Games based on movies can be tricky, the same goes for movies based on books. Things get even more complicated when you have a game that is based on a movie which is based on a book, or at least is inspired by one.
Journey to the West is a great book which dates all the way back to the 16th century. Around a decade ago we got a more relaxed video game adaptation of it in the form of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. It’s an extremely underappreciated game with an amazing story and beautiful graphics for the time. Now we have another game inspired by the ancient Chinese book. The only problem is that it doesn’t take inspiration directly from it, instead it’s inspired by an animated movie inspired by the book.
The story follows Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, who was trapped by Budha in an icy cave. Sun Wukong was a bit mischievous and used his powers to defeat opponents in the past so that he could also fight heavenly creatures. All that caught up to him and Budha decided he should be trapped in ice indefinitely.
500 years later, bad things start happening in a nearby village. Monsters start kidnaping children to use the for rituals. While running away, a child enters a cave and touches the ice sculpture in which Sun Wukong is trapped. He is quickly released and the adventure begins as you try to help the children.
The story is interesting, but the movie it’s based was made for the Chinese market and didn’t really find much of an audience in the West. The story follows the plot of the movie, but that’s a bit problematic since it’s very clearly aimed at a Chinese audience. If we disregard that, it’s possible to follow the game’s story and understand it without any foreknowledge, which is great. Monkey King is a standalone experience, which is great compared to most other games based on movies.
One thing that won’t help with understanding the game are the names of characters, but even that is cool when you get used to it. This is an example of the development team not taking steps to localize and adapt a game for a western audience.
The graphics on the other are amazing at times and the characters are lovely. The animations are very well made, everything from facial expressions to combat. The game feels alive and it’s like you’re watching an anime. Keeping in mind that this was done by a smaller team, it’s a great success in this field. The graphics are a big part of why the game is palatable even without any localization.
When it comes to the gameplay itself, it just depends on what your expectations are. Monkey King: Hero is Back is a feel good game, it’s relaxing and it doesn’t require a lot of skill or deeper investment to play it. The combat is limited and it plays like a standard beat’em-up. The gameplay is very simple which isn’t necessarily bad. It has no depth, especially when talking about the progression. It has a few RPG elements, you can upgrade your combat skills, but that is pretty much it. The game doesn’t stray from the basic formula, so it’s understandable if you have a problem with that. If you’re looking for a challenge or a deeper experience, Monkey King: Hero is Back isn’t for you.
It almost reminds you of some older 3D platformers from the PS2 and Xbox era. As time moved on, games got more and more complex, so we also expect from new releases to follow that pattern, but Monkey Hero kept it simple. Some people compare it to Knack and say it's even easier than it. Honestly, between the two, we prefer Monkey King.
At times you’ll ask yourself if this game really worth investing time in it. As much as you want to see something amazing or depth, you never will. The game gives you just enough for it to be called a video game.
The story as good as it is, has its issues. The beginning is great but as you play it just gets washed out. It’s not that memorable, but it is a game worth mentioning, at least as a parallel to Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.
When it’s all said and done, Monkey King: Hero is Back is a fun game that lacks depth, which, again, isn’t necessarily bad. It’s up to you to decide if you want to play a relaxing game with an interesting story or something that will challenge you and offer depth. Monkey King has its qualities, but it’s not a must play, so it gets a respectable 7/10.