Unruly Heroes is set in a world where the harmony is preserved thanks to a sacred scroll. Unfortunately, as is the nature of these scrolls, this particular one ends up torn and scattered across the world. Soon afterwards strange and terrifying creatures begin to stalk the lands, which prompts the arrival of four fearless heroes to step up and restore the balance. The unruly group consists of Sanzang the Wise, Wukong the fearless monkey, Sandmonk the sensitive brute and Kihong the greedy pig. Together these heroes must make a journey west across fantastical worlds in order to find and assemble the pieces of the scroll. It is the only way to restore balance to the world, but the army of evil creatures standing in their way won’t make it easy for them.
If this tale sounds familiar, it is because it is inspired by the 16th century Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Magic Designs Studios have taken the Chinese mythology of the novel and ran with it for the game, creating a world that is rich in detail and populated with memorable enemies. The game takes the form of a 2D action platformer, which sees the heroes battling across four themed worlds spanning close to 30 levels. Cooperation was a strong theme in the novel, so it’s no surprise that Unruly Heroes allows for up to four players to join together. Unfortunately, this cooperative play is restricted to local only, so your friends will have to be next to you on the couch and not online. Solo players don’t have to worry, though, as the game is perfectly playable on your own. You’ll have to put up with having to manually select which hero to use, but playing on your own does have its advantages too.
The first thing anyone will notice about Unruly Heroes is just how good it looks. This is without a doubt one of the best looking 2D games that we have seen using the Unity 3D engine and it is clear to see how much effort has gone into the art. The four main characters look great, but a lot of attention has also been lavished on your foes. Unruly Heroes features a wide assortment of enemies, ranging from lowly bats and alligators to wolves, lizards, ghosts and many others, depending on the theme of the level. Even the smallest of characters feature a ton of detail and half the fun is seeing what kind of creatures each new level throws at you. As good as the enemies look, the bosses look even better. Most of them are pretty intimidating and going up against them is a real rush. The backgrounds are worth a mention too as they look great, but are kept simple enough that they don’t distract from the action. It is pretty neat how on some levels you can see the huge boss character in the background before reaching the end of the level for the actual showdown. There are so many neat visual touches in this game that we only noticed some of the finer details when looking back at the screenshots. Magic Design Studios even went as far as creating brand new “baby” sprites for all four of the main characters to fit the theme of one particular world in the game.
While the world of Unruly Heroes is very pretty, it doesn’t allow for a lot of exploration, so don’t expect a Metroid-vania title. The levels are fairly linear, although you do have to search around a little bit if you plan on collecting the 100 coins on every level and finding the hidden scrolls. There is one hidden scroll per level and finding them unlocks a new piece of art to enjoy. On the other hand, the coins can be used to unlock new costumes for your characters, so there is definitely an incentive to find them all.
One area where Unruly Heroes is definitely not lacking is variety. Typically with platform games you will have seen most of what the game has to offer after only a few levels, but Unruly Heroes manages to keep things fresh right to the very end. Not only are the bosses all really unique, but in addition to beating your enemies you are also going to have to overcome a myriad of obstacles. Some of the traps are simple to avoid, but the game quickly dials up the challenge by throwing more enemies and even puzzles into the mix. You are never sure what to expect from the game, which definitely keeps things exciting. One level might see you being able to possess an enemy and use them to complete a level while another has you flying around on mini clouds, fanning lava stones into breakable rocks or vacuuming darkness into a vase. There are even levels where you have to reverse gravity to proceed or navigate deadly gauntlets where one wrong move can spell instant death. Along the way you will have to master moves like air dashing, dodging and wall jumping as well as the specialties of each character.
In addition to their light and heavy attacks, each one of the four heroes also has their own tricks up their sleeves. Some like Wukong are able to perform a double jump, while others like Sanzang prefers to jump higher and float instead. You’ll also find that there are certain spots in the game that can only be passed with the correct hero. For example, Wukong is the only one that can create bridges over certain obstacles while Kihong has the uncanny ability to inflate himself like a balloon and float to reach higher platforms. Then there’s Sandmonk who can smash through certain types of rocks and Sanzang who can activate certain switches by shooting balls of pure light. These spots are clearly marked with statues, so you are never in any doubt about who to use where.
As much fun as Unruly Heroes is to play, it can also get quite challenging and not always for the right reasons. The first part of the game is almost relaxing, but once you pass the half-way point things really ramp up. Traps and obstacles begin to kill you in one hit, enemies become more relentless and the platforming sections turn into deadly gauntlets that truly test your reflexes and patience. This is also where things begin to falter for co-op players as the camera tend to focus on the player who is in the lead, so if you fall behind or make any type of misstep, you’ll be teleported ahead. This can be confusing and frustrating for the other players and, even worse, you might find that you need a specific character for certain sections only to find that they have died.
Unruly Heroes handles death by turning characters who have lost all their health into little bubbles. These bubbles float around and return the character back to life with a small amount of health when popped. This means that as long as at least one person is still alive to pop the bubbles, it is not the end. However, if all the bubbles are lost, then it’s back to the nearest checkpoint. The bubbles are not always that easy to pop, especially during sections where speed and timing is essential for survival, like when you are being chased across lava by a rampaging monster. Bosses also have this nasty habit of being able to destroy bubbles permanently with their attacks, which can leave the other players twiddling their thumbs while you try to take down a boss on your own.
Perhaps the biggest issue that we had during the thirteen hours it took us to complete Unruly Heroes is the controls. As with most games of this type, it is best played with a controller, but even then the controls just never felt as responsive as we would have liked. In a game like this where you often have to pull off a sequence of moves and abilities in order to survive, the controls just didn’t always feel like they were up to the task. It feels like the animations have priority over the button presses, which can result in a lot of unnecessary deaths. It also makes the game much harder than it could have been, so if you have a potential co-op partner who is easily frustrated you might find yourself having to do large sections on your own. Another issue that is worth mentioning is the audio. Perhaps it is because the visuals are so polished, but some of the voice acting in the game doesn’t feel as good as it could have been. It’s not outright bad, but some of the dialog and ways in which it is delivered just feels out of place for a game of this type. The music is suitably epic sounding, though, and the game is also packed with decent sound effects.
Were it not for the controls we would have scored Unruly Heroes even higher as it truly is a great game with plenty of enjoyable aspects. The combat is a little clunky, as is having to scroll through characters in order when playing on your own, but pulling off a daring escape across traps, crumbling platforms and lava while being chased by something definitely gets the adrenaline pumping. It is really a pity that the developers could not get online co-op working as we feel it would have been a much better experience compared to the local co-op. Playing with a couple of friends next to you, if you can organize it, is still a lot of fun, but can also become frustrating if everyone doesn’t have similar skill levels. The developers have included an online PVP mode, which can also be played locally, but with only five arenas this mode didn’t hold our attention for long.
With tighter controls and less difficulty spikes Unruly Heroes could have been a classic, but even in its current state, it is a very good game. As long as you can handle the frustration of controls that don’t always feel like they are responding to your input, you’ll find plenty to love about Unruly Heroes. It has great visuals, tons of variety and enough levels to keep you busy for quite some time. It is a testament to how much fun the game is that even at its most frustrating, the thought of giving up never crossed our minds. If you are at all a fan of the genre, then Unruly Heroes is worth your attention, just don’t be fooled by its looks that it will be an easy journey to complete.
- OS: Windows 7 (32/64bit versions)
- Processor: Intel Core i3 2100
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: nVidia GeForce GeForce GTX 650
- Storage: 4 GB available space