Journey to the West is an classic Chinese story which has been retold and adapted in many cultures over the years. Two such adaptations always spring to mind, both Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – the 2010 game from Ninja Theory, and Monkey – the cult classic 70’s TV show which was famous for it’s hilariously bad English voice dub. Today marks the release of Unruly Heroes, a game based upon this narrative set within a world which could have come directly out of a Disney blockbuster animated film.
Initially launching for PC, Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch earlier this year, Magic Design Studios have finally released this amazing title for the PlayStation 4 along with a bunch of new content which will be deployed upon the other consoles at a later date. I was hyped for this game initially, but I was waiting for the PlayStation version to launch, so I haven’t seen or read anything about the game post-launch.
Does the game live up to the initial hype I had when looking at it, or is it yet another ‘meh’ experience encapsulated within a visual orgasm? Let’s find out…
Unruly Heroes is based ‘loosely’ on the tale of Journey to the West, so there are some similarities between this and the other media which also takes inspiration, but it’s not a 1:1 retelling of the story. Our journey begins with the four protagonists already working together (no origin story here) as they set out to find the scattered pieces of the Sacred Scroll, an ancient text which helps preserve harmony and peace throughout the land. Thanks to the desecration of the parchment, strange and terrifying creatures have appeared throughout the land, causing chaos and spreading fear everywhere.
Unruly Heroes could have very well have been called ‘Unlikely Heroes’ as you’ll take control of the Monkey King, a sleepy Monk, a Greedy Pig, and a very sensitive Brute – swapping between each hero ala Trine style in order to overcome the various challenges placed before you on this perilous journey. Work your way through five distinct locations, each comprised of many levels, as you try and save the world and restore peace once more, or die trying…
I absolutely loved playing through Unruly Heroes, the game is visually one of the most beautiful 2D platform games I’ve ever seen. I would say it’s almost a spitting image of Rayman Legends, which makes sense as a number of people who worked on that game also worked on this one. The gameplay mechanics are also very similar, with its emphasis on platforming, combat and puzzles in a nice evenly balanced experience. I’ve also likened the overall gameplay to Trine as each of the four heroes have their own strengths and abilities which must be used at certain points in order to proceed. Thankfully, if you can’t find three other friends to play cooperatively with you (each controlling one of the protagonists), then you can seamlessly switch between all four of them with a push of a button.
Each level has three ‘challenges’, collect all 100 coins, find the hidden scrolls, and complete the game under a certain time. This may seem easy, but it really isn’t! Collecting all the coins and the scroll requires you to check every nook and cranny as there are secret walls you can pass through (just like in Rayman) all around, as well as areas out of bounds where you think you can’t go with fear of death if you try. Also, your overall grade is the combination of the collectables, the time it takes and the number of deaths, so you don’t want to take too many risks as it could cost you a decent ranking.
However, the hardest thing for me was beating the times it wanted me to try and achieve – I’ve spent over twenty minutes in a level which has a recommended time set at around seven minutes! Either I was faffing about for ages or I just wasn’t very efficient. I found that this is a game where trial and error wins the day – playing through the same level a few times, as soon as I’ve beaten it, resulted in me getting a bit faster as I learnt the layout and how to overcome the next obstacle before it pops up. Also, if you have multiple people playing the game, the experience instantly becomes much more fun!
The game also mixes things up a little by letting you possess various creatures ala Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey as you command others of the same species to help you in your cause. There’s even a level where you become young chibi-like caricatures of your former selves, which is simply adorable! There’s a lot of variety, excitement and surprises thrown at you throughout the course of the game.
Our four amigos are named based on their Chinese names (for the most part) and not the English names we got in the incredibly entertaining TV show (seriously, go watch ‘Monkey’ if you haven’t already). One of the protagonists seems to be an original character, or at least based on someone not covered by the media I’ve seen. This kind of makes sense as originally, the fourth member is the gentle monk who gathered you to send you on your quest, a monk who is unable to fight or look after himself. I doubt Tang Xuanzang would have made for a good playable character if I’m being honest!
Wukong: The Monkey King (Originally Sun Wukong or Monkey)
Born from an egg on a mountain top, the punkiest monkey that ever popped. He knew every magic trick under the sun, to tease the Gods and everyone and have some fun; Monkey Magic! Wukong is not only a great character to play as but he’s also one of the most memorable characters within all of the media he’s appeared in. Although, he’s a bit more focused on the mission within Unruly Heroes! He has a staff that can be not only used as a weapon but also extended to great lengths in order to get over obstacles and solve puzzles. Wukong can also perform a double jump in the air.
Sanzang: The Sleepy monk (Originally Sha Wujing or Sandy)
Sanzang was a celestial being who was cast out and banished to the mortal world simply because he smashed a crystal goblet belonging to the ‘Queen mother of the West’ during a banquet in a heavenly realm. Originally, he was also disfigured as he was sent away but he doesn’t seem that messed up within Unruly Heroes. His choice of weapon is a floating set of balls (which is a bit different to his usual weapon). Again, these can be used as both a weapon and you can also throw your balls to activate certain things to allow you to pass obstacles. Sanzang can graciously float in the air if you hold the jump button after you’ve jumped, he’s also the highest jumper of the group.
Kihong: the Greedy Pig (Originally Zhu Bajie or Pigsy)
Pigsy… He is by far my favourite character in the TV show, Enslaved and also Unruly Heroes. Not because of his attacks, as he’s a fat pig who is a little slow, but for his sheer comedic value. His backstory is also one of the most entertaining. Whilst in the immortal realm, he drank too much at a celebration of the Gods and tried to flirt with Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. As such, he was also banished to the mortal realm, only he was to be reincarnated upon his arrival. The problem is, he wasn’t born of humans, he was delivered out of the womb of a sow, thus creating a human-pig hybrid. ‘His’ weapon of chose is a rake, which matches up to the original story. Kihong doesn’t have a weapon ability, like Wukong’s long staff and Sanzang’s balls, instead, he can inflate himself like a balloon and float into the sky in order to reach new heights which others can’t get to. Although, just like Sanzang, he can float if you hold the jump button whilst in the air.
Sandmonk: the Sensitive Brute
This is the character which I’m not 100% sure of. In terms of Unruly Heroes, he’s a demonic-like muscleman with a tint of blue in his skin and a rugged-looking ginger beard. He doesn’t have a weapon of choice as he’ll just punch his way through anything he sees! He may be slow to perform certain attacks but every punch has a lot of weight behind it, eliminating enemies much faster than a few of the others. Unlike the others, he doesn’t have a special move which is initiated by a mystical statue (Long Staff, Balls and inflatable Pig Skin), instead, he has the ability to smash through walls and strong structures which the others are too weak to do so. Sandmonk’s jumping ability is the same as Wukong, he can double jump if you push jump whilst in the air.
Each of the four characters also has a ‘super move’ which can be performed once you have caused a certain amount of damage. This varies between all four as Wukong shoots out multiple attacks which home in on the enemies, Sanzang creates a circular barrier that injures anyone who enters it, Kihong inflates and becomes a rolling ball of doom, and Sandmonk grows to double his size with double the power.
Puzzles and continues
Taking a lot of inspiration from not only Rayman Legends but games such as Donkey Kong Country, even though the path to the exit is usually a straight an obvious one, there are opportunities to go off the beaten path and explore a little in order to find all of the collectables within the level. As such, a lot of these alternative routes will be blocked by puzzles or hidden in plain sight, with the use of walls which vanish as you jump into them. Although, the puzzles are also used to block progression on the main trail as well, forcing you to swap between all four characters in order to utilise each of their skills (Staff, Balls, Inflatable skin, and fists of fury).
These puzzles aren’t hard, as such, but some of them are rather annoying for people like me who have no patience. They will mainly consist of hitting cogs to move platforms as you time your jumps, hitting switches to move planks of wood, summoning your staff to create a barrier, and other standard environmental puzzles. however, the first time you encounter them, especially if you’re playing on your own, it may slow you down if you’re trying to beat the time limit given to you.
Going back to what I just said, about it being frustrating. Unruly Heroes takes inspiration from yet another game, Yoshi’s Island (as well as the aforementioned Rayman Legends), in that when one of your characters dies, they will appear in a floating bubble you can simply pop in order to revive (although they have very low health upon doing so). Not only is this great as it means you only have to wait a few seconds if you’ve lost the person you need to pass a puzzle, but it also means you shouldn’t ever really ‘die’ on a stage, as you’ve got infinite continues right there!
What would a four-protagonist-based game be without the ability to play in multiplayer?! Okay, you can play on your own, as I did, and swap between everyone on the fly, but it’s so much more fun when others get involved as well. You can opt to play through the entire campaign with up to three other people locally. That’s right – you can’t actually play the story online with your friends, but if you’ve got a few people around then get everyone on the couch and let the entertainment begin! However, if you do want to play online, there is an option to play PvP against people either locally or online.
Honestly, I would have loved it if the main game, via co-op, was provided with online capabilities as well, as I would have got my friend to play it with me once they buy it today, but alas it isn’t there. However, if you own a PS4 (which you probably do if you’re reading this) then don’t forget that you can do ‘Share Play’ with another person over the internet – this allows them to see your screen via their PS4 and actually play as if they were sat there on your couch. This is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated and overlooked features of the PS4, just like remote play. Although, this does induce a little bit of lag depending on your internet connection, so split-second responses may not be possible and you may have to revive your mate a number of times!
PS4 specific features (for now)
As of today, the launch, there are features which have been implemented within this version which aren’t currently live on the other versions (as far as I’m aware), yet they will be provided via an update shortly from what I understand. Mainly the update consists of bug fixes and quality of life improvements, including control tweaks, but there are a few rather significant additions…
• There are now two new difficulty modes present within the game. Previously you simply had the mission, now you can pick to play in Easy, Medium or Hard, with Easy being much easier yet not allowing you to obtain the elusive Emerald rank. However, you can only get the Diamond rank (not required for trophies) if you play on the Hard mode. So, if you’re looking to get the trophies then you’ll need to get Emerald on at least Normal difficulty.
• Additional skins. The coins you collect in each level aren’t just there for fun, you can use them to purchase new character skins as you obtain a certain amount of them. I’m not sure how many there were previously, but there are now four skins per character. (The scrolls you find also unlock artwork)
• Photo mode! This came as a shock to me when I first saw it as I wasn’t expecting there to be a photo mode within a 2D platformer, but here we are! At any point within the game, except cutscenes, you can jump into photo mode and zoom right in to see the beautiful artwork on display and take some pictures. You also have a selection of filters to place on top of the image as well as a few other standard photo mode tweaks. I love that the developers have included this function but you do begin to see some compromises if you start to zoom right in, such as lower quality explosion and fire effects which wouldn’t be as noticeable at the normal viewing distance.
As I said, these should be coming to Xbox One, Switch and PC as well, but all I know is it’s going to be after the PS4 release.
Unruly Heroes is bloody gorgeous to look at. Even if I hadn’t told you that it was developed by some of the team behind Rayman Legends at Ubisoft, you’d instantly presume that just by the absolutely stunning hand-drawn artwork on display. Each new area is so colourful and vivid that it looks like you’re not playing a game but a magnificent painting which has come to life upon your wall. The animations of the characters and the overall character design themselves are also some of the best I’ve seen in a 2D game – not to mention the incredibly detailed and slightly disturbing boss creatures you come accross which are triple or quadruple your size!
The best thing, which I love when it’s present in any game, is the fact that the water levels have real-time reflections present for the environment and the characters, regardless of what skin you’ve opted to use. I know it’s only a 2D game, so it’s probably not as taxing as bigger 3D games, but it’s still a detail which a lot of games don’t use.
The photo mode allows you to pause the action at any point and zoom in to take a closer look. Whereas this can sometimes result in seeing things we shouldn’t (lower quality post-effects), the majority of the time you’ll be stunned by the quality of the art on display. I’ve taken over 200 photos within the game and I’m contemplating getting some canvas prints done so I can put them on my wall. I also thought the actual art direction and style was a great choice as well, it’s colourful and almost cartoon-like so that everyone of all ages will appreciate it and find the game entertaining, yet it’s not childish. This means both kids and adult will love playing through the game either together or on their own.
Soundwise, the music is very subtle, I would have liked it to be more audible throughout the game as you’ll mainly hear the sounds of your attacks instead. However, the vocal work during cutscenes is very good as the characters all have their own personalities and attitudes towards your quest, with the Goddess of Mercy being a bit too carefree and laid back about the whole situation!
I honestly don’t think you’ll find a more stunning looking 2D puzzle-platformer on consoles then Unruly Heroes. Whether you’re playing it with up to three of your friends locally, or on your own and swapping between the four unlikely heroes, you’re sure to find hours of entertainment as you try and beat your best times and collect all the coins and scrolls. Each new area you venture into presents you with a new gorgeous environment filled with enemies, puzzles and platforming, as well as a lot of one-hit deathtraps which can get a bit frustrating. However, the overall experience you get is like no other game within the genre which has been released in the last few years, it truly is a delight to play.
Based loosely on the Journey of the West’s classic story, Unruly Heroes will transport you to a land of magic, mayhem and chaos – we just have to hope that our four amigos are up to the task of saving the world…
- - Simply stunning artwork throughout with lots of fine details
- - I love that it's a co-operative game you can play on your own by swapping the characters
- - Lots of replayability as you try and collect everything and beat the times
- - Online PvP to beat up your friends
- - Did I mention how beautiful the game looks?
- - No online co-operative story mode
- - The music is a bit too subtle and not as impactful as it should be
- - One hit deaths can be frustrating (balanced by the fact you can hit the floating corpse to revive the deceased)