An hour into Unruly Heroes I thought I knew exactly what I thought of Magic Design Studios’ newest game. Two hours in, I was sure of the score I was going to give it. I’m glad I stuck with it, because a few hours in, my opinion was completely changed by the addition of some new gameplay mechanics and unique platforming elements. My hope is to convince you to stick with this game and see where it goes.
That’s not to say the game is bad at the beginning. It was good, but it reminded me so much of a Rayman game. The visuals, the way the characters handle, they way they “float” when they jump, the way they don’t stop running the second you let go of the joystick, it’s all very, very Rayman. That’s not a bad thing, people love Rayman. I recently asked twitter what everyone’s favorite platformer was and Rayman was probably second to only Mario. I was completely unaware of Magic Design Studios’ origin until I started researching their history for this review and learned that the studio was started by a group of talented designers from Ubisoft that worked on, you guessed it, Rayman Legends. I should’ve known. While the gameplay is similar, though, some of the mechanics and the setting are completely new and in some cases, a large step up from their previous work.
Unruly Heroes starts in a typical “Samurai Era” setting in which you’re shown, via a very beautiful cutscene, the basis of our story: There was a sacred scroll that maintained all of the peace in the world. This scroll though has been torn into many pieces and scattered all over the world. Who’s tasked with finding these pieces? Sanzang the wise, Wukong the monkey, Kihong the pig, and Sandmonk the brute! These four characters are the your only playable characters over the course of the game. Each character has special abilities that you’ll need to utilize to get through each level. There may be areas where you’ll need to float over a large gap, or walls that you’ll need to smash down with the brute, or… float upwards as a giant pig-balloon? Pressing L1 switches you through each of your four characters. It’s an easy mechanic, which is important, because you’ll be doing it often.
Each character acts, in a way, like your “lives” in that once you die as one character, you choose another and are transported back to a checkpoint. The character you were playing as will then be a bubble, generally where you died, and once you hit the bubble, they’re returned back to your party. This mechanic makes sense, as there are several areas that you wouldn’t be able to get through if specific party members were missing, but it also makes the game incredibly easy. I played on hard for the majority of the game, and until the final boss, I didn’t know what would happen if you lost all four members of your party without reviving them. (You restart at the previous checkpoint with all four members of your party back) That’s not to say there aren’t difficult sections of the game. Some of the “floaty” mechanics of the game left me frustrated several times, but overall the game isn’t much of a challenge at all.
As I noted earlier, though, the game really opens up a few hours in when the mechanics change entirely. Some of your abilities are completely removed, some new abilities are added, and even the traversal of the areas completely changes. There are areas where you’re essentially “grinding” rails and other areas where you’re shooting projectiles like a bullethell-lite shooter. I’m a sucker for any game that makes me think “why hasn’t anyone done anything like this before?” and Unruly Heroes manages to make you think that a few times in the 10 hours it takes to complete. 10 hours, by the way, was the perfect length for the game. It’s long enough to make you appreciate the gameplay changes, but not so long that it overstays its welcome and becomes monotonous. The spike in difficulty for the final boss may be frustrating for some, but I found it a welcome change in pace to really end the game with a feeling of accomplishment.
That’s not to say the game is without negatives, though. If you know me, you know I’m a big #sounddesign nerd and the sound in this game was less than perfect. Some of the vocal lines sounded like they were recorded too close to a cheap microphone, or slightly “off” and out of place. I couldn’t tell if that was by design or a product of budget constraints. The music was also almost non-existent, which again, reminded me so much of a Rayman game, that it helped me realize why Rayman games always seem “almost great” to me, and not quite perfect. That said, I know most people aren’t as in-tune (pun unintended, but I’m leaving it) with the audio as I am, and probably won’t have any issue with it. Regardless, the game does so many interesting things, that it’s clear that Unruly Heroes was crafted with passion and a desire to show the world that they could create something original and different. Similarly, while the four characters you play as don’t show a ton of personality, the villains in this game are awesome. The art design, the dialogue, the characterization of all of the main villains are all really great, and showed more of the passion that went into the creation of this game.
Unruly Heroes is a very, very good 2d platformer, a genre that I hold incredibly near and dear to my heart. The story is good, the gameplay is great, and the addition of some of the mechanics is so surprising that I think in a few years there will be several games that we’ll point back to and say “well that was cool, but they borrowed that mechanic from Unruly Heroes.” I’m thoroughly impressed with Magic Design Studios’ effort and look forward to seeing what they come up with next. At $19.99 on PSN, this game is more than worth a look if you’re a fan of 2d platformers at all. While I may have given this game a “pretty good” 7 early on, by the end I’m more than confident with the 8.5 I’ve given Unruly Heroes.