Review: Unruly Heroes (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • Nintendo Switch
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required
  • Move None
Title: Unruly Heroes
Format: PSN (13.89 GB)
Release Date: May 28, 2019
Publisher: Magic Design Studios
Developer: Magic Design Studios
Original MSRP: $19.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: E10+
A code for the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Unruly Heroes takes its inspiration from the Chinese fable The Legend of the Monkey King and the 16th century novel Journey to the West. You play as four heroes from the folk-tale – Wukong the Monkey King, Sanzang the Sleepy Monk, Kihong the Greedy Pig, and Sandmonk the Sensitive Brute, as you use their unique abilities to navigate through the puzzle platformer.

The game starts off slowly with unexciting platforming and combat, but if you stick with it you are rewarded with some fun and challenging platforming, an evolving combat system, and innovative gameplay mechanics.

Gameplay:
Similar to series like Trine, playable characters are interchangeable at any time with the quick press of a button, and they each have their own abilities that are used to progress through various stages. When a character meets their demise, a bubble appears with their image on it that must be popped by one of the other characters to be revived, like in the New Super Mario Bros. series.

While each character has a unique set of animations, there are two pairs of characters that share similar jumping mechanics. Wukong and Sandmonk each have a double-jump, while Sanzang and Kihong can slowly float down from their jumps with a second press of the X button.

Throughout the levels there are statues of your protagonists that must be activated by whoever is portrayed. These statues trigger unique abilities – Wukong places a huge platform that blocks enemy attacks and serves as a bridge over fatal obstacles, Sanzang shoots a projectile which can activate a switch to open a doorway, and Kihong sucks in a huge amount of air to float to areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Sandmonk does not have an ability activated by a statue but he is the only character whose attacks can break through some heavy-duty barriers.

Unruly Heroes crawls out of the gate with a lack of innovation in combat, platforming, and gameplay mechanics. The game seems to value form over function, with its beautiful design hiding the shallow experience within. Fortunately, this does not remain the case throughout the game. The combat does evolve into something more satisfying. The platforming becomes more challenging, although sometimes inconsistently so. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is the addition of new gameplay mechanics throughout the campaign that completely change the way it is played.

Puzzles are present in Unruly Heroes but almost never require more than two or three simple steps to complete. In fact, the puzzles usually fit within the frame of one screen and the way to solve them is evident the moment you encounter them. There are some exceptions to this, but the puzzles usually serve to break up the combat or platforming rather than being emphasized on their own.

Combat, as mentioned before, seems simple enough at the game’s onset with an attack, heavy attack, and grab at your disposal. However, Unruly Heroes does a good job of pacing the action so that the combination moves and aerial attacks are learned naturally and as needed. In fact, when the game was brought to PlayStation 4 after an original launch on other platforms, it featured the addition of a Move List. The list shows just how much depth there is to the combat.

Launching an enemy up into the air and chaining together various aerial attacks is not only an effective way to finish off a foe without taking damage, but it also builds your special attack meter. Each character has their own special attack capable of dispelling a large group of enemies or doing serious damage to a boss.

The dash move becomes critical throughout the game, both in combat and platforming. During the quick teleportation, your character does not take damage, so it can be used to bypass a deadly object or to gain a little extra distance on your jumps. During combat, enemies sometimes display a warning icon above their head before a big attack. This gives you the opportunity to dash through them and attack their blindside.

Overall, the controls in Unruly Heroes feel good, but not great. There is a little bit of float to the characters’ movements and combat; while satisfying to learn, it is not always crisp. Using the dash move does add a little more fluidity to the platforming. However, as a complete package, it does not manage to feel exciting and second-nature like in some of the genre’s greats.

Boss fights are a ton of fun in Unruly Heroes. The bosses themselves are often huge and over-the-top in both design and personality. While some minor bosses can be defeated using techniques that are used throughout the rest of the game, others require a welcome departure from the normal mechanics to be defeated. Like many boss fights in the genre, these require skilled platforming and pattern recognition as well as efficiently-used attacks. Deciding which character to use may come down to what play-style you prefer. At other times it may be necessary to have a floaty jump versus a double-jump in order to avoid one section of the boss’s attack progression.

The game suffers from inconsistent difficulty throughout. Some platforming segments are down-right boring, with simple static platforms to navigate and a sparse enemy population. Right after a dull stretch, though, you may encounter a segment filled with moving platforms and constant threats from enemies and environmental obstructions. Fortunately, these sections usually begin at a checkpoint, but the sudden spikes in difficulty can often lead to replaying the same stretch of a level several times before sticking the landing necessary to move on. Unruly Heroes is not particularly difficult overall, though, and actually serves as an approachable game in the genre.

The narrative of Unruly Heroes may have its roots in centuries-old written works, but there is a modern coat of paint on the game that comes through in its brief moments of dialogue. NPCs that you encounter are often lighthearted and silly regardless of their appearance. The comedic writing feels at-home in this cartoonish jaunt of a game. Unruly Heroes is not a deep retelling of a classic work of fiction but rather a fun experience in that universe with a modern platformer’s sensibilities.

While the playtime for Unruly Heroes feels sufficient on its own, there is added replayability in the form of rankings for each level. Ranks are achieved by collecting coins, finding artwork scrolls, and completing the level by the target time. The highest rank, Diamond, can only be earned while playing in Hard mode.

Visuals:
The gorgeous, hand-drawn visuals of Unruly Heroes set it apart from similar games. Character models have been intricately crafted and feature unique animations that respond seamlessly to changes in the environment. Different skins are available for each of the four playable characters and can be purchased with coins collected throughout each level. Collectible artworks are also hidden throughout the levels. These often serve as rewards for completing particularly challenging portions of platforming. While unlockable skins and artwork may not suffice as motivation to snatch up collectibles in other games, the beautifully-rendered models in Unruly Heroes make the task worth the extra effort.

Attack animations are impressively distinct for each character given the fact that they all share the same basic moveset. For instance, Sanzang the monk flings glowing projectiles at enemies as his melee attack, while Wukong the monkey lands flurries of blows with his staff. Special attacks look great in addition to serving different functions. Sandmonk the brute transforms into a giant version of himself and can move freely to bash enemies with reckless abandon. Kihong the pig swells in size and turns into a spinning wheel of pork pulverization. The different presentations of each character makes switching between them throughout the game a lot of fun. You may even favor one simply because you like the way their attacks look.

Each world has multiple stages with a shared aesthetic. Hand-painted backdrops are vivid and colorful and sometimes animated to great effect. Whether it is a hulking enemy stalking you in the shadows or a dramatic storm rolling by, the background art serves to set the tone of each stage. The sense of scale used is very effective, especially with bosses who are often so large that they sprawl beyond the extent of the screen.


Audio:
The audio design of Unruly Heroes is solid but does nothing trendsetting. Combat and environmental sounds are impactful and varied. The overall whimsical tone of actions and collecting objects in the game lends itself well to this playable fairy tale. Enemies make distinct sounds that fit well with their aesthetics and also serve as an audio cue that certain attacks or movements are coming. The game could have relied on written dialogue but it is nice to hear the well-delivered voice lines from NPCs you encounter.

The music of Unruly Heroes is unique. At times the music seems to take influence from the Chinese folklore that the game is based on, while at other times it seems to be more generic and light, almost more at home in an elevator. This feels odd and off-putting at first, but as the game progresses it settles in as a calming backdrop to a mostly light and airy experience.

Online/Multiplayer:
Most of the gameplay for this review was single-player, but Unruly Heroes does feature couch co-op for up to four players. The small sampling of local co-op for the sake of this review seemed fun and had the usual pros and cons of a couch co-op platformer – chaos ensues and sometimes it is hard to keep all the action on one shared screen but working together to take out enemies feels great, especially with unique abilities at your disposal.

There is also a local or online competitive mode for up to four players. Playing locally, it seemed that the premise was to create an experience similar to that of the Super Smash Bros. series, with platform-filled levels and randomly appearing power-ups. Being constrained to four characters with very similar attacks takes a lot away from this formula and it quickly becomes monotonous. There may be too small a community to make playing online possible, unfortunately, as multiple attempts at finding an online match yielded no results.

Conclusion:
The visual presentation of Unruly Heroes is easily its greatest strength. The use of a wide color palette and carefully crafted animations make the game a joy to look at, but this main attraction sometimes overshadows the unremarkable gameplay. Unruly Heroes is not an innovative or risk-taking game but it evolves enough to create a journey that feels rewarding by the end.

Score:
7.0

Written by Brock Arnett

Gamer since the NES days, Boilermaker, Colts and Pacers fan. I can’t wait until my two boys are old enough to play games with me.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook