Review – Monkey King: Hero is Back

I was looking forward to playing Monkey King: Hero is Back for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it looked like a charming 3D mascot platformer, and anyone who has met me knows this is my favorite genre of gaming. There is also the fact that this game is actually a movie tie-in, being based on a Chinese animated picture released a few years ago. Finally, I wanted to see if China would manage to pull off another great game this generation, after releasing the excellent ICEY a few years ago. After playing Monkey King, I can safely say that it entertained me quite a bit, but not without its fair share of issues.

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This completely unenthusiastic monkey is totally my spirit animal.

Monkey King: Hero is Back is clearly based off the Journey to the West tale. You know, that one extremely famous Chinese tale that inspired everything from Dragon Ball to the criminally underrated Enslaved: Odyssey to the West game. In this case, you take control of Sun Wukong, traversing through many landscapes, defeating monsters, and helping people out. All of this in an effort to get rid of magic shackles that can only be destroyed by performing good deeds. It’s not exactly a deep plot, as it comes from a children’s movie, but it gets the job done. The setting more than makes up for it.

The best thing about Monkey King: Hero is Back is how absurdly gorgeous it looks. This is no hyperbole: this is easily one of the best-looking games I’ve ever seen on a console. I did watch the movie before tackling the game, and I can honestly say both look almost identical. The character models are excellent, the lighting effects are sublime, the animations are fantastic, and the usage of colors is a breath of fresh air in this day and age full of gray and brown games. The single act of watching Sun Wukong spin his arms when preparing a punch ended up being a delight. I have zero complaints regarding the graphics; they’re just that good.

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It’s a gorgeous game, without a doubt.

Sadly, I can’t call a game good just because it looks good. Once you get past the beautiful visuals, you’ll start noticing Monkey King‘s numerous flaws. Most of them stem from the fact that it still suffers from “movie tie-in syndrome”, despite its fancier production values.

The gameplay isn’t bad, but it’s largely forgettable. Have you ever played any action-platformer based on an animated movie? Well, chances are you’ve played what Monkey King has to offer. It’s not a terrible control scheme, as the commands are actually responsive, but it’s very by-the-books: quick attack, strong attack, dash, jump, and a button to trigger a special ability. The combat is very basic, harmless, and at the beginning of the game, very slow and devoid of creativity. Once you progress through the story, you’ll acquire new skills to increase the amount of regular and magic attacks you can perform, making things just a tad bit more entertaining.

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They’re so ugly, yet they still look so good.

The game’s pacing is a bit off-putting. The biggest problem is the sheer amount of segments in which you’re stuck in a corridor without the possibility of running. You’re forced to slowly walk to the end of the screen while exposition is being shoved into your ears. This leads to my biggest issue with Monkey King.

The sound department is severely disappointing. There’s a lot of good in here, but it’s equally tarnished by some terrible, truly awful bits. The soundtrack is surprisingly good, as it’s filled with classic Chinese instruments and folk elements that really fit with the overall setting. The problem is, you’ll barely listen to the great soundtrack because of the bad sound mixing and the obnoxious voice acting. It’s terrible, it’s too loud, and the worst offender of all, it’s too frequent, to the point it sounds intrusive. The little kid’s voice performance is the absolute worst, especially whenever he shouted that monsters were coming my way.

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That doesn’t look violating at all…

Monkey King: Hero is Back felt like going out on a date with a gorgeous, but slightly shallow person. I fell for its jaw-dropping looks right from the get-go, but started to realize there wasn’t a lot of personality to keep me interested for long. Then I finally found some things I liked about it, just enough to make my time with it worth spending at the end of the day. Maybe I expected a bit too much from a game like this, but I don’t regret playing it. It’s certainly a unique game like no other in the PS4 library. It’s also a testament to the growing Chinese game development industry. ICEY is not the only above average game to come out from China anymore and I can finally remove the terrible taste Sword & Fairy 6 left in my mouth.


Graphics: 10

Monkey King is easily one of the most gorgeous games to ever grace the PS4, looking exactly like its movie counterpart.

Gameplay: 6.5

Everything in here is either too basic or just functional enough. The combat is slow, but functional. The platforming is simple. The progression system is very basic and harmless. The camera controls are decent enough once you tweak the sensitivity settings a bit.

Sound: 5.5

Even though the soundtrack is surprisingly good, the game’s sound department is hindered by poor audio mixing and horrendously irritating voice acting.

Fun Factor: 7.0

Monkey King starts off promising, then becomes a boring slog, then gets interesting once again as soon as you acquire new techniques and fight more complicated monsters.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Monkey King: Hero is Back is available now on PS4 and PC.

Reviewed on PS4.

A copy of Monkey King: Hero is Back was provided by the publisher.