Having a stressful month and the sudden urge to punch a wall? You’re not the only one my friend, but I highly suggest you invest that energy into a solid action-packed button smashing game. 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, the latest game from developer Sobaka Studio, is a beautifully crafted arcade adventure through Asian culture and mysticism.
Recreating elements of the high style kung fu movies of the ’70s, the game throws you into a well-versed universe that is pretty simple to play but also equally challenging depending on your approach. With every element that a classic gamer could only dream of, topped with stunning visuals and non-stop brawling action, you might want to clear less than 4GB for this one.
The story follows a fish merchant by the name of Wei Cheng living in China during 1572. Cheng lives a relatively simple life along with his grandfather, who taught him how to fish and also how to protect himself with a staff (ironically relevant). The way of the staff was passed down for generations in his family, allowing for Cheng to have some pretty sick skills from the start. Everything changes when a group of pirates raid Chang’s village, killing his friends and family, and leaving him mortally wounded. Wei is then saved by a group of Shaolin monks who rehabilitate him and teach him the ways of the warrior, so that he may one day avenge his village, and become a true Kung Fu master.
The genre is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with more than 25 levels and engaging character development. After you complete the first level of the game, you find yourself in a Chinese tulou (a circular fortress) that acts as your central hub. There you can learn new skills from a Shaolin master, select new missions off a map, replay past missions from different chapters, upgrade your gear, and find multiplayer options. The game allows you to select a difficulty ranging from novice, warrior, master, and legend. You can also change the difficulty at any point within the story. Each level is uniquely different with varying lengths, environments, and enemy waves. Within the fortress hub, you can practice with your master. I highly suggest working on different combos and getting comfortable with the controls before heavily investing yourself in the story.
Wei Cheng’s health bar is a bright red on the top left corner at all times. Underneath you will see yellow boxes that contain your qi (energy force) that allows you to do powered attacks and magical ones as well. You build up your qi by landing combos and allowing your meter to fill up. I also suggest checking your environment for any boxes that you can smash. Within them, you will find teas that will boost your energy, strengthen your attacks, and allow for 5 seconds of infinite qi. Each tea element is a different color and could be accessed using the D-pad. Some levels have more teas available than others so be mindful in your use of them. There is no option to lock onto an enemy but once you make contact with an attack, their health bar will show up on the top of the screen.
There are multiple waves of enemies within the game, and as you level up you will face new challenges in foes. Each enemy has a different range of weaponry and timed attacks. A fiery flash will appear on the attacking item allowing you the chance to parry or dodge. Playing this game on the PS4, the controls were quite simple. Triangle for quick strikes, circle for thrust attacks, and square for high flying kicks. L1 (or left bumper) allows you to parry attacks, including blow darts or arrows. X is used to dodge or dash depending on the shoes you have upgraded to. As you learn more skills and add to your skill tree, you will have more qi abilities. Using the right trigger along with either circle of triangle will allow you to do qi powered attacks.
The left trigger along with all the shapes, aside from X, allows you to do magical attacks, which you will learn about as you progress. Enemy waves will swarm at times so using powerful attacks will help disperse the action and give you time to land some good combos. Each map has its own set of obstacles. For example, one mission has a bunch of lightning strikes and you along with your enemies could get hit, so I suggest using your surroundings to your advantage during combat.
With 3 unique fighting styles that include land, air, and magical attacks, there are so many combos that provide a major punch during gameplay. Some levels will have a boss battle or some mystical deity that needs to be defeated. Each will have a longer health bar and may have interactive environments or waves of enemies there to end your journey. Defeat these bosses and you will receive the mask that they were wearing during the level. You can wear these masks if you find the back table in the central hub.
Each level will have rewards either upgradable to your skill tree or items you can wear that will enhance particular skills. Within the hub, you will see a guy in blue robes standing in a corner. He opens the options for multiplay. The game only allows for two-player co-op and that character will leave the wall and join you on the missions and in the hub. You have the option for online or local multiplayer, and a friendly fire option (which I don’t recommend you turn on). If your friend is downed during the battle, there will be an option for revival, but make sure you have enough time between enemy waves to help him.
The story is surprisingly involving thanks to rich dialogue within character boxes that you can skip through after 6 seconds if patience isn’t within your personal skill tree. You also aren’t forced to only read the dialogue thanks to some excellent voice actors. Overall, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a pleasing arcade action-adventure, with lots of cool things to invest your time into. I personally found it quite therapeutic knocking enemies around and watching the Unreal Engine mechanics as they fly across the screen during a good knock out. It’s one of those games that you don’t have to think too much, but you could also forget about your worries playing. Be on the lookout for the game which will be available on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on Friday, October 16th. Go download this game once released and be the Kung Fu master that you always wanted to be.