Review: Monkey King: Hero Is Back (PS4)

Monkey_01

“Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind…”

Monkey-King-Hero-is-BackTo the point: I really liked the old-school simplicity in Monkey King: Hero is Back ($39.99) because it feels like a bit of late 90’s or early 2000’s era nostalgia and it’s not a game where modernity rears its head with overly complicated “soul-crushing” gameplay and normal (i.e. now crazy tough these days) enemies that take an annoying amount of time and patience to kill. Yes, I found the lack of “git gud” here a and nice oddly refreshing change of pace because you don’t need to break a controller or stress yourself trying to figure things out. You can indeed kick back with this and have at it without cheats or clicking around online for a guide. The game does get a bit funky monkey with a busy boss-packed section, and a bit of repetition and intentional slowness in spots can be pesky if one has a short attention span or dislikes long  exposition. But overall, there’s a feeling of laid-back pure fun here missing from more seriously themed fare.

Monkey 5

What’s big, pink and easy to hit when it gets dizzy from it’s attacks?

More to the point: As a kid’s game (and it IS a kid’s game when all is said and done. Remember those? Or being a kid, for that matter?) or something fun and light to zip through between other, heavier titles, it does a pretty solid job and impresses on that front with it’s pick up and play style and lots of stuff to collect. The sometimes cinematic loading (in areas where camera takes over like when ladders are climbed) throughout will be an issue for some, but it’s not a game killer at all. The fact that it’s a licensed movie game that hearkens back to those days where so many games like it were made that didn’t offer more that a retelling of the film’s plot makes it a game that might not be appreciated even when it’s doing what it does right. For those that haven’t seen the film, the game can be seen a sort of a playable way to do so, if you think about it.

You can get through this in about 5 hours or so (some kids might take a bit longer), but I chuckle at this when I think of an old licensed game like Virgin’s The Terminator, a game that took less time to play that it did to buy for me (I think the bus ride took one hour each way and the game was done in within 45 minutes with a few restarts when it was gotten home!). Anyway, If you want a long, educational read and don’t know the history of the character, feel free to bookmark the pages here and/or here before settling in for the evening with your beverage of choice (well, after reading the rest of this review!).

(thanks, Movieclips Indie!)

As for the art style, a look at the film trailer above and game trailer below shows that both match what the movie delivers, so it’s perfect for what’s here. I like the clean look, and the game does a nice job overall in capturing the film world although it does feel empty in spots where the monsters have run the humans off. Granted, yes, in the game world, environmental interactivity is limited when you compare it to busier open world games. But you can find breakables and plenty of items in some areas (some of which reveal goodies if you’re curious enough to do some smashing).

There are also hidden spirits in some areas, so using Son Wukong’s first learned magic skill is helpful, although in an odd twist, the game lets you discover spirits without magic use if you happen to look in the right places first or toss an item at them (did I say it was a kid’s game or what?). Magic use here is based unlocked powers and a meter that can be filled and refilled by a few means,  but the combat is kid-friendly enough to hold up here (you also don’t have to select and cast spells if you use fists and feet for some foes). The audio is going to be hit of miss for some, though. Some voices are done with an Asian-British accent (remember SIREN on the PS2?), but having heard people who speak like this in real life here in the states (tourists and visitors) and yes, I have a grasp that some players won’t like this as a choice, it’s still fine overall in terms of delivery.

Monkey_03

“I got a rock.”

Like some CGI films, sure you can criticize it for not being “state of the art” for your tastes or Pixar-worthy if you raise that particular bar. But for me, if the game went for a richer style that looked different from the film, went crazy on the shaders and such, or went tor a more “modern” look, that would be somewhat jarring. My opinion says it would be “off” in its representation of the more simple world both film and game present. Yes, over the years, I’ve played plenty of licensed titles they looked nothing like the films they represent (oh, the Atari days!). But that’s been a case where the tech wasn’t exactly up to snuff, or the games were intentionally “retro”. Some some of the quirkiness was pretty darn good, too, by the way.

Here, It’s not “perfect” where a game busts out all the graphical tricks a system can muster within its play time or an AAA title going for technical mastery as a selling point. It’s a case where the perfection matches the film perfectly. Seeing the trailer and game together, I appreciated that the dev team stuck to the very stylized look of the film here. The game also has a few “storybook” moments that intentionally limit the animation to static or barely moving images, and assigns an intentionally washed out look to things as the story unfolds, a nice touch. Yes, the storytelling in some cut scenes drags to a crawl when Son Wukong sloooooowly walks forward (yeah, really slowly) as a chunk of exposition and character chat takes place. But I found that a bit drolly amusing after having it occur a few times because Son looks as it he’d rather be elsewhere. He just wants to finally be free from that chain he’s got magically wrapped around his wrist and get his powers back {and much better gear as the game goes on). Plus, I’ll bet he’s weary of that constant yapping from his companion(s), if those faces he pulls while idling are any indication.

Monkey_04

OW. I hate it when that happens. Who recovers from the unfriendly fist-bump first?

I have the feeling other reviews will be less kind thanks to a few things less modern. But for me, I “got” this right away and enjoyed it for what it is. Hey, I played (and play) games of all types and stripes so pace aside, I was pleased to see a game go back to this style and be consistently entertaining. Combat is a mix of button-mashing, carefully planned one-hit surprise attacks, very short QTE events, and thanks to the fight choreography in spots, humor. Son scampers along when he needs to (activating some powers or leveling skills help temporarily), but I’d bet a penny the dev team seem to really wants you to take in the nice job they’ve done with the visuals overall. They won’t be to some, “PS4 worthy”, but there’s beauty to be found if you look for it (stop outside the cave the game starts in, check out a few other spots as things progress), the camerawork is decent and while closed off compared to other games in terms of paths, the draw distance reveals some nice environments as you traverse some areas.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, this is a game made for kids and while the story drags in spots, it works well as a game they can play without a yell to you or another adult to come help. Well, some bosses might require assistance (and the pack you fight at one point might be too much for some kids to handle). Overall, this was one I had a blast with. Not every game is striving for Game of the Year or “innovative” status, in case you didn’t know. This one’s fine as it is, partly because it’s a reminder of days seemingly gone by and deserves a look from anyone interested. You don’t need to be a kid to play this, just a little young at heart.

Score: C+ (79%)

-GW

-Review code provided by the publisher

1 thought on “Review: Monkey King: Hero Is Back (PS4)

  1. Pingback: Review: SEGA AGES Columns II: A Voyage Through Time (Switch) | "DESTROY ALL FANBOYS!"

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