Unruly Heroes

A game by Magic Design Studios for PC, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4, originally released in 2019.
Unruly Heroes is an action-platformer starring four playable characters, each based on one of the primary characters from the ancient Chinese novel Journey to the West. The classic tale is one ripe for use in modern retellings and adaptations, with numerous films, television shows, and even video games based on this story (often only loosely). In fact, the tale has already been woven into such video games as SonSon, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and Sun Wukong vs Robot, the last of which was released mere days before Unruly Heroes.

In this game, a sacred scroll has been torn and scattered by dark forces, undoing the world’s harmonious nature and allowing creatures to spill forth to terrorize the land. You take on the role of an oddball quartet of warriors who must travel west to defeat these creatures and restore order. The heroes are named Sanzang, Wukong, Kihong, and Sandmonk, representing the monk Tang Sanzang and his three disciples: the monkey king Sun Wukong, the man-pig Zhu Bajie, and the monstrous-looking friar Sha Wujing.

Each of these warriors has a unique moveset, attacks, and special abilities, allowing the player to swap between them as needed to take advantage of their individual strengths, or multiple players can team up for 4P local co-op, or they can fight each other in local or online PvP.

All characters share the ability to auto-mount ledges, grab enemies, perform a dodge roll, hang in the air while performing aerial attacks, perform downward strikes when jumping, wall grab, and wall slide. Most characters can’t jump up vertical surfaces, but Sanzang and Kihong can – just barely – due to their long hang time when gliding. Each character also has a unique special attack that can only be used when a secondary meter is charged, which is done by killing enemies or collecting gourds that fill the meter and provide some health restoration.

Wukong is a powerful monkey warrior who uses his legendary staff to hit enemies on the ground with a 4-hit combo that finishes with a slow overhead strike. While jumping, he has a 5-hit combo that finishes with a wide-range spinning strike, and attacking while jumping lets him hang in the air for a bit, which is useful given that many enemies require multiple hits to defeat, and some are airborne. Attacking while pressing UP allows him to perform an upward swing, and pressing DOWN and ATTACK while jumping causes him to slam to the ground, damaging enemies below him, even those that are shielded from attacks from a given direction.

His ranged attack allows him to toss his staff boomerang-style to damage rows of enemies for weak damage, and he can mix this attack into a regular combo. Pressing UP and using the ranged attack allows him to transform into a bird and fly in a large circle, damaging any enemies he comes into contact with. His special attack allows him to make a bunch of copies of himself that attack nearby enemies, just as the legendary monkey king could pluck his hairs and transform them into weapons or clones of himself. When running, a regular attack causes him to lunge forward with his staff, and performing a long range attack after jumping causes him to swing his staff around in a circle horizontally. Often, Wukong whoops and hollers as he unleashes a flurry of attacks.

Sanzang, the monk, cannot double jump, but he has an incredibly high variable jump and the ability to float down to the ground very slowly, making him (and Kihong) very good for crossing large gaps or dealing with crumbling platforms. Sanzang has seven glowing orbs that float above his head, and he summons these for various attack types, such as a 4-hit ground combo and a 5-hit air combo with a big finisher of spinning orbs. Pressing UP and ATTACK sends one orb out in front of him which bounces upward, and his long range attack shoots a huge ball of light forward. Lunging attacks send orbs forward, and jumping long range attacks create a ring of orbs that encircle him, while the special attack also creates a ring of spinning orbs that damages nearby enemies.

Kihong, the pig, is a stout fellow who carries a rake as his weapon, just as did his legendary antecedent. Like Sanzang, he as a very high variable jump, although his upward jumping speed is faster, and he flaps his pig ears to slow his descent to a crawl. With his rake, he can unleash a 4-hit ground combo with the final strike causing his body to inflate as he flips upside-down on his head to deliver a heavy blow. In the air, he has a 5-hit combo with the fourth hit causing him to swell to a huge size, and the fifth hit sending him rolling through the air for a short distance, followed by a spinning strike.

For his upward attack, Kihong jabs his rake into the air a few times, and his ranged attack allows him to belch forth a green cloud that hangs in the air for a few seconds, causing continuous damage to enemies that come in contact with it. He can also perform a cartwheel by attacking while running, and a long range attack where he inflates, and his special attack causes him to swell up and turn into a huge spinning wheel that the player can move to the left or right, and it causes continuous damage to any enemy it touches, although each individual hit is fairly weak.

Of all the characters, Kihong’s animations are the most humorous, what with his body inflating and his flapping pig ears, but even his dodge roll is cute as he rolls forward, accompanied by balloon bouncing sound effect, after which he scrambles to find his footing for a moment.

The Sandmonk is a brute of a creature with a hulking body and bright red hair and beard, and he is the only character that can smash through stone walls, which he does with his fists. He has double jump similar to that of Wukong, but he carries no weapons, so all of his attacks are done with his bare hands. He has a 5-hit ground combo that results in a flurry of strikes on the third and fourth button press, and a double-fisted ground slam on the fifth. His air combo is only four hits, and it’s also much slower than his ground combo and has a shorter range than that of the other characters.

Attacking upward results in an uppercut, and instead of grabbing and throwing enemies, he slams his hands together Hulk-style for a short range attack. He also has a jumping backflip kick, a short lunge, a running knee strike, and a long-range spinning fist attack. His special attack causes him to turn into a really huge version of himself for a few seconds, allowing him to do extra damage with his attacks.

In addition to these four characters, there are a few opportunities to possess the body of another creature – although the player can exit the body at any time – and these creatures have their own movesets and additional abilities. In one sequence, the player simultaneously controls a pair of spear-tossing wolves, with one in the foreground and one in the background, and the pair have to work together to clear obstacles ahead. You also battle enemies in this form, and you can rescue caged wolves and then howl to summon them to fight alongside you, or use them to weigh down platforms to open the way forward.

Whenever a character is killed, the player is able to select another playable character (assuming the player isn’t playing 4P co-op), and the killed character's soul returns in the form of a floating bubble, and the bubble remains onscreen following the living characters. When attacked by one of the other characters, the bubble is popped and the killed character returns to the action, albeit with only a sliver of health, and his special meter drained. Still, it’s enough to sustain a few hits, and it means that players can complete nearly any challenge – including boss fights – through attrition.

Checkpoints appear frequently, but they can only be used by spending accumulated energy that is gained by killing enemies. That said, enemies always appear with enough frequency to activate each checkpoint if you don’t bypass them, and the fact that killed characters can return to life makes returning to a checkpoint a rare event. Most levels are straightforward with light platforming challenges. In the few instances where the player deals with insta-kill level hazards, the next character is respawned at a close safe point, but otherwise the character is respawned very close to where the previous character was killed.

Each level has 100 coins to be collected, as well as a scroll hidden somewhere in the level. The coins are used to unlock new skins for each of the four characters, which alter their color scheme and clothing, and the scrolls unlock artwork. An end-level ranking system grants you a trophy based on your performance, displaying your completion time, number of coins collected, and number of deaths. Indicators show whether you found all 100 coins and/or the scroll, in case you’d like to play the level again to find everything.

In a few places, the player has to complete minor puzzle-platforming challenges that require him to push statues, activate switches, or launch objects to hit targets in the environment. Statues themed to the characters allow them to perform contextual actions, such as the monkey statue that allows Wukong to create an enormous version of his staff (as could his ancient counterpart) and walk across it to cross otherwise impassible pits of spikes and other hazards. The staff disappears if he attacks (because he uses his staff to attack), but other characters may attack freely.

A pig statue allows Kihong to inflate and float slowly upward, often through narrow passages. These challenges require the player to steer the swollen pig through rows of spikes, as touching them causes him to deflate and fall back down. The player can also let out a bit of air, which propels Kihong upward a bit more quickly while slightly reducing his size, allowing him to fit through smaller openings.

Dealing with enemies is slow work, given that most of them can absorb quite a lot of damage before being killed, despite the wide array of combat techniques available to the player. In the end, players will find themselves repeating combo cycles again and again as they work to wear down enemy life bars, regardless of their chosen character. Some of these foes can also attack from a distance by tossing spears or other projectiles, requiring the player to get in close to give them the pummeling they deserve.

Boss battles are even more drawn out, with minibosses having lengthy life bars, and proper bosses having equally long life bars combined with periods of invincibility or times when they are positioned out of the player’s reach. As such, most boss battles consist of running around avoiding attacks until the opportunity to strike opens… leading to frustration when the player whiffs an attack or gets his character killed as he tries to reach the boss’ weak point.

There is a goodly amount of environmental variety, which is further enhanced by the detailed and colorful visuals of the game world. Players will find themselves pushing against wind currents, attacking glowing plants to reveal hidden platforms and enemies, dashing through false walls to find hidden coins or gourds, and sliding down slopes to send themselves flying through the air.

The game world is lush, beautiful, and varied from level to level, with lots of little design elements to add to the flavor of the world, such as visual elements appearing blurred in the foreground and background layers, bits of cloth or splintered wood tucked here and there, plants sticking up along the ground, and gnarled trees in the background.

Even underground areas are aesthetically pleasing, offering the same amount of detail, along with cooler lighting temperatures to enhance the mood. The game is also fully voiced (the protagonists are silent), with regular interactions between the characters and various bosses, as well as a floating cloud goddess who offers instructions and advice. There’s a bit of humor here as well, particularly with your guide who is a bit too casual and unprepared for the world-saving deeds needed from the heroes.

Unruly Heroes was developed by Magic Design Studios, a studio founded in 2015 and based in Montpellier, France. The studio was founded by three people but grew to more than 20 team members, some of whom were formerly of Ubisoft Montpelier, the creators of Rayman Legends (along with a number of other major Ubisoft franchises), which explains some of the similarities in gameplay and style.