When Wei Cheng’s village burns down in front of his very eyes, he seeks revenge by joining a monastery and learning the fighting skills to avenge his family and friends. In 9 Monkeys of Shaolin, take out bands of enemies in classic beat ’em up fashion set in a rural medieval China. With pole in hand and revenge in heart, it’s time to kick ass and take names.
Beat ’em ups are make or break based on their combat and 9 Monkeys of Shaolin‘s hits every mark. It’s smooth and intuitive, whilst being wonderfully satisfying when pulling off a perfect combo.
There are three main attacks that you can pull of with your pole: Kick Strike, Slashing Strike and Thrust. In addition, you can use the L bumper to spin in order to ricochet projectiles back at the enemies and the B button to dash. Lastly, you’ll learn various stances that allow you to use your Qi for more powerful (and dramatic) attacks. All of these options provide a host of wonderful gameplay variety that, quite frankly, some beat ’em ups can sorely lack; or rather, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin pulls this off without becoming complicated and does a fantastic job at providing variety with intuitive ease.
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9 Monkeys of Shaolin avoids repetition by not only having a wide arsenal of attack options, but boss fights require strategic thought and are genuinely a challenge. You’ll regularly find enemies in the background that cannot be approached in melee combat, therefore you’re required to spin and reflect their attacks back at them. The only negative with all of this is that the game either nails its tutorials or completely fails at it, often resulting in moments where I’d stop and think, “what on earth do I need to do here?”.
World / Level Design
9 Monkeys of Shaolin doesn’t do much to push the barriers in the level design aspect. Its levels are the classic left-to-right with a small amount of 3D depth to manoeuvre around enemies, but don’t get your hopes up for alternate pathways and the like. Each level is short and can be finished within five minutes. That’s not to say that you won’t run into any variety. For example, the sawmill has buzzsaws moving back and forth along the ground that act as hazards; not exactly the safest workplace, but makes sense for a video game.
The hub world simply consists of a circular hut where you can talk to monks, upgrade your techniques by spending skill points and setting out on the next challenge. It’s certainly lacklustre, but it also streamlines the process and lets you jump straight into the action (which, in a beat ’em up, is what we want).
Story / Personality
Its premise of fierce enemies setting a villager’s home to the ground and them seeking revenge off of the training of others isn’t exactly new (cough, Fable, cough). However with its rich medieval Chinese setting and memorable characters, the tried and true plot hits most aspects to provide an engaging plot.
The overarching story progresses at a consistent pace and doesn’t suffer from backtracking, pointless side quests or filler. The game’s quick five hour runtime is absolutely to its betterment, getting straight to the point without the unnecessary fluff that can litter many modern games. You can redo missions or go back to quests that you may not have fulfilled earlier, but this would merely be to earn more wheels for upgrading one’s skill tree.
Graphics / Art Direction
As expected, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin has a rural mediaeval China visual motif and if you get the time to stop and take in the surroundings, you may well be in awe. The game has a lot of attention to detail, with villages providing depth in the backgrounds to give the impression of bustling towns and homes, whilst the forest contains greenery for miles on end. Disappointedly, this doesn’t hold up technically on Switch, especially in handheld mode, but the attempt is there and can certainly be acknowledged.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack consists of traditional Chinese music from days of old and it is absolutely wonderful. It’s not anything that you wouldn’t expect otherwise but the tracks are catchy and charming, nonetheless. In combat, it focusses on the increased tempo and it fits the bill marvellously.
Final Score: 86%
In an era where classic genres are being revitalised, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin sits comfortably among the best of the beat ’em ups alongside others such as Streets of Rage 4 and River City Girls. The rural Chinese setting makes you feel as though you’re taking past in an 80s kung-fu cult classic and its rich culture paints a picture that is wonderful to get immersed in.
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