The Monkey King Son Wukong is a famous literary Chinese figure with notable impact, being the inspiration for Dragon Ball’s Son Goku for example. So yeah, you could kinda say that he’s a big deal. Big enough to warrant a PS4 game though? To be honest, the game was a huge unknown for me. Coming from such releases such as Call of Duty, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, and WWE2K20 over the past month, this slipped under the radar for most due to such high profile titles during its release window. And so like a dutiful reviewer, I did a little research and dug into the game to bring you our short yet sweet review of Monkey King: Hero is Back!
For the uninitiated, the game tells the story of the Chinese Legend of Son Wukong, a powerful but arrogant monkey who defied the gods because of his power and as a result was imprisoned by Buddha in a cage of ice for 500 years. Apparently, what I also found out was that the game is based on a 2015 animated movie produced in China, which became such a massive hit in the box office! Fancy that? As with movie based games, it’s a well known fact that the record for success has been abyssmal. Surprisingly enough, Monkey King: Hero is Back is quite serviceable, albeit a bit too easy and kiddie for my taste.
The game pretty much follows the movie’s plot as the Monkey King Sun Wukong is freed from his ice prison by a young boy, Liuer, who enlists his help to free kidnapped children from an evil Lord. Naturally, the arrogant monkey doesn’t give a hoot until he was told he must do good deeds to undo the seal on his powers.
The game, like the movie, gives off a very Dreamworks style vibe. The graphics and character designs look like something you’d see in Kung Fu Panda, as it would have mostly the same Eastern references. At first glance, the graphics leave a little more to be desired, with jagged edges and washed up colors. It’s a shame, because some of the set pieces in the game actually look good. For a game that’s released at nearly the end cycle of the current console generation, the graphical quality was sub par, as there are Indie games with smoother and shinier eye candy.
It’s also a nice touch that you can play the game in either English, Japanese, or Chinese for that more authentic feel. It’s not a new feature by any means, as most of the games now have been localized to support various languages but for this game in particular, with its lore rooted in Chinese legends, the implementation is quite well done. The voice talents in the different languages are all notable but I personally played through the game in English and still found the overall quality of the voice acting to be pretty good, which is quite rare in English dubbed games.
Gameplay, badly put, feels like a simplified Devil May Cry title. Monkey King is an action adventure platformer with linear progression, collecting Earth Gods as you go along. It pays off, as you can use these to increase your stats, as well as acquire various crafting items that you exchange for resources that replenish your health and magic.
The combat is as simple as you can get, with basic and strong attacks, but an interesting aspect is the parry system where hitting the light or strong attack button at the point of an enemy’s attack will trigger either a one-on-one mini game or a purge attack that defeats your opponent in one blow. It’s actually fun to trigger these one-on-one attacks so you can see the different ways Son Wukong dispatches his foes, with some being actually funny! The downside to this is that as simple as the battle system is, sometimes it all boils down to parrying everything and seeing the mini game over and over again, which makes the whole process quite tedious and repetitive.
There is a noticeable lack of a lock-on feature though but it didn’t really take away too much, because the game is rather easy. While most of the grunts can be defeated in such simple fashion, other enemies will require a stealthier approach. Each of the 4 bosses in the game can be defeated just as easily and the only time I felt some level of difficulty was when I wasn’t paying attention. We’re not bragging by saying this but it certainly gives the impression that this is a game catered to the more casual or younger audiences. In that sense, the game does its job exceedingly well.
Over the course of my playthrough, I noticed the huge amount of loading times for the game. Almost all areas required loading, from going to a new area to entering a house and even the simple act of climbing or going down ladders. I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic but other games that have far higher quality textures and assets have less loading prompts, telling me that the game was not optimized properly. It really bogged down the pace of the game and
As this is also a platformer, I had my fair share of personal battles with the camera, resulting in failed attempts where normally there wouldn’t be any. Couple that with his abnormally short jump animation and slow running, it makes for quite the frustrating experience all things considered.
Your AI companions are not of much help either. Aside from giving out obvious hints, Liuer and Zhu Bajie don’t really offer any help and may can come off as really annoying, especially when they start screaming as monsters appear.
There are a lot of minor gripes that add up, making what could have been a fairly good experience into an average outing.
What we liked:
- Writing is decent, with splashes of witty humor
- Cartoony graphics fit the overall theme well
- Decent voice work and music
What we didn’t like:
- Numerous load times
- Most may find it too easy
- Camera is a bit of a pain at times
- Almost useless AI companions
Verdict: Wait for it…
Overall, for a movie tie-in, Monkey King: Hero is Back isn’t a bad game. The graphics are pretty decent and give off the feel of an interactive Dreamworks movie. The music is fitting and atmospheric, perfect for the story which isn’t overly complex and actually quite touching at times! The combat could use some work because while it is serviceable, the overall game lends itself to be too simple, making the experience a 10-15 hour ho-hum affair. It’s not bad by any means, but it ain’t something I’d happily purchase at full price. If by any chance you’ve seen the movie, then I see very little reason to play this game unless you wanted something more interactive. That said, we recommend picking this up at a hugely discounted price as a filler in between the big game releases.
*Monkey King: Hero is Back was reviewed on a PS4 Pro through a review code provided by the publisher.