Monkey King: Hero Is Back is a love letter to simpler times. Mechanically, it wouldn’t feel out of place on the PlayStation 2, and graphically, it’s barely just a generation ahead of that. This is a simple experience at heart, but it’s one you’re bound to find some enjoyment in should you take to its rather repetitive tasks and charming yet annoying band of characters.
Based on a Chinese film of the same name, you assume the role of Dasheng, a Monkey King who has been imprisoned for 500 years. Suddenly awakened by a young boy named Liuer, it’s your job to rid the world of the evil that has taken over during your slumber – one that is stealing children and attacking townsfolk in nearby villages. Pitched as a retelling of the movie in question along with new sub-plots and stories, this is the material’s first chance at gaining any traction in the Western market.
In truth, this is very much a light-hearted tale for the most part, with a smattering of story beats to be found in the latter half. It’s certainly enjoyable enough to follow, but it's not the next great video game plot by any stretch of the imagination.
Simplicity is the key to what makes Monkey King tick, with a set of 10 linear levels to work your way through that only just manage to stretch a playthrough past the five hour mark. It’s a third-person brawler more than anything else. Two basic light and heavy attacks deal damage, while an assortment of weapons can be picked up from the ground for a limited amount of time. Most of your time will be spent engaging in combat with the monsters you come across, but that’s no bad thing.
It is indeed rather simple when compared to other titles in the genre, but there’s a degree of satisfaction to be gained out of just wailing on an enemy as you spam the square and triangle buttons. Without a stamina bar to worry about, it’s almost freeing to not have to worry about complex mechanics and move sets you’d need to write down to remember. It’s not going to satisfy those looking for something deeper, but it somewhat gets the job done with a satisfying weight to be found in each and every blow dealt.
There are a few other things to consider when you come across one of the game’s monstrous foes, however: taking a stealthy approach can lead to surprise attacks that eliminate enemies in one hit, one-on-one confrontations occur as a result of a parry, and follow-ups deal huge damage after you’ve landed some blows. They never amount to much more than a button-mashing quick time event, but it’s at least another means of attack besides the simple three-hit combos.
Magic is the other element that makes up combat, allowing you to unleash powerful hits in accordance with how full your mana bar is. From a deadly combo of hits that’s enough to knock even the toughest of enemies down to the ability to summon weapons for a limited time, there’s something that’ll aid almost any encounter. It’s not something you’ll want to build your entire damage output around, but they’re complementary bonuses that can get you out of a pickle.
You'll always have some company during combat, although they never actually offer any assistance. The young Liuer and another companion take a backseat as soon as an enemy shows its face by literally screaming at the tops of their lungs, just to make sure you've noticed it. It's incredibly off-putting and annoying, to the point where they almost feel like different characters to the ones featured in cutscenes. To go from charming to frustrating in the space of a few minutes is quite the feat, but Liuer and friends manage to achieve it.
Fighting makes up the majority of the experience, but the linear levels do give way to some hoarding and collecting. Numerous materials and plants are strewn about the place, and it’s these that are used to purchase healing items and consumable amulets that deal big damage. Meanwhile, the red orbs you collect from fallen enemies can be used to upgrade your range of magical abilities, while hidden Earth Gods are traded in for enhancements to your health, mana bar, and the effectiveness of combos.
The two elements of combat and collecting work well for the most part, but it starts to fall apart as you make your way through the game’s final level. It ditches the general loop of the title for what is essentially a boss rush made up of the encounters you’ve already beaten. In putting a real strain on your healing resources, it quickly turns into a tedious slog that threatens to put a sour taste in your mouth upon the game’s conclusion. The boss fights are exactly the same and aren’t in the least bit enjoyable the second time around.
Visually, the adventures of Dasheng aren’t exactly impressive. While there are some nice, varied environments to explore, none of them actually look particularly great – especially so this late in the PS4 generation. It’s not a title that belongs in the current generation presentation-wise, and you’ll notice that almost immediately. In contrast, the game runs well with a smooth, reliable frame rate that didn’t seem to dip whatsoever. One unfortunate bug caused us to fall through the world and have to restart our console in order to return to a previous checkpoint, but that’s the only glitch we came across.
By keeping simplicity at its core, Monkey King: Hero Is Back offers an entertaining if somewhat mindless distraction to the blockbuster titles releasing around it. Sure, it’s a little bit too short, the narrative isn’t particularly gripping, and it looks like an early PS3 game, but that all falls by the wayside in the heat of battle. Thanks to fun brawling mechanics, Monkey King: Hero Is Back does just enough to deserve your attention.
Hero is back. That sounds dumb enough to be fun.
How is the trophy list? Would it increase your time with the game a bit and is it not unreasonable?
Not every game needs to be a graphical powerhouse, especially from a first time chinese developer (I think at least?) not to mention there's plenty of indie games that wouldn't look out of place on the snes
All the other quibbles in the review on the other hand make it something I don't think I'll ever wanna play really... Still nice to see it get some coverage!
This is probably the first chinese game gain a score higher than 5 on this site. So atleast that's something lol. Gonna have to try it out soon. Let's hope the DLCs will add more meat to it.
"it looks like a PS3 game"
does that really matter as long as the art style fits the game?, many games look like they come from a previous gen but that isn't normally an issue
gameplay over graphics and as long as it's fun to play that all that really matters
on a side note i wonder why they called him Great Sage (that's what Dasheng means) as that wasn't his name it was an alias the Monkey King took after he wreaked havoc in heaven, it was given to him by a demon friend, why not Sun Wukong the name he is most commonly known as and the name given to him by his first master Subodhi
(what i like my fables)
Remember that the review exists to inform. Liam is simply pointing out that the visuals are dated; if that doesn't matter to you, then you can feel free to ignore it as a criticism.
@get2sammyb yes, but 8/16-bit games are... more dated, yet their graphics are never an issue when it comes to reviews.
When I pointed that out in the past, you and some other reviewers said "but the art style is great so it doesn't matter". Here we have great art style, but the game's graphics still counts as something negative.
Isn't this a double standard? It's not just pushsquare, of course. Indies get a free pass, games with incredible graphics are praised, and everything in between is criticized, making it harder for studios with a decent (neither tiny, nor huge) budget to find success.
@naruball I don't think this is trying invoke PS3-era games, though. Those 8-bit/16-bit titles are.
@get2sammyb how does one "invoke PS3-era games" anyway?
@naruball put a PS3 in the middle of a magic circle and do a chant of course
@FullbringIchigo strong argument right here.
Not sure I agree about the graphics. They look simple for sure but not ps2 or 3 really...
I think we have rose coloured glasses sometimes with these things.
PS2 games look messy and blurry.
Emulating PS2 or even N64 makes them look more than twice as good with hardware acceleration. I think most people are used to seeing these scaled up old games from watching twitch etc
these shorter simpler games is like fresh air today between all the 30 hours plus games, and the 'game as service games' that demand everything of you. i will be picking up this one for sure, and i like ps3 graphics
I think you may be forgetting how PS3 games really looked...
The game doesn't look as bad as a ps3 title, but good review. I think you should have knocked another point off just for the poorly translated title though.
I'm really looking forward to the new mobile game "Call of Monkey Hero of War is Back: Legend of Battlecraft".
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