The Monkey King (Wii) Review

Every once in a great while, a game will come along that slips completely under the radar of even the most attentive gamer. Suffering from the triple threat of a low production run, terrible or nonexistent marketing, and lack of support from retailers who refuse to even carry it, the game is essentially doomed to obscurity. Only a select few among the gaming masses, either through blind luck or divine intervention, are lucky enough to stumble upon this shadow game, but slowly, these privileged elite spread the gospel of the game’s unappreciated greatness. Eventually, the slow but steady workings of word of mouth escalate Game X up to it’s rightful place in the pantheon of amazing games, and it commands increasingly exorbitant prices in the second hand circuit.

This is not one of those games.

From developer Starfish, makers of the recent Heavenly Guardian (PS2/Wii), comes Monkey King: The Legend Begins, a horizontally scrolling shoot-em-up starring an “adorable” monkey-boy (or girl) riding a cloud, Dragonballz-style. The gimmick is that you can tilt the Wiimote left or right to increase or decrease the speed of the autoscrolling. I would’ve liked for this, the game’s one and only original idea, to factor into play more, since it’s essentially, as I said, just a gimmick. How come there aren’t sections where you have to outrun an obstacle, or bonus enemies that you have to chase down to kill? Even if it’s never implemented in a worthwhile way, this is still a pretty cool little feature, simply because it allows you to slow things down when the action gets too thick (heaven forbid) or, more likely, speed things up to get the game over with sooner. It’s a shame that a perfectly good idea was wasted on a game that doesn’t even have the decency to utilize it.

Much like Gradius, you start out with a terribly ponderous rate of movement, and have to hunt down speed-increasing powerups. Also worth grabbing are weapon-ups, extra lives (which are frighteningly abundant), and health restoring items. Rather than the traditional “instant death” approach to the shooter genre, MK allows you to take a number of hits before respawning, without a break in the action (though you’ll once again find yourself hideously slow, and armed only with a pea-shooter). Once the player reaches the maximum level of firepower, you’re practically unstoppable, and choosing the best bonus weapons pretty much makes it official. For the genre, the game is VERY easy, and jacking the difficulty up to “hard” doesn’t do squat. I feel pretty confident in saying that anyone who’s ever played a shmup before will beat the game in their first sitting, without using a single continue or forming a single bead of sweat.

Upon booting up the game, the developer heartlessly forces the player to make the impossible choice between Story and Arcade modes. Story mode features the traditional combo of anime character portraits (with such varied emotions as “plucky” and “enraged”) with text-based dialog. The storyline is alternately gripping, moving, hilarious, or possibly none of those things. Arcade mode features the same set of levels, but when you beat the final boss, you play through the levels again in reverse, to be greeted by the celebratory ending of “GAME OVER” upon completion. It’s a bit odd playing the levels backwards, since you start each level by fighting the ridiculously easy boss as usual, before doing a bee-line and playing through the level in reverse (with correspondingly reversed tilt controls). When you get to the “beginning” of the level, it simply fades to black without so much as an ounce of pomp. As off-putting as that may be, at that stage of the game you really aren’t questioning things, so you simply proceed full tilt until you see that spartan end screen.

So we’re now at the crucial part of the review where I order you, in as militaristic a manner as I can manage, to either buy or not buy the game. Buy it. It’s only twenty bucks, you’ll be supporting one of the only remaining publishers that bothers to release 2-D shooters outside Japan (UFO Interactive), and you’ll have a fairly good time feeling like the greatest shmup player in history as you plow through the barren and lifeless level designs and pummel the bosses without them even squeezing out so much as a single attack. I’m not kidding; if you’re fully powered up, and using one of the better among the overpowered (and unlimited) subweapons, the bosses will maybe get out a single laughable attack. And they won’t exactly give you fits if you aren’t powered up. Clearly, we aren’t talking about a top-notch game here – it’s dutifully lackluster in every conceivable way – but, well shit, it’s just so damn good at being lackluster. Besides, it’s got somewhat amusing cover art. And if that’s not a reason to buy a game, I don’t know what is.

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on June 22, 2008.

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  5. Just one correction. The floating around on the cloud thing that Goku does in DB is copied from the character Monkey King. Not the other way around. Actually Goku is a form of Monkey (the character.)

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