Journey to the West, one of the Four Great Novels of Chinese literature, has had many interpretations in the 400+ years of its existence. With more television, film, comic books, manga, and video game adaptations than I can even count, a new game based on this classic tale hardly seems novel. Heck, even Dragon Ball bears the markers of Journey to the West’s influence!
But if you’re not familiar with the story, I’ll give you the shortest summary I possibly can. Journey to the West recounts a monk’s pilgrimage to obtain sacred Buddhist texts and achieve enlightenment along the way. Encountering many evils on his path and picking up a motley crew to join him on his quest, Journey to the West‘s legendary tale of Tang Sanzang and his disciples has withstood the test of time for good reason.
With such venerated source material and such an inundated catalog of competitors to be measured against, it seems like a daunting task to try and elbow one’s way into this crowded space. And yet, the good folks over at Magic Design Studios (with Perfect Game Speed for the mobile port) have proven themselves up to the task with Unruly Heroes, a platforming romp that’s packed to the gills with action, hijinks, and humor. This one is definitely going on the list of Best Mobile Games!
Platformers are one of my favorite genres of gaming. Period. I was raised on the likes of Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Metroid, and that love of platformers has never waned thanks to modern masterpieces like Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest. That being said, I’m often wary of new platformers on mobile, as I’ve had some less than stellar experiences in the past.
Each character has their own special abilities, and you’ll swap through all four of them in each level to win.
Unruly Heroes, thankfully, is a wonderful mobile platformer! The game includes controller support, but I didn’t need it, thanks to the good quality of the UI and touchscreen controls. Movement takes place in side-scrolling fashion using a fixed, virtual analog stick in the bottom right corner and then jump, attack, dodge, and interact with the environment using a set of buttons in the bottom left corner.
In each level, you can freely swap between your four playable characters — Sanzang, Wukong, Sandmonk, and Kihong — each of whom has their own unique traits and abilities like double jump and glide. Each character’s different abilities give combat some needed variety and create clever environmental puzzles for you to solve. If your current character dies, you just swap over to another character to keep fighting on. As long as you have even one character remaining, you can regain your teammates by breaking open their free-floating soul bubbles, thereby restoring them to your roster.
The gameplay isn’t perfect, though, and sometimes things can feel a little too loose and floaty when you don’t want them to. I didn’t have too much trouble with this after a while, but early on, I found myself overshooting jumps and occasionally struggling to reposition myself, especially during fights against multiple enemies. These weren’t common occurrences, and those using controllers may not encounter similar issues at all. Interspersed with the platforming segments are enemies and the occasional boss fight. Combat in Unruly Heroes is straightforward button-mashing where you dodge, jump, and combo your way to victory using a fist-shaped attack button. What it lacks in complexity, Unruly Heroes makes up for with just plain old fun.
Unlike other mobile ports with overly complex touch controls, the simple control scheme of Unruly Heroes feels great.
Unlike other games I can think of, like Forgotton Anne, which tried to do a bit too much with the controls and created a frustrating experience in the process, the control scheme in Unruly Heroes actually feels great. The few troubles I have had were clearly all Me Problems, as I definitely would have hit the dodge button at the right time if I had actually been paying attention to the falling hazards above me.
Furthermore, the art design, audio effects, and soundtrack for Unruly Heroes are awesome. These are some of the prettiest hand-drawn graphics I’ve seen in a mobile platformer recently, maybe not in terms of technical prestige, but certainly in terms of how much I enjoyed the game’s style. Character designs, environments, and backgrounds are bold and colorful, and the animations are incredibly fluid. The smooth animations are backed up by — and made more impactful thanks to — the satisfying audio effects. You really feel like you’re packing a punch when you’re wailing on a horde of enemies with Wukong’s staff or Sandmonk’s brutal fists.
The art design, audio effects, and soundtrack are all amazing!
And the soundtrack? Gosh dang, it is good! Influenced by traditional Chinese music with modern flair sprinkled in to make it suitable for fast-paced arcade action, Unruly Heroes crafts an immersive atmosphere that does an admirable job of bringing the story to life. There are nearly 30 levels to play through, with replay value in the form of collecting all available coins, keys, and beating time trials. The collectibles exist for both fun and utility, unlocking extra abilities and skins for your four heroes.
Weighing in at $1.99 and about 9-12 hours worth of playtime, this premium mobile game contains no in-app purchases or ads. Unruly Heroes is well worth the cost, especially when you consider that its price on other platforms can be as high as $19.99. You’re getting a serious discount for playing the mobile version, and yet the experience is preserved thanks to the smooth touchscreen controls and optional controller support for those that prefer it.
Unruly Heroes was ported to Android in March 2021, so if you haven’t checked out this fabulous platformer yet, I would highly recommend it!