Review – The Legend of Tianding (PS5)

I love when I get to watch a movie or play a game based on an exaggerated interpretation of a local folk hero. This was one of the (many) reasons I loved watching RRR last year, knowing the main characters were actually based on real-life folk heroes fighting for the independence of their land. The Legend of Tianding is a similar case, though nowhere near as over-the-top. This enjoyable side-scroller is based on the real life character of Liao Tianding, a person best described as “the Taiwanese Robin Hood” (they actually call him that in-game), who fought against Japanese colonialism in the early 1900s. Thankfully, we get to experience this in a pretty good platformer.

The Legend of Tianding Beggars

This game might have broken a Guinness World Record on the largest concentration of beggars per megabyte. Jeez.

The first thing to know about The Legend of Tianding is that it’s actually a remake… of a Flash game. Yep, no joke. Way back in 2004, when we were enjoying the hell out of Miniclip and Newgrounds, some Taiwanese developers released a surprisingly robust Flash game called Shényǐng Wúzōng Liào Tiāndīng, which became a local cult hit. I don’t know the logistics or reasons behind remaking it eighteen years later as a much meatier, full-fledged game (maybe it was the death of Flash altogether?), but this is how we got The Legend of Tianding.

The game takes place in 1909, in a town called Dadaocheng, during the Japanese colonial rule of the island of Taiwan. Police brutality is commonplace, and corrupt individuals use their connections to the colonizers for their own gain. Meanwhile, the population is suffering from poverty, starvation, crime, you name it. Not exactly the best time and place to enjoy life. In the midst of all of this, there’s a lad called Liao Tianding, a rebellious figure who dedicates his life to ridding Taiwan of corruption, all while stealing from the rich in order to give to the poor. As previously mentioned, a Taiwanese Robin Hood.

The Legend of Tianding Visuals

The Legend of Tianding features a gorgeous art style…

It’s part Robin Hood, part classic Kung Fu cinema, and part tales of colonialism. The setting is downright amazing, and it’s backed by a fantastic art style. The Legend of Tianding looks like a colorized old-school manga, with a similar character design philosophy as classics like Barefoot Gen and Speed Racer. It’s not exaggerated as moden shonen tend to be. The game presents its cutscenes in a mixture between comic book panels, Chinese voice acting, and the occasional in-engine animated sequence. All in all, a great way to present its story. With that being said…

For as much as I loved the art style, I didn’t like the game’s level design. It’s a detriment to how great its foundations are. You spend a lot of time indoors, in really generic settings, such as the interior of buildings and sewers. Hell, the first level of the game is set inside a never-ending sewer complex, the single most generic setting you can have in a video game. Thankfully, for as generic as its level design can be, The Legend of Tianding is backed by some really solid gameplay.

The Legend of Tianding Levels

Too bad you spend a good chunk of your playtime inside generic levels, such as sewers and interiors.

At its core, The Legend of Tianding is a 2D platformer, with a big emphasis on fast-paced traversal and solid fighting mechanics. Tianding has some borderline ninja-like abilities, such as using a grappling hook to float around the level like a Taiwanese Spider-Man, tons of different kung fu skills, and a rope mechanics, letting him briefly stun a foe and steal his weapon. With that, Tianding can pick up and briefly use bo staffs, rapiers, axes, even pistols. Thanks to some aerial attacks, you can throw enemies on the air and perform juggle combos, not unlike a fighting game.

Everything is backed by some really responsive controls. Even though the game does not allow the usage of the D-pad for its movement (usually a given in a 2D platformer), performing directional combos (not unlike Super Smash Bros) is fast-paced and intuitive. The game doesn’t take a lot of time explaining you its mechanics: it usually announces you have unlocked a new feature, and already throws a barrage of enemies towards you so you can test it out. It helps out a ton with pacing, even though this same aspect is then hampered by how the story occasionally progresses, with long, boring dialogue sections.

The Legend of Tianding Followers

“Can it wait for a bit? I’m in the middle of some calibrations.”

I’ll confess that I expected little from The Legend of Tianding due to its origins as a remake of a Flash game, as well as the minute amount of hype garnered when it first came out last year, but I was really pleased with the game as a whole. Even if its art style is hampered by some dull level design, and its pacing can occasionally be a bit dull, its gameplay was just good enough to make me (mostly) ignore these setbacks. It’s a little hidden gem of a game that made me actively search for more info on the folk hero its plot is based on.


Graphics: 7.5

The old school manga art style is phenomenal, but it is then hampered by some really generic level design.

Gameplay: 9.0

An awesome combination of fast-paced precision platforming and simple (but responsive) fighting mechanics. You can traverse through levels like a Taiwanese Spider-Man, and steal weapons from enemies with style.

Sound: 7.0

Some good tunes here, some decent Chinese voice acting there, but for the most part, the game just drops average tunes and repetitive sound clips.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Mechanically-speaking, The Legend of Tianding is excellent. Its combat is great and its boss battles are a blast. Its pacing is occasionally dull, its script isn’t as interesting as its premise, and its level design is a letdown, but as a whole, I had a great time with this Taiwanese cult hit.

Final Verdict: 8.0

The Legend of Tianding is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on PS5.

A copy of The Legend of Tianding was provided by the publisher.