9 Monkeys of Shaolin (PS4, Switch, Xbox One, PC)

In ancient China, Wei Cheng is a fisherman who uses martial arts with a staff to protect his village from pirates.  One day the pirates get the better of him and his grandfather goes missing.  Left for dead, Wei Cheng is found by monks who take him back to their temple and heal him.  Now he must learn new skills from the monks so he can seek revenge on the pirates.  9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a classic styled side scrolling beat ‘em up with RPG and story elements, and it’s available on nearly all current consoles and PC, but reviewed on PS4 here.

Each area in the game is played in typical side scrolling beat ‘em up fashion.  You’ll travel left to right through bamboo forests, villages, and other locations you’d expect to see in ancient China.  You can press the X button to do a rolling dash, which also lets you jump over gaps.  The triangle button does a quick slash attack, while the circle button does a slower but stronger thrust move.  If you need to hit a far away enemy, use the square button for a vaulting flying kick to bridge the gap.  Enemies in trees and on roofs can shoot blow darts at you, so use the L1 shoulder button to deflect their projectiles back at them.  You can also play the game with another person, which probably makes it easier.

Later on in the game you’ll learn Chi skills where you can hold down the buttons or press the R2 or L2 shoulder buttons along with attacks to perform new moves.  But these take Chi power from your meter, which you have to wait for it to fill again.  Destroy boxes and barrels and you might find green tea to refill your health.  The neat thing is that you don’t use them right away.  You can save them for later and use them with the d-pad when your health is low.  After mission stages you will visit the temple where you can talk to monks and do various things.  One monk will let you divvy points you earn in battle onto skill trees that will enhance your abilities.  Another will let you equip weapons and items, and another will let you pick the next stage to tackle.

While I do like that this game reminds me of old martial arts movies from the 70’s, there are also a lot of problems with this one.  Stages are a little bland and generic and even on the novice difficulty setting, it’s pretty tough.  There’s also a bit too much story and text for my liking and while controls are decent, I oftentimes got buttons mixed up!  I also got stuck one time and couldn’t move and had to restart that stage, so it’s a bit buggy, too.  It’s a perfectly serviceable beat ‘em up, but decidedly average and if I wanted to play a game like this, I’d rather go with Streets of Rage 4.

Kid Factor:

9 Monkeys of Shaolin is rated T for Teen with ESRB descriptors of Language, Blood, and Violence.  While you do smack enemies around with your staff and kicks, they just fall to the ground when defeated, and I didn’t notice too much blood.  There are some bad words in the text from time to time, but I’d be OK with older kids playing this.  While most of the text is followed by spoken voice (I swear the main character sounds like Samurai Jack), reading skill is still helpful and younger gamers may find it too difficult.

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