HIGH The numerous boss battles.
LOW The frustratingly difficult final stages.
WTF The dolphin mini-boss.
After receiving the review copy of Unruly Heroes, I had to triple-check the release date — it was first available in January, but I hadn’t heard even a whisper about it in the months since then. It’s gorgeous, but was there something else that made this one fall through the cracks and go unnoticed?
Unruly Heroes is loosely based on the Chinese novel Journey to the West. A sacred scroll has been shredded, disrupting peace throughout the land. The scraps have been scattered and must be collected to help restore harmony.
Players take control of one of four characters – the monkey king Wukong, the drowsy monk Sanzang, the greedy pig Kihong, and the gentle brute Sandmonk. Some characters can double-jump, others glide, some have stronger attacks, and others can attack quicker. Only one character is onscreen at a time, but the player can swap between them at-will with the press of a button.
In addition to their standard attacks, each character has a special ability that can be activated at special statues. Wukong creates a large staff that can bridge gaps or prevent projectiles from falling on the heroes. Sanzang aims an energy projectile to hit hard-to-reach levers. Kihong can expand its body like a balloon and float up to high platforms, and Sandmonk destroys glowing-blue barriers.
With the ability to switch between characters, death occurs infrequently in Unruly Heroes. Instead of starting over, players choose the next character and continue close to where the last one died, and then the fallen ally can be resurrected by the others. I enjoyed this feature, as it allowed for experimenting with different playstyles without risking an entire level’s worth of progress.
Most of the play consists of basic action platforming – jump from point A to point B, attack a few enemies, repeat. However, there are numerous attempts to add variety that end up falling flat.
One level requires the heroes use a vacuum device to move platforms. In another, the heroes possess a crab-like creature to safely navigate a toxic catacomb, and still another level has the heroes stripped of their powers and granted an energy cannon that turns the game into a mini-shooter. Each of these concepts were easy to grasp, but they’re rarely used more than once or twice before being discarded. It’s a minor gripe, but Unruly Heroes loses its focus by adding this variety without fully developing each new concept.
Fortunately, one part that’s not lacking in development is the artistic design. The main characters and hordes of enemies are beautifully rendered with numerous animations that would be at home in any big budget animated film. Lavish landscapes appear as if painted directly on the screen, and every nook and cranny is teeming with life. Part of the team at Magic Design Studios worked on Rayman Legends and it’s easy to see that influence – Unruly Heroes is a feast for the eyes.
In addition to superb artistic design, the boss battles are a riot. Each world has a massive, screen-filling battle at the end, but there are also numerous mini-bosses littered throughout. Most of these are huge, anthropomorphic creatures like a rhinoceros, alligator, and even a dolphin out of water! These encounters take up the entire screen, but attack patterns are easy to identify. With four characters at my disposal, restarting a boss was a rare occurrence – they’re challenging, but never impossible.
The same can’t be said about the final stages, though. The early areas in Unruly Heroes are challenging, but fair. The last few throw that fairness out the window and ramp up the difficulty – in particular, the jumping requires more precise and many falls become instant death. I started dying so much that I took multiple 48 hour breaks to cool off before returning to the game.
The final straw occurred during an auto-scrolling level. The place is crumbling down, and the heroes must climb debris to safety. Most platforms drop the moment a character steps on it – if I didn’t jump to the next one immediately, death was assured. But fast paced precision jumping wasn’t the only obstacle. No, I also needed to switch between characters for gliding or double jumps. This section destroyed my patience and after nearly twenty attempts I gave up – this wasn’t enjoyable, just frustrating.
Unfortunately, that’s where I quit Unruly Heroes. It was a title I wanted to see through to the end, but found too discouraging to complete. It offers some good ideas and fabulous artwork, but without fine-tuning those ideas and mollifying the overly-difficult ending, I finally understand why it got lost in the shuffle this year.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Magic Design Studios. It is currently available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Zero hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Crude Humor and Fantasy Violence. Parents, this game is safe for most children over the age of 10. None of the humor stood out as exceptionally crude and the violence is somewhat standard for platformers. Defeated enemies often disappear like a puff of smoke or fall to the ground, as if knocked unconscious. The later stages have a slightly more demonic tone to them and a large, devil-like creature may be frightening to younger gamers.
Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: When characters speak, a black text box appears overhead. All dialogue is fully subtitled. There were no noticeable sounds cues and text size is not adjustable. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
When he does find time to play, Brian’s preferred games of choice are platformers, beat-‘em-ups, or a good adventure game.He still enjoys the retro gaming scene, could talk about the Nintendo 64 more than he might like to admit, and misses playing in actual arcades. Brian also gets to pass on his love of gaming, as his oldest son is just now starting to join the fun.
As for that GameBoy - it’s sitting in Brian’s nightstand, waiting patiently for four AA batteries.