Developed By: HEXADRIVE Inc
Published By: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Oasis Games and THQ Nordiq
Platforms: PlayStation 4 and PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Since childhood, the fabled Chinese classical novel of the mythical but mischievous Monkey King aka Journey To The West has been told and retold so many times that it has been an important part of my memories growing up. I find myself drawn into watching each series, movies or even animated adaptations each and every time there is a new one, (sorry Bruce Lee, you come second). There is a timeless appeal about a gang of misfit demons who were punished for their past deeds who eventually get freed from their karma or prison 500 years later only to be tasked to protect a young monk on his journey to the west to India. The monk is always yearned by many other demons for his meat that grants eternal life, therefore danger always lurks in every corner on the journey.
Journey To The West mainly centers around demons, humanity, celestials, karma, long journey, sins, love, bonds, forgiveness and even time travelling, transcending even to a futuristic game adaptation such as Enslaved: Odyssey to the West which I purely enjoyed too. Hence that is why I was stoked when I heard that they are releasing a game adaptation based on the animated movie Monkey King: Hero Is Back. Truth to be told, I really wanted to love this game so much due to the potential and yet what was delivered is half baked.
The story starts a brief introduction with Great Sage Monkey name Sun Wukong or most call him in this game DaSheng causing a mess in the heavens only to find himself trapped by Buddha for 500 years. Soon after, we are introduced to a troubled boy name Lieur who is being chased by trolls but somehow managed to stumble upon and release DaSheng from his tomb. Obligatory Lieur’s backstory moments then continues on with another brief introduction of the pig, Zhu Bajie.
In comparison to the movie released back in 2015, the developers created cutscenes in the game which mirrored the movie scenes but shortens it significantly taking a huge chunk of interesting backstory with it. Instead of telling the backstory of Zhu Bajie as one of the generals of heaven taking on DaSheng 500 years before only to be defeated and cast down into a pigs den subsequently turning him into a pig, we get scenes like “I heard about you” or ” I am following you because I have no choice”. It’s disappointing. They even created a new character with the savepoint statue just for this game based on the goddess Guanyin Bodhisattva as the main drive for Monkey to help out the boy Lieur with lines such as “You must do good, Monkey” in order to free his shackles that locks his abilities. To make things worse, the game did remove a few key characters from the movie just so that they wouldn’t need to flesh out more characterization needed for Monkey’s past and current motivations to help the boy Lieur; which is quite a shame actually.
Things only pick up at the end of the game especially the final boss which clocked at about 6-7 hours total game time with an added new credit scene whereby viewers get to see a touching scene of what happens to Lieur and how DaSheng tried to save his life in comparison to the 2015 movie whereby DaSheng heard Lieur called out his name, ending it into a credit roll scene.
Graphics are the same but different
The designs of the characters DaSheng, Lieur, Zhu Bajie and the enemies were similar to the 2015 movie with a few different cinematic sequences coming from the movie itself. The cinematic sequences are just flawless, wonderful and kinda funny especially the grumpy expressions portrayed by DaSheng. Other than the in-game cinematics, an awesome scroll-like unfolding design of static based in-game cutscenes showing off some parts of the story making it look like a work of art in motion.
Like the 2015 movie, the graphics in this game is simply charming and pleasing to the eyes filled with harmonious lush greenery til the point that my eyes do not even need to go outside and look at actual flower fields. On the nitpicking side, game focuses too much on the green grassy areas and even when its diversified its along the lines of windswept mountains, a green floating island just for one tedious boss-fight, one town, a few caverns and that’s pretty much it, there is really not much more the game has to offer in terms of design variety.
Speaking of which, the overall game level design is exceptionally wide almost as if I am playing a Dynasty Warrior game. I do get that it is for the sake of easier camera navigation without objects obscuring your view or ease of moving around while fighting in the game. The problem is DaSheng has short legs and running around with short legs feels tedious in big spaces. Here’s a video sample below:
Of course, you can even use magic spells to move around faster but over time you’d rather conserve magic points for more challenging fights instead. Aggravatingly, move to crouch is a necessity for sneak attacks (dodge roll doesn’t help) worsening the gameplay experience from draggy to a mere turtle crawl and you pray to the gods, Dalai Lama and Celestial that the enemy does not make a turn by the time you reach.
Another note on the in-game lore scroll reading is the worst choice of typography ever made that appears crammed up like a tin can Comic Sans.
In regards to magic spells, it’s wonderful and versatile. Here are a few examples:
- Summoning benches with attacking and defensive capabilities. (The most useful spell)
- Minds Eye spell allows Monkey to see loot, obtainable insects and plants as well as seeing enemies attack type too. (2nd most useful spell)
- A firestorm for delivering wide damage.
- Summoning a magical staff, pulling it out from DaSheng ear for that aerial reach sweep as well as fluid swiping attacks.
Besides that, Monkeys fighting skill allows him to make a dodge roll, fast light attacks, heavy attacks and counterattacks. There is a drawback however that heavy attacks performed by the main character appear somewhat laggy due to the design decision to make him take a few short swings first before landing the blow like a cartoon. Players will need to get used to the timing and evaluate each risk upon unleashing heavy attacks due to a fact that Monkey’s fighting style is like a ruffian.
Speaking of which, counterattacks are the main bread and butter of this game by simply pressing heavy or light attacks at the same time the enemy is landing an attack too. This triggers a short cinematic clip of Monkey doing an eye-popping punch cinematic or a playful but long cinematic counter. Bear in mind that only certain counter-attacks are applicable (mostly heavy attacks) to the type of enemies and the attacks they land on you. To be safe, I normally cast the Minds Eye that allows me to see corresponding counter symbols as the enemies attack. Unfortunately, counters are only applicable to fistfights alone, therefore underutilized some of the fun use of the magical staff weapon and benches. Oddly enough, light attack counter cinematics is just button mashing the square button even though the button prompts display all 4 buttons. This goes to show that they were planning to make it a multiple button mash but midway scrapped the idea; perhaps due to the tight scheduling. Here are some of the video gameplay examples below:
Anyways moving on, defeated enemies will drop floating red souls that can be collected and exchanged for spell upgrades at the save point statue Guanyin Bodhisattva but floating green souls are just simply meant to recover your health. Note that counterattacks make certain enemies drop even more souls upon defeat. At every visit even in different areas, the save point statue Guanyin Bodhisattva is always paired alongside Madam Hare and Earth God Elder with their own separate upgrade functions and items purchases.
Speaking of Madam Hare, exploring the levels allows players to gather herbs, insects, minerals and fishes, only to be bartered with her later for healing vitality pills, magic medicine, exorcism amulets and other materials. This might be a silly nitpick but Dasheng doesn’t actually interact with the environment as even a simple thing such as picking up an item does not have proper animation. He’s just a vacuum sucking up items and my life away while playing this game.
Now for the Earth God, I will need to look out for anomalies in the environment such as an odd round discoloured patch of land to find a hidden mini earth god in each area. Visiting an Earth God Elder will offer you upgrades in exchange for the number of hidden earth gods you found:
- Increase Body for gaining more HP and defence.
- Technique for increasing the number of combos you can perform.
- Extending Spirit will increment your spellcasting like Mana.
Platforming is laughably little and only a handful of bosses allows DaSheng to show off some of those playful moves especially during the last boss. This felt really underutilized as the game designers forgot that although gamers enjoy combat as well as a good variety of platforming mixed in.
The whole game felt like a loading game festival with 3-5 seconds loading screen time that felt stacked up each time you enter a door and THERE IS A LOT OF DOORS in this game even in small areas which are not needed.
Sounds are great, music is decent but battle songs is otherwise.
Aside from the voice acting with the odd British accents, the tone presented by the voice actors appearing comical and high pitched is actually well done and the bond is felt between the characters. The sound effects of bashing, whacking and combos are definitely loudly spot on in delivery backed up with an essence of oriental musical flair accompanied by a soft ensemble of Erhu, mild percussions and flutes. Unlike in the cinematics or the movie, the gameplay music is fixed to a few instruments and battle music score at the beginning is pretty soft and uninspiring that only picks up as DaSheng changes into an enraged mode during combat as well as at the last boss fight. This feels like a hit and miss as the soft music scores paired with the wide level design will make the entire experience felt dull and draggy without any form of build-up for the players.
What I Loved
- Cinematics are pleasing almost like the animated movie.
- Static character cutscenes are a presentable and interesting form of art in motion.
- Oriental BGM is just fine to the theme of the game (but not catchy enough). Things only pick up only towards DaSheng enraged mode and at the last boss fight.
- Enemies appear variant and later on, some same type of enemy changes their attack patterns, which adds more favourable challenge if not prepared.
- Voice acting is pretty spot on.
- Character design-wise is pretty interesting with their own defined shapes, body language and designs. Too bad it didn’t translate much due to less platforming in this game.
- Fighting is pretty awesome that comes with a variety ways to take out your foes and the good old timely press cinematic counter-attack.
- Sneak attack (but very slow) is also available as means to take out foes discreetly and have chances to drop a purple orb that will enrage DaSheng.
What I Wished Was Better
- Nitpicking on the punches design, where our main character takes his time drawing his punches longer due to his ruffian fight style. At first, it will appear not in sync or clunky with your button pressing especially the heavy attacks.
- The level design felt flat like a wide area designed like a refined Dynasty warrior template but the main character runs even slower to get around.
- Sneaking in the mention expansive wide area is just a drag.
- So many unnecessary loading screens in each door, losing the pace of the exploration of this game.
- The graphics are good and refined but the designs of the place felt repetitively green.
- Reading in-game scrolls for the lore is pretty horrendous because of the typography choices that appear crammed up into a size that really gives me a headache.
- In between Cinematics and Static character cutscenes, there is another in-game cutscene whereby the characters are talking to one another, in this part the lip-syncing is just bad which is not in par with their nicely done cinematic’s.
- Minimal platforming design, mostly running in a linear fashion and beat up demons.
- Fighting mechanic is actually engaging and nicely done but lack in variety as the counter’s mainly focuses on fistfights instead.
- Only a handful of bosses appears in this game with little to none interactable buttons and only a few counters to apply; ended up looking like a Dark Souls hit and run type of game. Making as such that the last boss seems to be more enjoyable in comparison.
- Party members such as the pig joining you are practically useless, they just scream and run away from every battle.
Overall this game is very tedious in nature due to the massive amount of loading screens in between with wide design levels and the only good thing I can say is the battles are pretty decent, flashy and entertaining especially for the counter cinematic attacks.
Other than the fights, elements such as platforming, sidequest, humour and breaking the fourth wall dialogue’s are little to none. Players who are interested have to be very patient in this game as the music, gameplay, extra credit scenes and character development only picks itself up at the very end of the game with the last boss. In comparison, I would prefer to just sit back and watch the movie as the flow of the story, wonderful strong musical score, backstory for all characters, action sequences and humour remains consistent throughout.