They shouldn't have changed the boxart. When The Monkey King: The Legend Begins was first announced, its initial packaging
was colorful and vibrant -- featuring anime-styled cartoon characters smiling wide and striking a stylish pose. But before the game shipped to stores last May, its cover was altered to the drab, realistic, far more boring rendition you now see pictured to the right. I'm sure the decision damaged sales.
Which is unfortunate, because, while The Monkey King is in no way a must-own title on Wii, it is an average effort that could have made a stronger case for being worth its budget price if its art had remained the same -- the cartoon characters that did adorn it to begin with, after all, are the same as what you'll see in the game itself anyway. They are Wukung Chen and Mei Mei. And they're training to be Cloud Masters.
The Monkey King is a side-scrolling shooter that puts you in control of one of the two young half-monkey, half-human kids and sends you out to defeat the sinister forces of evil plaguing ancient China. The child heroes can't fly under their own power through each of the game's levels though, so they each ride a floating green cloud -- just like Goku in the earlier parts of the Dragon Ball series
. That's the Cloud Master part.
But they're not masters to begin with, instead beginning the game as simple apprentices and having to rise in rank and title over time by successfully completing stages and destroying the big bosses that lurk at the end of each one. The Monkey King is unique in that regard -- because, if you want, you can play a Story Mode that offers dialogue scenes featuring Wukung and Mei Mei talking with their wise old teacher in-between each level. Good old Gradius
never did that.
And those other old classic shooters also never had access to The Monkey King's other novel addition -- tilt-controlled acceleration. You play the game by holding your Wii Remote sideways, in the classic "NES style" configuration. But while that's as traditional as it gets you can, at any time, twist the Remote to the left to decelerate your progress on the screen. Or, alternatively, twist it to the right to speed up your character's movement. That's a pretty new idea.
It's just a shame that it doesn't really work. The Remote-twisting concept is new and novel, but in execution it falls flat -- if you slow down the scrolling rate by moving the controller left, the games becomes sluggish and often far too easy. Enemies will move like they're wading through waist-high water. If you try the opposite, though, the game can also become far too easy -- positioning your Cloud Master-in-training on the right edge of the screen and then accelerating the scroll rate can let you essentially skip entire levels, by zipping you straight to the boss encounter with probably only a couple of accidental enemy collisions along the way.
You can choose to ignore the tilt feature altogether, but then you're left with some pretty basic and bland shooting action. The art is good -- again making the case that the "final" boxart was a bad idea and unrepresentative of the contents contained therein -- but the art alone can't save the game's slow-paced, simplistic mechanics. It's about as basic as you can get, with collectible power-ups that boost your speed, offense or hit points appearing after certain waves of foes are defeated.
On rarer occasion, you'll fly into a mid-stage shop reminiscent of the mid-stage shops seen in Fantasy Zone
. But the sub-weapons earned there aren't interesting or necessary enough to be really notable. You don't even have to pay for them -- you just pick the one you want and then you're kicked out the door.
And the whole affair runs in 4:3, too. No widescreen support for these would-be kings.
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