Platforming games, it seems, are in a mini-renaissance in the indie game market. Countless titles are available as digital downloads, testing the twitch reflexes of many a player. They can spend years honing their speedrunning skills for the perfect run on any given level. One unique niche in platforming games today is the co-op platformer, which in of itself is its own brand of chaos.
Starting with New Super Mario Bros., co-op platformers have surged in popularity in both indie and AAA marketplaces. Of course, standing out is just as difficult. It's a sad fact that the saturated marketplace has tons of games of varying quality, all vying for attention and your wallet. This is the problem that can plague titles such as Unruly Heroes; it’s a great puzzle platformer by indie developer Magic Design Studios, but what does it really do to make an impression?
Unruly Heroes is basically a tongue in cheek version of Journey to the West. Players must navigate 29 levels as the four main characters of Wukong, Sanzang, Kihong, and Sandmonk. The game is a straightforward platformer in the vein of Rayman Legends. You can either cycle through the four characters on the fly or play co-op with up to three friends online.
Gameplay in Unruly Heroes
Unruly Heroes offers a solid challenge to its gameplay through clever use of design mechanics. Each of the four heroes plays to unique strengths, whether it is jumping prowess, attack power and reach, and even special abilities for each hero to use strategically. Sandmonk is strong but has all short-range attacks, while Wukong is agile and has arguably the longest double jump in the game. Sanzang can’t double jump, but along with Kihong is able to glide like Princess Peach in Super Mario Bros. 2.
Combining all these abilities is how players will navigate both combat and platforming. A certain hero may be suitable for surviving a tricky platforming section that requires precise double jumps, or maybe brute force is required to take down a particularly difficult opponent blocking your path. Each character also has a unique ability that helps the player progress further into the game. Kihong, for example, can balloon his body to float through high passages, while Sanzang uses balls of magical energy like a Peggle machine to open certain gates. Three of these special abilities are activated by magic statues that populate the level and add to the game’s high emphasis on puzzle platforming.
Fighting in Unruly Heroes does occur, but the real meat of the action outside of boss battles is navigating different puzzle and platforming challenges. Each level is roughly 4-10 minutes in length on average, and each level also contains a section or two that offers a mini challenge to overcome. The level design in this purely mechanical way is expertly done, offering players just enough variety to test their skills and speed running capabilities.
Aesthetics and Appeal in Unruly Heroes
The only thing lacking is unique levels to break up the standard platforming action. The only real levels that fit that here are a handful of sections where the player gets to possess an enemy to help them navigate a whole level. It is an interesting addition, but it plays more like a gimmick than anything else, ripping off Super Mario Odyssey of all things to try and break the normal platforming action. It happens so infrequently that it becomes more of an afterthought than anything else.
Visually, Unruly Heroes is a treat. Characters are cartoonish and overly exaggerated, but the general zaniness of their design fits with the soft, watercolor tones. Since Magic Design Studios contains a ton of developers who worked on Rayman Legends, you can see that hand-drawn style as a massive influence for the art direction of Unruly Heroes. The biggest problem though is the characters are not super expressive, and everything from enemies to the heroes kind of feels a bit bland in comparison to what their designs should convey. The sound design gives us the standard mix of Chinese-styled music with some quirky sound effects thrown in. The voice acting purposefully hams it up, trying hard at a light-hearted tone over a serious take on the source material. Even so, it lacks some of the charm that its influences use to great effect.
The biggest problem with Unruly Heroes is ultimately how it sort of blends into the crowd. Visually striking, the game is certainly a solid platformer that really shines with multiplayer support. The game's 29 levels all support co-op. All that plus a PvP mode is just enough to give players a reason to play together. Outside of completion and high scores, the only other incentive is collecting all the coins and scrolls in each level.
Unruly Heroes Review | Final Thoughts
It’s not that Unruly Heroes is bad. In fact, it’s a quite solid platformer. It’s just a bit bland overall when you compare it to similar games. The Rayman Legends comparisons are somewhat obvious, but Unruly Heroes lacks any sort of funny appeal that Rayman had. A bigger problem is the growing co-op platformer market is full of longer, more engaging experiences. Most of these games add value through levels, challenge or a more appealing hook.
For Unruly Heroes, it has no overt gimmicks or back of the box selling points to stand out. To be fair, it doesn’t need them either. Possessing enemies aside, the gameplay feels finely tuned. In additoin, there's a colorful visual aesthetic that's sure to attract some attention. It is the definition of a solid game, but far from being one that is groundbreaking in any way.
If nothing else, Unruly Heroes will certainly satisfy the platforming crowd with its dazzling aesthetics and solid gameplay. It is an easy game to recommend whether you're on your own or with a group of friends. It suits anyone looking for a nice challenge in their platforming goodness.
A solid platforming experience, Unruly Heroes biggest issue is less its mechanics, and more its overall presentation. Stylish to a point, even its cartoonish aesthetics can't help but see it struggle to stand out.
- Great Visual Design...
- Solid Game Mechanics...
- Just Enough Variety in Levels...
- Overall Solid Game
- ...That Lacks Any Charm
- ...Kind of a Boring Package Overall
- ...Gimmicky Possession Sections