The Monkey King: The Legend Begins
Publisher: UFO Interactive
Genre: Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: 05/30/2008
I think by now everyone knows the legend of the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. It’s one of the most famous Chinese folktales and it has been turned into numerous video games and cartoons by the Japanese. The most famous interpretation of this legend to Americans is probably that of Dragon Ball
Although Sun Wukong flies through the sky on a cloud it had never occurred to me to turn this legend into a side-scrolling shooter ala R-Type Well it sure did to Starfish, who are best known for well…nothing really to US gamers,although they did make Heavenly Guardian which I reviewed in late March of this year for the PS2.
It’s been a decent year for shooters. We’ve seen some quality titles like Castle Shikigami III released for the Wii. We’ve also seen a new HD version of my beloved Ikaruga hit Xbox Live, and Trigger Heart Excella, one of the very last Dreamcast games finally made it to this side of the Atlantic.
We all know that if a new Shoot ‘Em Up hits North America, that I’ll be the one of staff to grab it, play it incessantly and then review it. I’ve had this game on my radar since late 2007. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how good it is.
The Monkey King: The Legend Begins is about Wu Kung, a powerful monkey-man-child-thingie that wants to be a god. His fellow weremonkey Mei Mei and his teacher, “The Great Teacher” (who looks a lot like Master Roshi from DBZ. In order to become a god, Wu Kung mast travel through various levels and stop rampaging monsters all while collecting…what appear to be Dragonballs. Yes. At the end of each level you will receive a Dragonball and a ranking.
There’s no story at all in Normal Mode. You just play the game straight through and enter Reverse Mode without warning. If you want any plot of character development, you’ll have to go the Story mode. Story Mode plays exactly the same except you get plot and have the ability to switch between Wu Kung and Mei Mei. No idea WHY you would play in Normal mode then…
When you do play in story mode you are treated to RPG like dialogue scenes where you are given still photos of a character that will change when their emotion or mood shifts. There can be funny moments, especially if you play through Normal Mode first, as you get exposition as to what just happened, such as the first boss turning into a little chick. The game is pretty light and the characters are shallow, but it’s passable, especially considering the genre we’re talking about. I’m just happy there is ANY plot at all.
Decent little story all in all. It doesn’t really hold true to the legend of Sun Wukong, but it’s a light little romp that can be appreciated by all ages.
Story Rating: Decent
I really like the boss designs, even though said bosses are exceptionally easy and die quite quickly. Still, the art for the very large bosses is quite impressive. I do note that the Dragon god looks exactly like the one from the Dragon ball anime series, making it the second character to appear to have popped out of Toei’s animation studio.
The backgrounds of the game are nicely rendered and quite detailed. It’s true that they are static backgrounds that scroll with your character, but they are still very well done.
Actual in game graphics are merely…okay. The game looks like a PS1 or Sega Saturn title rather than one from this generation. Most of the enemies you fight on screen are pretty generic and lack any real detail. The mini bosses are occasionally interesting, but the rank and file mass of swarming enemies that you find in a shooter are pretty drab. None of the enemies really caught my eye save for Bazooka Big or the floating Kabuki heads.
Like the plot, the game is passable visually with moments of really insight and brilliance, but those moments are fleeting. I’m just glad there’s no actual slowdown to the game when you’re being swarmed, which might be something one doesn’t always think of when talking about graphics, but for a traditional shooter, it’s a make or break aspect. Kudos to Starfish for getting this bit right.
Graphics Rating: Above Average
There’s no voice acting in the game, but there are a lot of sound effects. I was really impressed with how each attack in the game sounds vastly different from the other. Each Power Up or special weapon that you collect sounds distinct from the rest of the pack and that’s not something you always see in this genre.
Enemy attacks, save for boss shots, are very humdrum and all sound alike for the most part, but then most enemies save for the kitsune and the living scimitars have pretty much the same attack.
The music is okay. It’s nothing to write home about, nor is it at all memorable. While writing this review I can barely remember what the backing tracks for the game sounded like. The music wasn’t bad, but when you’re playing a Shooter, you’re generally glued to the screen and ignoring all other sensory inputs.
Like the earlier two categories the game is fine. It’s not great by any means, but it’s a budget title and it looks and sounds like what you would expect for a title starting out at a $19.99 MSRP. It won’t blow your mind, but you won’t be unhappy either.
Sound Rating: Decent
4. Control and Gameplay
This is of course the most important piece of any shooter and I’m happy to say TMK is quite solid. Like any horizontal shooter, you fly around the screen shooting things that come at you while dodging their firepower.
TMK is exceptionally slow for a shooter, but you can speed up or slow down the game depending on how you tilt the Wiimote. I was impressed not only by how well the game noticed the title, but how the game noticeably sped up or slowed down depending on the degree of the tilt. The background on the screen tilted as well, which was very cute. To be candid, TMK makes use of the Wiimote better than a lot third-party games, which was an unexpected treat.
You’ll be able to collect Power Ups that change the style/rate of your weapon and also the maneuverability of your cloud. Without any Power-Ups the cloud can be excruciatingly slow in moving and dodging. On the other end, when you are fully powered up with speed, you will never be hit by enemy firepower again. Seriously. The game pretty much forces you to live or die by the degree of power-ups you collect, so at a certain point control goes out the window. I actually played half a level with my EYES CLOSED and didn’t get hit once. You can just take your hand of the D pad and let your single finger act as if it was an SNK end boss.
VERY solid game, although it might be too slow for long time shooter fans.
Control and Gameplay: Classic
TWO PLAYER CO-OP MODE! WHOOOO!
Sorry, I just love it when any shooter includes this. I will admit that it’s easier to have 2 Player Co-Op in a Vertical shooter than a horizontal shooter, but it is great to have this option. Alas, you can only do co-op in Normal Mode, so no story for you and your friend.
When you beat the game, you are instantly thrust into reverse mode, where you play the entire game from the second to last level on down backwards. This means you start with the boss fight first and work your way back to the beginning. This was unexpected and to be quite honest, not really enjoyable. Each of the stages is about 2-3X longer than you would normally find in a shooter. Combine this length with the molasses like pace of the game and it pretty much killed my wanting to pick up this game ever again when I said I was forced into reverse mode without any reward or fanfare.
There’s also Race Mode where you play the game against the clock. Here you’ll be making big time use of the wiimote tilt function to speed up the game, but I have to admit I gained no enjoyment from playing it. It’s harder than the other modes as you can’t fight back, so it just you holding your wiimote at an angle and dodging. I found this pretty boring.
Really, once you’ve beaten the game, all that is left is co-op mode, which is fun to whip out with a friend who has never really played shooters before. The game is so damn easy and slow compared to say Gradius V that you can finally get your co-op shooter fix with a friend without them whining about it being too damn hard.
In all, there’s not a lot of replay value in TMK. It’s a long (for a shooter) game that gives you no reward unless you play in Story Mode and even then you’re still looking at a one shot. If they had made Reverse Mode an unlockable instead of a surprise mandatory part of the game, I’d be able to give it a higher score here, but we’re looking at a shooter that barely even registers a high score, much less a compelling set of level that you want to play through a second time.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre
And here’s where the game falls apart. Basically your success rate depends on what Power Ups you obtain and how quickly you get them. Without any power-ups your Cloud is like driving a tank and Glass Joe from Punch-Out could kick your booty. The second you start getting power-ups though, you go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and are crazy powerful. When I filled up my Power meter with attack Power Ups, I had a full screen spread projectile shot. This was in the second level AND THEN I NEVER DIED AGAIN I WAS SO CRAZY STRONG. In fact the ONLY time ever even took damage past that point was when I shot a living scimitar the first few times and didn’t realize that when they died they launched a revenge homing shot at you.
Generally shooters are considered the hardest genre in gaming. With TMK though, this was the EASIEST shooter I have ever played and one of the easiest games all year. I beat this game without a single continue and I died….twice? Once when I was first figuring out the tilt controls and the other when Reverse Mode started because I had no idea what was coming.
Granted when I avoided collecting power-ups on replays through the game, it became rather difficult because your normal shot is exceptionally puny. There’s just such a lack of balance in this regard it made me sad. Depending on how quickly you realize which enemies give you Power-Ups defines whether the game will be a cakewalk, or difficult and slow all at once. Pretty sad here.
It gets even worse with the boss fights. I think the hardest boss was the third stage and that’s only because he launched a volley of attacks that I couldn’t avoid. Then she died five seconds later. I’ve never seen boss fights in a game so easy. I can’t begin to describe my level of disappointment when I reached Hell (The last stage before Reverse Mode). At first i was excited because I was facing all the bosses in succession. “Finally!” I thought, “A challenge.” Heh. No. Not only was I already maxed out but the game gives you a chance to earn a ton of power ups between each battle, making it a sad sorry state of affairs. The last boss lasted about two minutes, even though it took up 75% of the screen. I have no idea what it was supposed to be other than Giant Rasputin looking guy. I was appalled at how mindlessly easy the game was.
Remember I played through Level 4 with MY EYES CLOSED FOR HALF THE LEVEL. And I never took a single hit. That should warn you how pathetic the game is once you have power-ups.
Oh! Watch the hilarity of using the Fire Dragon special attack on a boss. It homes in on them and does unblockable nonstop repeat damage.
Serious, if you ever wanted to know how Rugal felt in King of Fighters, here is your chance. Still, I suppose some comedy value could be had by letting a small child or casual gamer play TMK, get an inflated sense of self worth about their skills, and then plop in Ikaruga and listen to the cacophony of profanity that ushers forth from their mouths.
Balance Rating: Worthless
A few points for seeing The Monkey King as a side scrolling shooter instead of yet another RPG or fighter, but that’s about it. The game is exceptionally generic as shooters go. Other than that, I can’t think of anything that really stands out about TMK. Everything about this game has done before it, and generally done better. It’s a fun little title, but original? I say thee nay. Oh wait. The tilt function. Yay! A higher score here for TMK!
Originality Rating: Below Average
TMK was a fun little game. At first. Then the level went on forever. Then the bosses were easier than the mid-bosses (1-2 per level). Then you beat the game and it made you go into reverse mode without warning instead of making it an option. Then they prevent you from having story with your co-op mode leading to your Sub-Cultural Icon having to explain the game and the actual legend of the Monkey King to his co-player which takes away from the whole point of having a Story Mode in the first place.
There was a lot of potential here. With some levels cut in half and the hard difficulty being relabeled as “Easy,” I could have really gotten into the game. Instead I amused myself by singing the Dragonball Z song every time I beat a level (AND I HATE DBZ!) or seeing how close I could let enemies get before vaporizing them as if I was Geese in Fatal Fury
Dragon. Dragon. Catch the Dragon…
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9. Appeal Factor
A mixed bag here This is a great game to use as an introduction to the Shoot ‘Em Up genre. It doesn’t matter their age or gaming experience, as TMK is cute and easy and the slowness of the game will help them understand what the genre is about. The titling wiimote aspect of the gameplay will also be a neat little catch for those enamored with the Wii style gameplay.
Oddly enough, longtime shooter fans like myself will be put off by the easy and slowness of the game. But then, how many fans of this nearly dead genre are left anyway?
As much as I hate to admit it, I can see more gamers having fun with and preferring TMK than say, Bangai-O because of the ease and slow play.
Appeal Factor: Above Average
I’m been hard on the game, but please don’t think it’s a bad title. It’s a well made, albeit generic, shooter that makes excellent use of the wiimote and still manages to be a solid quite playable game. Yes it has its flaws like being super easy as soon as you start getting power ups and the lack of any real reward once you have slaughtered the game, but this is certainly one of the best budget titles released this year, For $20 it’s a nice little underprinted deal that works as an excellent introduction to the genre.
2 Player Co-op for a shooter should never be overlooked, and it helps increase the game’s replay value and amusement factor greatly. I’ll definitely be using this title as the gateway drug to other faster paced and far crueler shooter than this.
For $19.99, TMK is a decent little shooter that I’m happy to have experience. Again, it has some striking flaws, but for a budget title, it’s certainly worth picking up while you actually have the option to do so.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Graphics: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Originality: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Addictiveness: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game
Short Attention Span Summary
The Monkey King: The Legend Begins is a cute, but not spectacular title that is a great way to introduce people to the glory (and potential seizures) that are traditional shooters. It’s not going to win any awards, and you probably won’t be missing anything if you don’t pick it up, but if you do I think you’ll walk away content with the enjoyment to dollar cost ratio. Hey, I gave this game the same rating I gaveWii Fit and it’s SEVENTY DOLLARS CHEAPER. What’s the smarter choice there?