Unruly Heroes is a gorgeous 2D action platformer inspired by Journey to the West, the same mythological novel which inspired the original Dragon Ball series. While it’s gameplay is easy to learn and it’s design is decent overall, it may not be approachable for those not accustomed to high intensity platformers.
Title: Unruly Heroes
Developer & Publisher: Magic Design Studios
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by Publisher
Interface: Controller or Mouse and Keyboard (Controller Recommended)
Available on Nintendo Switch eShop, PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Steam.
In Unruly Heroes, there are four characters to switch between: Wukong the monkey, Sanzang the wise, Kihong the pig, and Sandmonk. Wukong and Sand Monk have the ability to double jump, while the Sanzang and Kihong can glide. Wukong and Sanzang have speed on their side, but Kihong and Sandmonk are a little slower. Each character is necessary for different situations, and three out of four utilize these unique abilities when statues of them are encountered in a level, with the Sand Monk being able to break certain barriers instead of using a statue of his own. This is a great way to provide balance, letting you try out and use each character to determine which are best for specific sections instead of just sticking to one character for the entire campaign. Unfortunately, while switching between characters is a quick change, it can only be done in one direction since the button that would switch characters in the other direction is used for the dodge roll and aerial dodge, providing a minor yet slightly annoying inconvenience.
There are plenty of different enemies to defeat in each level, and most levels have a boss at some point rather than always at the end. To deal with enemies and bosses, each character has a basic light attack and heavy attack, as well as a special attack which can be used once their energy meter has been completely filled by performing combos. Minor enemies can be defeated quickly enough once their attack pattern is understood, with later enemies having attacks that are much harder to avoid, which become a nuisance once they’re combined with the more punishing platforming sections in later levels. One of the most surprising features that Unruly Heroes lacks is any kind of upgrade system, so health, energy, and attacks stay the same throughout the entire campaign despite the increasing difficulty as it continues. This may make Unruly Heroes more of a challenge for those who are seeking one, but makes combat stale after some time, and less accessible for those who prefer platformers where they can more easily see their improvement as they progress.
In select levels, you can even control several specific enemies with their own set of as well as lack of abilities. This intriguing feature adds more variety to the puzzle solving of each level, however, their lack of the abilities you’ve become used to by that point, such as double jumping and gliding, provides another minor setback if only for a short while. Otherwise, these enemy specific levels are a well-needed break from the monotony of using the same four characters and their lack of attack variety for most of the levels in a world.
In addition to level bosses, there are also larger bosses at the end of each world who have their own level. These boss fights consists of learning attack patterns as well as figuring out the best way to utilize constantly moving platforms and avoid obstacles. While being able to constantly revive your characters with another if they die is useful, their bubbles will disappear if they’re hit by one of the bosses attacks and sometimes take much longer than they should to float near you. It’s best to get that character back as quickly as possible if you can reach it and manage to avoid the boss as much as you can at the same time, but this isn’t always as easy as it sounds when you’re still learning attack patterns and figuring out the best course of action.
While the platforming is easy and relatively straightforward at first, it doesn’t take long for it to become perhaps the toughest aspect to deal with. Save points are a godsend for these sections, but it constantly feels like there aren’t quite enough of them, and while there are some checkpoints throughout the harder platforming sections, unlike save points they don’t revive your characters or restore your health. Personally I found many of these sections to be aggravating, with level completion taking much longer than I felt it should. The one saving grace is that in a certain series of levels you learn how to use the special platforms only featured in that world, with the section feeling much more like a fun amusement park rather than an anger inducing and repetitive trip to the DMV. This feeling doesn’t last throughout that whole section however, and becomes just as frustrating as other sections once obstacles that decrease your health or cause instant death the majority of the time are introduced alongside new enemies. Having to maneuver between platforms while fighting several enemies and having to avoid their attacks as much as you can if you don’t want to lose your characters or start the section over adds yet another layer of difficulty and frustration. If the developers had just managed to recreate the feeling from the earlier levels in that world, or perhaps added in difficulty options, I feel that Unruly Heroes would be a more pleasant and less enraging experience in general.
In addition to single player, the game can also be played cooperatively with up to three other players. This can be helpful for some sections when there are several things going on at once, such as trying to fight enemies and solve a puzzle and the same time. Co-op is also useful when you’re able to work as a team against bosses and revive each other when having trouble, however, it can also be more of a detriment to the experience during the later platforming sections unless all players involved are high intensity platformer veterans.
There’s also a PVP mode where up to four players can go head to head locally or online in one of several arenas based on each different world of the main campaign. The PVP mode has time limits, stock, controllable enemies, and bonuses, all of which can be changed before starting the battle. It might be a fun mode to play with four players if you don’t have any similar yet better options, but otherwise feels unnecessary and tacked on. The limited amount of characters only further diminishes its necessity.
While the graphics are fine for the most part, sometimes characters seem too far from the camera in larger sections, in turn making some platforming sections harder to see. Although the lack of the ability to move the camera slightly when solving a puzzle that isn’t completely shown on the screen is just another small shortcoming, it can temporarily impede your traversal through a level, once again causing levels to take a longer amount of time to complete. The artwork of Unruly Heroes itself is gorgeous, as expected from a title by Magic Design Studios, and artwork can be unlocked by collecting scrolls hidden in mostly hard to reach areas throughout each level, providing an additional challenge for players who want one. While the soundtrack sounds fine, not many tracks were all that memorable, with the exception of a few tracks during certain levels and boss fights.
Unruly Heroes is a well made game with plenty of great aspects, but it’s lack of certain expected features and absence of difficulty options decreases its accessibility. This is also what keeps it from being the standout title it could be for the genre. It’s best recommended for fans of frustratingly intense modern platformers, as long as they don’t mind having a few puzzles thrown into the mix.