The PlayStation 4 is not short on 2D platformers, but Unruly Heroes at least makes an attempt to stand out from the crowd. This action-focused side-scroller comes from independent developer Magic Design Studios, comprising partly of several ex-Ubisoft folks. That the game looks remarkably similar to Rayman Legends starts to make sense when you consider some of the team's background.
Yes, the game's hand drawn visuals and detailed animations are beautiful, rich with colour and personality. The painterly style is always nice to look at, and there's even a photo mode that allows you to zoom right into the scene. From here, you can really appreciate the detail on character models. It's a very pretty game.
But a strong art style can only take you so far, and unfortunately, the game can't quite measure up to its artwork. Playable solo or with up to three others locally, you'll take control of one of four protagonists, each of which have their own abilities. Two can double jump while the other pair can glide, for example. They all have unique special attacks, and can use shrines to progress through some levels. If you're playing in co-op, it forces each player to pay attention, as sometimes you'll need a specific character to navigate through certain obstacles. When playing alone, you have the ability to swap between the four heroes at will.
There is some clever design throughout the game, where you'll need to use the abilities of all four characters to reach the end. However, platforming challenges can at times be a headache. The movement controls feel a bit mushy and unresponsive. We think it could be down to animations stubbornly playing out, causing a bit of a delay on inputs. For a game that has you doing a lot of death-defying leaps, it's a shame the controls aren't more precise.
A large percentage of the game has you engaged in combat. Each character has their own moveset, although they more or less amount to the same thing. You'll be hammering square like there's no tomorrow, but there is a little more nuance to it than that. Ranged, anti-air, and heavy attacks give you plenty of tools to deal with foes from all directions, and a generous dodge means you can escape most dangers. However, the screen will often become very busy, making it hard to focus. Fights tend to become very button-mashy when you're fighting half a dozen enemies at once.
As a result of these two aspects, it's fairly easy to die in Unruly Heroes. Fortunately, your companions can get you back in the game by hitting your bubble -- a feature that's also very reminiscent of Rayman Legends. If all four characters die, it's back to the last checkpoint. However, if you all die near the end of a boss fight, get ready to start the whole fight again. The bosses aren't too bad, but they can sometimes put a spotlight on the platforming issues.
An unusual oversight is the lack of online co-op. Sure, implementing online is a complicated endeavour, but the game's competitive PvP mode can be played over the wires. It would've made sense for the story mode to be supported by online play too, but alas, it's local only.
At least there's a decent level of replay value. Each stage in the game has collectable coins to find, with which you can buy new skins for each character. Scrolls are also hidden away, and finding them unlocks concept art. You're also encouraged to play through each level as fast as you can, earning a bronze, silver, or gold medal based on your time. The game isn't too short either; you're looking at a good eight, nine hours to play through the story.
With a little more polish, this could've been one of PS4's better indie platformers. As it stands, Unruly Heroes is a beautiful game with gameplay flaws putting a dampener on things. It's largely a fun game to play, especially in co-op, but controls aren't as tight as they should be, and combat devolves into button mashing territory all too easily. The result is a decent, if unremarkable, side-scrolling action title.