and matches the style of gameplay. It took me a while to realise that the game is actually originally recorded in Chinese and is then dubbed over in English. The most surprising thing is the original Chinese audio is not an option to switch to. This definitely would have added to the experience until I realised that THQ Studios have committed the worst sin post 2005 and all of the subtitles are using the classic font Comic Sans MS. I didn’t even realise that this was still an option and it really is distracting througout the game. If I ever hear that screaming sound effect “MONSTER!” from Lieur it will only be too soon!
While it does sound like I am being overly negative about this game, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just ok. If you are looking for a quick fun game to play to kill some time while we wait for the end of year big blockbusters to hit, then this will definitely scratch your itch. If you wanting to get your kids into gaming, this could be an appropriate entry point relying mainly on grind rather than smarts. Monkey King : Hero Is Back is available now for the Playstation 4 and Steam.
Review by Alaisdair Leith.