While Monkey King: Hero Is Back does boast some impressive character animation, the game itself ultimately gets bogged down by poor pacing, controls, and gameplay. It just feels weird that we’re now getting a game for a Chinese movie that came out back in 2015, but without the personality and charm that came with the movie.
Monkey King: Hero Is Back tells the story of Dasheng, a Monkey King who was stripped of his powers and has spent 500 years locked in a frozen cage after angering & defying the Gods. He’s awoken by a young boy named Liuer who carries a baby girl with him in a basket on his back. After saving the boy from a monster attack, Dasheng finds out that the world has been overrun by monsters while he was imprisoned, and they’re stealing all the children in order to extract their souls. If the Monkey King wishes to regain his powers, he must help the children.
To say that Monkey King: Hero Is Back is a slog of a game is an understatement. I get that you’re trying to build up Dasheng’s powers so he can become the great Monkey King again, but it takes literally the entire game to get to that point. From a narrative standpoint, yes, you do feel like you’re slowly getting your powers back, and once you do it feels great. It’s just getting to that point isn’t exactly fun. Instead of wearing the badass armor, you’re stuck in a yellow shirt and blue pants for the entire game. Even if they gave you the armor early on I still don’t think it would make a difference on how much enjoyment you get from the game, but it might have helped.
Before I go on and on about the things I didn’t like, I will talk about the one thing I did enjoy. Monkey King: Hero Is Back has some pretty fantastic character animations, especially in regards to facial expressions. Dasheng looks miserable pretty much all the time and it’s hilarious. Everyone looks great, it’s just a shame the gameplay couldn’t match the quality of the characters.
Players control the Monkey King, and you’ll have three friends (Liuer, baby girl, and Pigsy) that will accompany you on your journey. Whenever any enemies appear on screen, they scream “Monsters!” and run off. They’re useless and just end up being more annoying than anything else. It would have been cool to see them inadvertently help out during battle, kind of like Ellie from The Last of Us. You’ll be fighting waves of enemies and they’re just standing on the sidelines. At least Ellie threw bricks at the enemies once in awhile.
Combat is okay. It reminded me of God of War on the PS2. You can deal out light and heavy attacks. You can parry enemies and unleash a barrage of punches and kicks that end in some cool attack like kicking the enemies at the screen (complete with their faces smashing against it). It’s these little moments that stand out and bring life to the combat. When those little flourishes aren’t happening, you can use a wooden bench as a weapon. It looks awesome, but hit detection is extremely hard to gauge. Flowing from light attack combos to heavy also feels jarring. They don’t mesh together at all.
As you defeat enemies, you’ll gain experience points that can be allocated into different abilities depending on how far you are into the game. Each major point in the story unlocks chains on the bracelet that is holding back your powers. Once you gain access to the ability to summon your staff, you’ll feel like a true badass. Once again though, this isn’t until the very end of the game. If the developers could have sprinkled the really cool stuff throughout the game, it would have felt better paced and alleviated some of the tedium.
Even the way dialogue and cutscenes are presented seem like an after thought. There are moments where you’re walking through empty areas just so the characters can spout exposition. You can’t run on ahead. You have to listen to the characters talk. Could this not just have been a cutscene? Why can’t they talk about this stuff while I’m just playing the game? The main villain is hinted at early on, but we don’t finally get to see him until the end of the game. His motives don’t matter because we haven’t seen them in action. There are little scrolls you can pick up that explain certain lore, but for a single player game, this stuff should have just been explained. Even camera angles during cutscenes are uninspired. The camera will just sit in one spot most of the time while characters are talking. For a game based on a movie, you’d think it could have been a slight bit more cinematic, which would have really helped bring the story to life. It’s like Monkey King just does the bare minimum, all the time.
For a 3D action game, the level design is uninspired. Sure, there are some gorgeous loactions, but then you will see merchants that you should be able to just run over and interact with, but you’ll have to load into the next area in order to talk to them. Like, you can literally see them in the next area. I’m not sure why there’s a limitation like this on the PS4 but it just seems inexcusable, especially considering the PS5 releases next year. It’s not like we’re just figuring out this hardware. Why can I see NPCs in the next area but I have to click on a button to go there? It’s just another strange game design that further hindered my enjoyment.
Monkey King could have been a great game, but everything it tries to do is just so poorly done. With other 3D action games out there that do a much better job (God of War) considering how far we are into the PS4’s life span, I just can’t recommend Monkey King: Hero is Back unless you’re an absolute die hard fan of the film and need to play it. – NVJ
Monkey King: Hero is Back is now available on PS4
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR