Monkey King: Hero Is Back is well, just what it says, it’s about the Monkey King Dasheng, based on the film of the same name. All I knew coming into the game was of course, it was based on the storied and fabled 500-year old Chinese tale, and is the latest adaptation of the Journey to the West.
At first glance, being somewhat of a fanatic about ancient lore in gaming (Age of Mythology, Assassin’s Creed, God of War) I thought I’d be in for a ride, but in turn it was a rollercoaster that I just wanted off. Why? Well, that’s what you’re here to know isn’t it? That being said, sit back, relax, and lets get into the review.
A Familiar Story
Monkey King: Hero is Back follows the tale of Dasheng, a Monkey King found by a fanboy named Liuer after being imprisoned by Buddha himself (according to legend anyway). The boy then goes to spout on ‘good’ ideals and claiming he must work for the world now. He also casually mentions that in the 500 years he’s been away, the world has been overtaken demons who abduct children.
While initially annoyed and unaccepting of the little fan, the Monkey King eventually goes through a redemption arc and suddenly cares for him when he is kidnapped by a demon.
The caveat, he is still weakened from his 500 year imprisonment and hasn’t regained all his powers just yet. Which brings us to the game, battling through animal-like creatures and other-worldy bosses and monsters to regain his forgotten powers to help rescue the young boy he once disregarded.
Of course, being the retelling of a story we’ve all heard of one way or another, that part is solid. But the experience you have playing through the actual game is another thing all together. Also, the game is relatively short capping in at around 5-6 hours worth of gameplay. With a retail price of RM179, it’s a hard sell for what it is.
Gameplay and Design
One of the very things I noticed about the game is the dated design and animation. The game looks to me, like a bad animated movie from back in the early 2010’s, and I just couldn’t take it seriously. That’s not to say the game isn’t stylised, it just wasn’t my personal preference. Another thing I found disorienting is the boy, Lieur who frees Dasheng from his shackles, well, had a cockney accent similar to those found in a show like Peaky Blinders.
It took me out of the experience knowing full well this boy is Chinese. While I’m accustomed to this trope in games like Dragon Quest XI, the stylistic choices of the game added to this bothered me to no end.
But on to the meat of the game, its gameplay. Monkey King: Hero is Back follows a very simple mechanics when it comes to combat. It’s essentially a third-person fighter with two light attacks and heavy attacks in your arsenal. There’s weapons scattered around levels that you can use to kill these monsters, but it’s not anything groundbreaking. For me personally, I found it to be overtly simplistic to the point it wasn’t even entertaining. But maybe that’s just me.
You do have magical abilities which when used, unleashes powerful attacks in relation to how much mana you have. But all it makes for is an extension of an otherwise dull combat experience. Along your journey, you’ll find collectibles in the form of materials, plants and insects are used to buy items to heal your or amulets which deal damage. Players also collect red orbs which can be used to upgrade magical abilities.
On its very basis, it’s a welcome entry for kids and maybe someone looking to enjoy a story with controls that aren’t complex, or having to remember combos and other game mechanics. But that’s where the problem arises and it just turns to be very stale over a period of time. You’re basically stuck with a three hit combo that your repeat over, and over, and over, and over again.
Not like you have that much time to play anyway. The game does employ some level of stealth which results in surprise attacks one hitting enemies and parries. But I realised through my gameplay, the AI’s detection skills are horrible. To the point I could basically run up on enemies, and still be able to do a surprise attack, which really didn’t make much sense. To top it all off, there’s even a button-mashing mechanic which I mean, who doesn’t love that right??
Monkey King: Hero is Back is fine because it doesn’t do anything special or extraordinary and to me, is just a filler title in the PlayStation store. The graphics especially can be compared to games that came out in the late PS2 era or formative years of the PS3, which is not a good thing.
If the gameplay could have redeemed it, trust me, I would’ve mentioned it. In essence, the only problem I really had with the game is the fact that it’s simple. That’s it. And when I say simple, I don’t mean in a good way. For RM179, you really should expect more for your money.
It failed to capture the essence of a game and aligned itself more towards telling a story. A story which has been told countless of times, and one that I didn’t think came off any better in the form of a game.