Released back in 2015 Monkey King: Hero is Back was a blockbuster animated movie in China. Despite the movie being released four years ago, the movie is finally getting a video game adaptation. Monkey King: Hero is Back follows the events of the movie while also adding in some new adventures. While I had never seen the movie that the game is based on, I was intrigued by it. From the game’s graphical style to the combat, Monkey King: Hero is Back looked like an interesting game. Monkey King: Hero is Back is a fun adventure with satisfying combat that can be a little rough around the edges at times.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Oasis Games, Sony Interactive Entertainment, HEXADRIVE Inc, and THQ Nordic for the review copy of Monkey King: Hero is Back used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Monkey King: Hero is Back you play as Sun Wukong also known as Dasheng. 500 years ago Dasheng was a beloved hero whose ego got in the way. Due to his growing power he thought he could challenge the gods and was mostly successful until he was struck down and imprisoned for the next 500 years. This was his fate until he is accidentally released by a young boy named Liuer who was trying to escape monsters who had attacked his village. Due to his imprisonment Dasheng has a chain wrapped around his arm which prevents access to most of his abilities. The only way to regain his abilities is to change his ways and help with the growing threat of evil that plagues the area.
I would probably classify Monkey King: Hero is Back as a combination of an action adventure game mixed with fighting/hack and slash mechanics. The game has some general adventure mechanics where you explore the environment looking for items, jumping between platforms, and solving basic puzzles. A majority of the gameplay revolves around the combat though. I would say that the combat is kind of a mixture of a more serious fighting game and a hack and slash game where you mash buttons.
On its surface the combat in Monkey King: Hero is Back is pretty basic. You basically have a light and heavy attack along with a jump and a roll/dodge. The game also allows you to pick up items from the environment to use for weapons, and there are magic abilities that you can use in combat. The combat relies on a decent amount of button mashing as you have to quickly press the light and heavy attack buttons to deal damage to enemies. The combat might rely on a decent amount of button mashing, but it is not mindless combat. Dodging and countering enemy attacks is important in the game as each successful blow from an enemy attack takes off quite a bit of your health. While you can heal with health potions you pick up along the way, there is a limit on the number of attacks you can take before you die. The skill of being able to dodge an enemy attack is key in the game. Countering is also important since if you time it correctly you can unlock the special one on one combat mechanic. This mechanic is basically a quick time event where you need to mash the designated button enough times to trigger a silly takedown attack of the opponent you are fighting.
As most of the gameplay in Monkey King: Hero is Back relies on the game’s combat, the one good piece of news is that the combat is quite fun. Generally in hand to hand style combat games I would say that I am more of a fan of hack and slash/button mashing games than games that require precise attacks and dodges. I would say that Monkey King: Hero is Back is somewhere in between these two extremes. The game doesn’t have any complex combos as the controls are simple. You can’t go in just mashing buttons though as enemies can then take you out pretty quickly. You need to time your attacks and pay attention to enemy attacks so you can avoid/counter them. For the most part the game does a good job balancing these two different styles to create a fun combat experience. The whole experience is pretty satisfying as it requires some skill to defeat enemies instead of just randomly pressing buttons, but it also gives you some leniency so the game isn’t frustratingly difficult. The controls (I played the game on PlayStation 4) are precise where any failures are due to your mistakes instead of the controls not working properly.
One mechanic that I haven’t talked about yet is the crafting mechanic. There are things I liked about the mechanic, but there are issues as well. The crafting system is similar to a lot of other games. Crafting ingredients are scattered throughout the environment which you have to pick up. Thankfully the game appears to have unlimited inventory which is important as you will be collecting a lot of ingredients in the game. I didn’t really have any issues with this aspect of the mechanic. The problem is that the whole system feels tacked on. Instead of using the items you collect to craft other items, you end up trading them to a vendor for other items. While this does give you some choice on how you choose to use the items you pick up, it also makes the whole mechanic feel like a waste of time. The game would have been better off either letting you collect the items directly or having you collect some sort of currency that you could then use to purchase the items you want. Instead you end up having to spend time looking for items scattered throughout the environment that will then be turned in for other items. In my experience this will lead you to picking up a bunch of ingredients that you will never use as they are only used for items that you don’t care about.
For the most part I would say that the game is moderately difficult. The exploration, platforming, and puzzle solving are very straightforward and kind of basic. The combat does a really good job creating a good balance though where it is neither so easy that it is boring or so difficult that it becomes frustrating. If you take your time to dodge and counter your enemies you will be fine. The combat can become kind of challenging when you have to deal with several enemies at the same time though as that makes it considerably harder to avoid/counter attack. Each time you are hit you will lose quite a bit of health. As there aren’t unlimited health potions in the game you need to avoid taking damage whenever possible. If you play a lot of close combat games or are good at games like Dark Souls you probably aren’t going to have any issues with Monkey King: Hero is Back. For everyone else though the game gives you a level of challenge where you get a sense of satisfaction from success and yet aren’t frustrated by constantly dying.
While I liked the combat and enjoyed my time with Monkey King: Hero is Back, it turns out that the game is quite linear for the most part. At first glance the game may seem like more of an open world game but it isn’t. Most of the time you are given a location that you must head towards. When you reach that area you are then told to go to another area and the process repeats itself over and over again. The game occasionally gives you a couple different paths where you can choose between openly confronting enemies or taking a more stealthy approach to sneak up on enemies and quickly dispatch of them. These situations don’t come up a lot though as most of the game revolves around a lot of moving from point A to point B, etc. While this streamlined approach far from ruins the game, I wish Monkey King: Hero is Back had a little more flexibility.
As Monkey King: Hero is Back is based off of an animated movie I was not surprised that the game’s visuals are quite good. As the game’s art design looks just like the still images that I have seen from the movie, I am actually curious if the developers directly took assets developed for the film. If they didn’t directly take assets from the movie they seem to have basically copied them. The main characters’ designs look just like the movie and thus show quite a bit more detail than I would expect from an indie game. The environment and locales are also quite good. There isn’t much more you could have asked for from the graphics. The only problem that I have with the visuals is that the game relies on quite a few invisible walls. There are quite a few areas that you will think are accessible but they aren’t.
In addition to the visual style the game does a good job on the story and atmosphere. I have not seen the movie that it is based on, but the story in Monkey King: Hero is Back is pretty good. Aspects of the story are kind of generic as it is about a character that is selfish that has to learn to become better through a journey. It might not be highly original but the story is still interesting as it adds some interesting fantasy elements and characters to the somewhat generic plot points. The voice acting for the most part is pretty good. The only problem with the voice acting is that it can become annoying at times. The biggest culprit is that every time you encounter enemies you companions will yell out “Monster(s)” and run away. This gets annoying pretty quickly as there may only be one potential line and it is repeated over and over again. After a couple times you get sick of hearing it but you will have to listen to it throughout the rest of the game.
This repetition ends up applying to the enemies as well. The game has a couple different types of enemies, but it seems to use the same ones over and over again throughout the game. There are occasional color swaps that denote different strengths/abilities. How you defeat the enemies doesn’t really differ though. While the combat is quite fun it does sometimes lose some of its enjoyment when you are fighting the same enemies over and over again. This is not a huge surprise as a lot of these type of games reuse enemy types a lot. I just wish there was a little more variety in the enemy types as it would have kept the combat a little fresher. Using the same enemies all of the time makes the combat feel a little repetitive at times.
Before wrapping up I want to quickly discuss the game’s length. As I have not yet beat the game I can’t give you a definitive length. In total the game supposedly has ten different levels. Each level consists of a pretty large map that you have to traverse. At this point I estimate that I have played the game for around 4-6 hours and are probably at about the halfway point. These are only rough estimates though. If the second half of the game is around the same length I would guess that the game would take around 8-12 hours to complete. If you just do the bare minimum though you could probably shave off a couple hours as in my playthrough I have explored quite a bit trying to find as many ingredients as possible. The game doesn’t have a ton of replay value due to it being pretty linear. I could see some people wanting to replay the game though on a harder difficulty.
Heading into Monkey King: Hero is Back I was intrigued but didn’t know exactly what to expect especially since I had never seen the movie that it is based on. For the most part I was pleasantly surprised by the game. The game is a fun hack and slash fighting adventure game. The gameplay mostly relies on the combat which feels like a combination of a button masher and a more measured combat system. The game utilizes simple and precise controls that basically boil down to light and heavy attacks. You need to always be on alert though to dodge or counter enemy attacks as each hit really damages you. This mixture leads to a fun combat experience which drives the game. Monkey King: Hero is Back’s story and atmosphere are also quite good except for some occasional rough edges including invisible walls, repetitive dialog, and the same enemies being used over and over again. The crafting system feels kind of tacked on as well as it doesn’t really add much to the game.
My recommendation for Monkey King: Hero is Back comes down to your opinion of the theme and your feelings about the combat system. If the theme or the close combat system don’t really appeal to you, I don’t think Monkey King: Hero is Back will be for you. If you like this type of combat system though and think the theme sounds interesting, you should enjoy your time with Monkey King: Hero is Back and I would recommend that you pick it up.