The authors of Redeemer present themselves with a 3D scrolling fighting game based on fighting monks and oriental folklore.
As players and critics we are often led, by nature, to seek novelty, surprise. To pray for innovation by lighting a candle to the Author, forgetting the foundations of the video game evolution process: genre works. Those that do not recycle but reinterpret with competence, adding elements to an already tested structure, cultivating their work on fertile soil, already run in by countless seasons of good harvest.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin of the Russian team Sobaka Studio (here the review of Redeemer, their previous effort) is a solid exponent of this movement, a genre video game – sliding beat ’em up – set in a context inspired by genre cinema, that of wuxia martial arts which lends itself wonderfully to being adapted in videogame language.
A legend that speaks of revenge, justice and mysticism on the always attractive and evocative background of the Far East of the mid 1500s; between China and Japan, between the high mountain Buddhist monasteries and the beaches of Okinawa. The legend of Wei Cheng and the tragic circumstances that led him to change his name to Daokong and become a devoted and fearful Shaolin monk: in the eyes the burning fire of the native village destroyed by the Wokou, in the heart the memory of a humble and peaceful life fisherman who can no longer be.
The army of the 9 monkeys
If the inspiration from the scenarios, the culture and the spirit of Capcom’s Warriors of Fate (1992) is obvious enough for the fan of the genre, it is also true that Sobaka did not want to anchor himself to an exclusively two-dimensional and vintage gameplay, chosen too much conservative in a landscape where, at the moment, Streets of Rage 4 would tear anyone else apart emulating the “coin-op generation” (incidentally, here’s the review of Streets of Rage 4).
9 Monkeys of Shaolin prefers to show the polygons of the Unreal Engine 4 under the tunic, thus enjoying a three-dimensionality – despite the horizontal scrolling – which becomes synonymous with agility, enhancing a gameplay that tells kung-fu as an extremely fluid art, fast in execution and lethal in the range of the blows. In terms of aesthetics and sensations it is to be placed in a precise period of the videogame timeline, between 2003 and 2004 of PlayStation 2, between The Mark of Kri and Jet Li: Rise to Honor, taking from one the taste for pastel colors and soft lines, the characters with cartoonish proportions and the desire to tell a culture different from one’s own, from the other the taste for a certain type of film, choreography, style and elegance in the hit hard.
Then exalting themselves as both in chaos of overwhelming numerical inferiority, the one that makes you scream “you don’t know who I am!” in front of the screen, against enemies who will attack us from all directions armed with swords, spears, blowguns, bows and smoke bombs. The control of this crowding becomes an irresistible and adrenaline-pumping puzzle game where you manage actions and reactions with a articulated and muscular combat system, true attraction of production. You don’t fight with your bare hands, busy holding the Gùn steady, a classic stick which the carrot never acts as a counterbalance, between lunges and quick, close blows, alternating its whirling with the possibility of launching violent flying kicks.
This is the foundation of a technical fighting style, effective and above all fun to master that in the first hour of the game will continue and evolve and add elements, teaching us two positions complementary to the basic one (activated with the triggers), one dedicated to acrobatic attacks and one to the magical ones, trading Qi (concentration) to explode all the power, physical and mental. The rubbery and plastic animations they glorify the player who is able to tune in to fights divided into arenas within linear levels, often embellished with traps and obstacles.
You dodge a shot and parry another and then start to counterattack with a loaded kick; we find ourselves encircled again, asphyxiated, assembled, the stick whirling to make room and then down to the ground to evoke the archaic power of levitating the adversaries and rendering them helpless to beatings. Like the leaf that gets carried away by the river the player must indulge in the rhythm of the game, acting with that mixture of creativity and automatism which, combined with the character growth system, makes Wei Cheng’s manual and psycho-physical progress tangible.
Each completed level will give us points to humbly offer our master for improve the monk’s skills or learn new ones, but it will also be possible to find new weapons, accessories and shoes with unique characteristics, very useful to customize your fighting style. A non-invasive and never obligatory practice, which indeed entices the completist to clean up even the secondary levels, which in any case already offer unique situations and panoramas. Of course, towards the end you risk being too powerful, at least at normal difficulty levels: a balance problem quite common.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin is still a title that, if you have to choose, he prefers to have fun than to challenge, but in any case the higher difficulty levels are always there to wait for the second run, an ever-present temptation for works of about 5 hours that flow away smoothly. It is then in the clashes with the bosses that the tension towards personal revenge reaches its peak and results in nervous but quite predictable fights and without that escalation of anger that, in other beat ’em ups, always keeps on a tightrope. when the enemy’s vitality can be measured in millimeters.
The emphasis is not lacking on a narrative level, with a dramatic charge that starts from historical events (the raids of the Japanese Wokou pirates in Chinese land) wrapped in habits and customs that are now easily recognizable and reusable, to carry on a story that seems to have lived dozens of times more (we have already named The Mark of Kri, not surprisingly) but which, as often happens, makes the gameplay game.
Unreal Engine 4 Secret Technique
Relying on the Epic engine is a solid choice for Sobaka Studio. This is demonstrated by our test, which saw the title also run on a laptop with a few years on its shoulders and not designed for gaming, at maximum details and maintaining a decent and stable number of frames per second, always around 30. It is also a work that, by choice, seems to come out of a past generation and polished, resulting extremely pleasant and with a strong personality, avoiding much more abused styles.
It is a fact that the settings are stereotyped enough, and the artistic direction never goes beyond what is a superficial vision of the Far East, taking architectures and panoramas directly from popular culture, without demonstrating who knows what in-depth research behind certain choices. . The difference is mainly the always interesting color choices, with the fairly stylized stroke that helps not to take oneself too seriously while in the background there are recognizable ethnic traces, catchy but absolutely generic, like hearing a Chinese chat in his mother tongue without being able to understand which dialect he is speaking.
The presence of crates, barrels and other standard destructible elements is also precious which, together with the lifeless bodies of the enemies who will remain on the ground even at the end of the battle, give a nice feeling of chaos and violence. Then there are small cleaning problems scattered here and there, especially regarding collisions, with shots missing the nose of the assassin on duty for no apparent reason, interpenetrations that prevent you from dodging in agility and small graphic glitches. Nothing striking but if a patch comes “scavenger” would certainly be welcome.
9 Monkeys of ShaolinPC Analyzed Version9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a good genre title, a scrolling beat ’em up with polygonal graphics that enhances the fluidity of an articulated combat system, fun and tasty to explore, punch after punch. In treating the Chinese and Japanese culture of the mid-1500s in a fairly generic way, Sobaka Studio manages to bring out a high-paced videogame wuxia, which throws Shaolin monks, kung-fu, Japanese pirates, magical jade artifacts, ethnic music and panoramas as stereotyped as they are pleasing to the eye, taking particular inspiration from a certain type of filmography. The result is all in all surprising, for what turns out to be a voyage of revenge without artistic, narrative or cultural pretensions, contenting itself with being a very enjoyable and fluid video game “to beat”.