Unruly Heroes provides a much-needed respite in a year of zombie hordes and post-apocalyptic punks. Its charming world, vibrant art style and satisfyingly smooth gameplay offering a pure, joyous experience that acts as a perfect palette cleanser. Based on the epic Chinese novel Journey to the West, this tale follows a motley group of warriors in their quest to retrieve the fragments of an ancient scroll and rid the land of the evil it has unleashed.
Developer Magic Design Studio is composed of industry veterans, with many members having worked on Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed and Rayman. The influence of the latter permeates Unruly Heroes in the game’s feel, goofy humour and its bold, beautiful art style. Bombastic animations imbue each jump, dodge and punch with personality, lending a thrilling sense of flow and momentum to platforming and fighting. Special moves look particularly spectacular and help diversify the otherwise simple but satisfying ebb and flow of combat.
The game’s real complexity and creativity comes in switching between its four heroes. The brutish Sandmonk is swift yet solid, able to both double jump and deal big damage, while Wukong, the monkey, is similarly agile and can bridge gaps with his staff. Kihong, the pig, is a tank, trading dexterity for raw power, while possessing the ability to inflate himself to float up to previously unreachable platforms. Sanzang, the monk, uses powerful magic attacks to fell foes while his ability to fire energy balls lets you trigger switches from afar. This switching mechanic works seamlessly in single player, while the option of up to four player co-op lets you share the experience with friends, adding a further dimension to gameplay.
While I found myself favouring Wukong and Sandmonk, each character proves invaluable, and knowing who to use at any given time adds layers of intricacy and nuance to fights and puzzles alike. This hero juggling helps keep you in the action, automatically switching to your roster’s next character should you die. After a short cooldown period, the souls of fallen allies appear allowing you to regain them, consistently giving you another shot at a level, making failure rare and always earned. However, as difficulty only affects combat, a few platforming sections in the game’s concluding levels can feel imbalanced and unforgiving, acting as frustrating difficulty spikes which disrupt the game’s sense of flow.
Like the best action platformers, Unruly Heroes constantly find ways to mix up its core gameplay, introducing new mechanics at an ideal pace to keep things fresh, fun and challenging. Over the course of the game’s 4 worlds and 25 levels, I possessed enemies, controlled the wind, shifted gravity, became a baby and harnessed the power of my own soul. No two levels play quite the same way thanks to this variety of inventive mechanics, and at times I felt like I was playing completely different games from level to level. While not every one of Magic Design Studio’s ideas are revolutionary to gameplay, some even feel a little clunky, the developer’s approach to game design is often inventive and inspired.
Armoured dolphins, knife wielding jellyfish, giant Geishas and crocodile warlords makeup just some of the game’s cartoonish, Dark Souls inspired bosses. These battles offer some of the game’s stand out moments and often act as a test of what you have learnt thus far, with mechanics from prior levels coalescing in a singular trial of skill. An intense three-stage boss fight concludes each of the four worlds, while countless smaller bosses punctuation the levels between. Each level rewards quick completion and no death runs with ranks and trophies, while collectible scrolls, unlockable skins and a Vs. mode, playable in both local and online multiplayer, flesh out the experience, adding replayablity and incentivising gameplay mastery.
Unruly Heroes’ roughly 10-hour adventure is full of platforming, satisfying combat, fantastic bosses and consistently creative game design, brought to life with gorgeous art and audio design, a charming story and plenty of humour. Despite some infuriating difficulty spikes and a few clunky mechanics, Magic Design Studio’s debut game excels, delivering a superb action platformer, whether experienced solo or in coop.
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
Unruly Heroes is a lot of fun. Despite some inconsistent difficulty and a few clunky gameplay mechanics, this charming adventure is packed with exhilarating combat, precise platforming, and thrilling boss battles, all brought to life with gorgeous art and audio design, a charming story and plenty of humour.
- Gorgeous art style and audio design
- Combat and platforming feels great
- Consistently introduces inventive gameplay mechanics
- Thrilling boss battles
- A few late-game platforming sections suffer from difficulty spikes
- Some mechanics feel clunky and not fully fleshed out
Reviewed using PS4 Pro.
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