A streak of lightning strikes the ground with a crack. The flash fully reveals the enemies surrounding me for one dazzlingly beautiful moment and then fades. I use my staff to launch myself toward an enemy with a strong kick and then quickly follow up with quick strikes to the others. The rain pours down as I leap and counter attack, every move flows into the next. Just as the last enemy standing releases a blow dart from the tall grass I spin my weapon into a whirlwind and deflect it back.
9 Monkeys of Shaolin isn’t your average beat-em up. The combat rivals the fluidity of the Batman Arkam series. Striking enemies, chaining combos, and watching for indicators to time counters feels almost as wonderful here. But you’re not a caped crusader, you’re a simple fisherman whose life and home is shattered by violence. You’re compelled to join an order of monks who have also reluctantly taken up arms to restore peace to the land. The demo alludes to a deeper and more compelling narrative than most gamer’s might be used to in an action game. If the same level of effort is poured into the story as the impressive visuals and combat this game might have it all.
The game’s depiction of medieval China is almost reverent. Each environment features backgrounds that could easily pass as stand alone works of art. Instead of high tempo energetic music to compliment the violent gameplay the music is soft and meditative. The juxtaposition is striking at first but I eventually realized the martial arts is more displayed than played, and felt more like a dance than a brawl. Striking enemies is accentuated with a burst of ink instead of a standard flash.
Strikes builds your Qi meter. When you fill a bar you can hold an attack button for an advanced strike. Enemies telegraph their moves and you’ll need to keep an eye on the whole battlefield and plan your attack to build your combot meter. Time everything right and you’ll float from one target to the next, as if moving through water instead of air. Either the demo felt short or I had so much fun with it the time flew by. Just as I began to examine the skill tree and figure out how new staff weapons might affect gameplay there were no more missions to take on.
I’m left wanting more and can’t help but be excited at the prospect of taking on the game with a friend in multiplayer co-op mode that I wasn’t able to try. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to see the full spectrum of environments in a game before. Keep your eye on this one come award season.