Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
October 16, 2020
Beat ‘em up titles are dime a dozen these days, with many different variations on the tried and true formula. So does 9 Monkeys of Shaolin provide a good old brawler experience, or are you better off taking your fight elsewhere?
9 Monkeys of Shaolin is developed by Sobaka Studio, who previously developed the generally well-received Redeemer, with the clear intention to combine the classic beat ‘em up action of yesteryear with modern graphics and gameplay, and a touch of classic Chinese martial arts films.
You play as Wei Cheng, a resident of a small fishing village that is besieged one day by a band of pirates that not only leave your village in fiery ruins but also murder your grandfather. What unfolds next is a fairly standard revenge tale that sees our hero teaming up with some Shaolin monks to not only get his revenge but to also aid the land in getting rid of this constant threat.
The story of 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is nothing unique or standout, but as with the rest of the game, it gets the job done. I was surprised at a few points of the story and where it took Wei Cheng on his journey with a group of Shaolin Monks, with a surprisingly early resolution of his main goal. The characters you encounter are quite endearing, all with their own unique traits and thoughts on the situation, but I often found myself skipping through the dialogue just to get to the next level as it didn’t hold too much of my attention nor did it draw me into the world.
One instance had two characters arguing over whether or not they should attack a certain area, showing that violence is not always their preferred solution… except it kind of is, as not long after this you literally go in and attack enemies within the area anyway.
Graphics and Sound Design:
The graphics can be hit and miss, with the overall presentation being nothing standout, but certainly appealing. A lot of the effects shown on screen and the corresponding sound design hold up on their own, but the outdated cel-shaded graphics are disappointing when compared with the gorgeous Asian infused watercolour images that accompany the beginning of each chapter.
Thankfully the sound design is pretty top-notch, with the background music consisting of eastern instruments, and the sound effects that occur in battle feeling extremely satisfying. The voice work itself is also pretty good, with each character feeling different enough from each other and having their own unique take on the situation. Although I must say the accents felt a little off to me.
The main language of the game is English, but the way dialogue is delivered seemed out of place, sounding like someone imitating an Asian accent. I feel this would have worked a lot better if the game was delivered in Chinese and Japanese with English subtitles, playing even more into the clear inspiration of Asian cinema.
Whilst I mentioned before that the graphics were serviceable, the team at Sobaka didn’t skip a beat when ensuring there were plenty of environments to battle foes in, ranging from bamboo forests, sawmills, to ancient ruins. These environments provide plenty of variety, and I did find myself enjoying them more as the game went on.
Now, you don’t generally play a beat ‘em up for the insightful or thought-provoking story, you’re here to pummel people and deliver sweet justice, which is an area 9 Monkeys of Shaolin thankfully excels.
The gameplay is simple. You have a basic attack, a heavy attack, a long-range melee attack, and the ability to dodge and reflect. Along with this are a few other special abilities that you learn along the way that utilise your Qi meter, which can be refilled by performing basic attacks. These special moves are essentially stronger attacks and magic spells that offer varying effects, with my favourite being the “seal of attraction” combined with the “rockfall” attack, which brings all the enemies in the vicinity towards me so I can perform an AOE attack.
“So when you have a screen that combines a few enemies from each of the varying types, it can be a difficult and exhilarating experience… “
All these mechanics are fairly easy to manage on their own, especially at the start of the game, but as you get deeper in and encounter bigger groups of enemies there is a necessity to balance them all to successfully defeat your enemies.
The enemies in the game start as cannon fodder, able to be defeated without much work, but the game quickly throws you a few curveballs with armoured enemies that take more damage, ranged enemies that can only be defeated by reflecting their attacks, and even ghostly apparitions that must be defeated by using Qi attacks.
So when you have a screen that combines a few enemies from each of the varying types, it can be a difficult and exhilarating experience to balance your focus and avoid damage as much as possible. This rinse and repeat style of gameplay provided me with plenty of moments of frustration, but I always found myself trying again and using different tactics.
Whilst you cannot pick weapons up during gameplay, there are varying colours of teas you can collect within the levels by destroying crates and jars. These teas offer you health recovery and other buffs such as increased damage or unlimited Qi for a limited time. Utilising these in battle at opportune moments can mean the difference between victory or defeat.
There are light-RPG elements in the form of a progression tree, where you will spend tokens received based on your performance with each level. These upgrades don’t offer anything truly special, with the majority of them simply adding more attack power, increased range of attack, or increasing your critical hit chance. But I did find that there was enough of a choice that I could spend my tokens on areas that matched my playstyle, which was essentially adding more damage to my basic attacks so that I could smack anything that came within my vicinity.
Along with the progression tree, there are three types of items that will provide further buffs, being your weapon, a necklace, and footwear. These can be changed within the Shaolin Monk hub level, with new items being obtained from completing levels or defeating the bosses peppered throughout the game. Each new item provides some kind of unique buffs such as increased running speed or faster Qi regeneration.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin does include multiplayer, thanks to either the local or online co-op features. This is a nice addition as this is the type of game that you can have a lot of fun going in with a friend and just switching off to beat down pirates, ninjas, and warriors.
The game can be played with either a controller or keyboard and mouse. Both options worked well enough, and I found using the keyboard and mouse to be easy enough, with the only issue being the special attacks are performed by either holding Ctrl or Shift, which sometimes took me out of the action as I had to double-check which key I was holding down. This could just come down to my keyboard, but it is something I noticed nonetheless.
- Satisfying and addictive action
- Brilliant sound design and music
- Varied environments and challenging enemies
- Hand drawn water colour chapter intros are gorgeous
- Uninteresting story
- Bland voice work
I had a lot of fun with 9 Monkeys of Shaolin despite some of its flaws. Whilst it can be repetitive at times, as is common with the genre, it certainly boasts a simple and engaging way to beat up enemies without having to worry too much about other useless mechanics that may have otherwise bogged the action down with over-complicated inclusions.
If you are after something that can provide a challenge (depending on the difficulty selected), isn’t too interested in an immersive story, but at the same time allows you to zone out and simply pummel enemies to your delight, then I can certainly recommend giving 9 Monkeys of Shaolin your time.