9 Monkeys Of Shaolin gives us yet another treat for fans of side-scrolling beat ’em ups in what’s already a good year for the genre. The game is out now for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC – we’re taking a look at the PS4 version.
With a lot of big name titles not coming out until after the new consoles arrive, we’ve seen a lot of niche genres flourish this year. Fans of real time tactics got Desperados III and, just this week, Partisans 1941, and fans of classic arcade brawlers were treated to Streets of Rage 4, a new Battletoads game and now 9 Monkeys of Shaolin – which might not lean on a classic franchise as much but deserves to be mentioned as a must-have title for fans.
Instead of being a sequel or remake of something that came before, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin channels the classic look and feel of Chinese martial arts movies from back in the day. You’re a local fisherman, and it’s your job to protect your home town from invading forces. When you fall in battle, you’re taken in by an order of Shaolin monks that nurtures you back to health and trains you in their unique brand of martial arts. Before long, you’re on a path for redemption and revenge.
Although there is a narrative, much of the in-game action is focused on brawling, and while the environment is rendered in 3D the game retains much of the gameplay and charm of the old arcade classics in the genre. What makes 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin feel different, however, is the nature of the combat. Protagonist Wei Cheng fights with a staff, creating a very different dynamic as you slash and stab at enemies, keeping them at bay when you’re not launching yourself forward with your staff, planting a foot in their faces.
You also have access to special attacks and magic using the mystical power of “Qi”, which you’ll also need once you encounter enemies of the undead variety. Different enemy types have their own strengths and weaknesses, so a tactic you use one minute might not work as well the next time you run into someone. This is especially true for boss fights, which usually give you a useful new piece of equipment after a win.
Upgrading Wei’s abilities is done at a temple that serves as a central hub of sorts, giving you a place where you can earn rewards for missions that you receive from the monks who live there. This is also where the story branches out, as at times you’ll have the option to choose between different missions to take on. This doesn’t affect the narrative and you can always tackle the other missions later, but a little bit of player choice is always nice.
After the beautiful Streets of Rage 4, 9 Monkeys Of Shaolin is visually a bit underwhelming, but the atmosphere does make up for the somewhat dated visuals with its mix of rain, fire and bamboo forests. The animations are lovely though, and the combat flows beautifully between pummeling, magic and traversing the environment by jumping off using your staff for leverage.
9 Monkeys Of Shaolin might not be as iconic a name as Streets of Rage is, but if you enjoyed that one earlier this year then you’ll certainly want to check out Sobaka Studios’ take on the genre.