Shaolin Monks Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit
HIGH A delightful homage to kung-fu films.
LOW It can get a bit repetitive at times.
WTF The music of the Wu-Tang Clan goes quite well with this game.
Kung Fu films and Asian cinema of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s influence almost everything I love. However, as a fan I’m disappointed that there aren’t enough games that capitalize on this genre of film. Developers Sobaka Studio must agree with me, as they’ve just dropped the best homage to this cherished art form that I’ve seen in some time.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a side-scrolling brawler that tells the story of a young Chinese fisherman seeking vengeance for wrongdoings committed against his village. As he goes on this journey, he joins a group of Shaolin monks to take on five enemy clans and bring peace to the land.
While story in brawlers is generally secondary to gameplay, I was surprised by the presentation here. Every character is voiced throughout the campaign, with protagonist Wei Cheng performed by Ghost of Tsushima lead Daisuke Tsuji. The main characters all provide meaningful and light-hearted banter, solidifying the brotherly bond they share on this journey.
The script is a simple revenge tale, but it manages to pay homage to films like The Five Deadly Venoms or The 36th Chamber of Shaolin by featuring enemy bosses with unique personalities and creative mask designs. 9 Monkeys also introduces supernatural elements such as ghosts and ancient Chinese mythological creatures, driving home how much these devs love Kung Fu films.
While style is important, gameplay is king. Most brawlers focus on a list of combos to perform, but 9 Monkeys of Shaolin has a free-flowing combat system closer to that of the Arkham games. Cheng can kick, use his staff and even parry attacks and projectiles. He’s also able to launch himself off enemies to keep a combo chain going.
The combat is deceptively simple at first, but things ramp up once the Qi meter is introduced. This meter enhances certain abilities when holding the trigger while attacking, and doing so uses up Qi energy, earned by attacking and parrying successfully. Starting the adventure with simple kicks and eventually being able to use magic was a great evolution.
That said, the overall structure of 9 Monkeys isn’t the most creative, though it was never an issue to me. As it is in typical brawlers, most levels have players moving left to right while beating up every goon that crosses their path.
When not fighting, Cheng can spend upgrade points, change his loadout, look through all the secrets he’s collected, or choose to replay missions to earn upgrade points and different weapons — something I did a lot due to how enjoyable the fighting is. The absolute joy of jumping off one enemy to kick another, while using my staff to take down two other enemies at once never got old.
9 Moneys of Shaolin successfully blends my love of old action films and brawlers into one wonderful package, and fans of Shaw Brothers films (and the occasional Wu-Tang album) might be keen to know that this is the best translation of that style in any game I’ve seen. If that sounds appealing, this is a no-brainer.
Disclosures: This game is published by Koch Media and developed by Sobaka Studio. It is available on Switch, PS4, PC and XBO. This copy was obtained via publisher for review and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 8 hours were spent in single-player and the game was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Language, Blood and Violence. While there is some blood throughout the game, it’s very stylized and I’d say it would be fine for kids 12 and older. The themes of vengeance and losing family can get a bit dark, though.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are not present in the options menu.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: Most of the dialogue is shown through text boxes, and there are no audio cues needed to enjoy this one. Subtitles cannot be resized. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable but there is a control diagram. The Y-axis cannot be changed.