When it comes to game genre’s that are close to my heart one that I’ll always bring up is beat ‘em ups. I grew up playing games like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and many more so I’m quite fond of them. 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is the latest one to come across my radar when I played the demo for it during the Xbox Summer Games Fest a few months ago. It’s from developer Sobaka Studio, the creators of Redeemer, and is set in Medieval China. If you too are a fan of beat ‘em ups or 70’s kung-fu movies then this might be a game for you.
In this game you play as a Chinese fighter/fisherman named Wei Cheng. Wei’s home comes under attack early in the game by a group of Japanese bandits and he is left on the brink of death. Thankfully, some Shaolin monks rescue him and feeling indebted to them Wei vows to help them take back the land and get his revenge for the death of his family and friends. The story in the game is solid but wasn’t memorable to me which is fine because it wasn’t memorable in most other beat ‘em ups I enjoyed either. What’s most important to any beat ‘em up is the gameplay and that happens to be pretty good.
There are 25 levels in the game in total with the option to play on a few different difficulties. How long it takes you to finish will depend on which of those you play on but It took me around 5-6 hours. As you move through the side-scrolling levels you’ll run into enemies much like other beat ‘em ups. Some enemies can be defeated by just attacking them. Others will be in the level background and you’ll have to parry the projectiles they send at you to take them out. The combat starts out rather simple as you only have your staff to attack with. You have three different attack buttons and mixing them allow you to perform some basic combo attacks. Then there are the Qi attacks that are useful against the stronger enemy types.
As you complete levels you’ll earn skill points and upgrades that can improve your character. Some of these new abilities include two other fighting styles. One features more acrobatic moves while the other gives you magic seals to use. Qi upgrades allow you to charge your attacks or unleash area of attack moves great for taking down crowds. New equipment will boost your stats or give you a new evasive move. I’ll say that some of the upgrades were hard to tell the difference as enemies get tougher as the game goes on as well. There were some encounters that also felt a bit cheap to me but it was nothing I wasn’t able to overcome in time. Every level also has breakable objects littered about that when smashed will reveal some helpful items like tea that will restore your health or restore your Qi.
Now let’s talk about one area that isn’t so great in this game and that’s the graphics. The character models are probably the thing that looks the most outdated but some of the environments have some rough edges to them as well. There is a good variety though as you’ll be moving through villages, caves, bamboo forests and more. One thing I did like about the presentation is the lighting which I felt always looked really good. The music has some nice beats to it and seemed to fit the time period the game is set in rather well. The voice acting throughout was fine and funny enough Wei is played by Daisuke Tsuji. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he’s the same guy who played Jin Sekai in Ghost of Tsushima this year. He delivers the best performance out of anyone in this game as the rest are just kind of average.
Those interested in the trophy list will find 31 in total including a Platinum. Most of them will come by just doing everything in the game but two of the harder ones are to beat the game on hardcore and beat the game without dying. The last thing about the game that I haven’t mentioned yet is that it has support for two players. You can either play with someone else locally or online which I was very happy to see. Any good beat ‘em up is made better when you can bring a friend along so kudos to the development team for getting both local and online support in here.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin isn’t the best beat ‘em up to release this year but it’s a pretty darn solid one. It very much nails the time period it’s set in and it’s got a great combat system with some fun upgrades to earn. It isn’t the prettiest game and some of the voice acting and combat sections are bit hit or miss. If you’re a fan of old Chinese kung fu movies or just want a fun beat ‘em up to play with a friend online or locally then you should give this one a try.
*9 Monkeys of Shaolin is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Reviewed on a PS4 Pro. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin$29.99
- Enjoyable beat 'em up with lots of ways to upgrade your character
- Feels faithful to the time period
- Supports two players locally or online
- Environments have good lighting effects
- Character models and some environment visuals look outdated
- Average voice acting
- Some combat encounters felt a bit cheap