If video games have taught us anything it’s that just about anyone can become a beat-em-up protagonist. Two spunky teenagers? Sure. What about a wrestler turned mayor? Absolutely. But surely, not a simple small-town fisherman could never rise to the occasion. Wrong-o, buddy. 9 Monkeys of Shaolin chronicles the meteoric rise from angler to a hero of legend.
Like most games in the beat-em-up genre, 9 Monkeys wastes no time jumping into the action. The tutorial level opens with Wei Cheng fending off a pirate attack on his small village. After failing in this task, he falls in with a Buddist monk sanctuary, where he must undergo a personal journey. If successful, he’ll tap into his full potential and use his newfound abilities to purge China of evils both foreign and domestic. Easy enough right?
At first, Wet Cheng is armed with what else but fighting a bamboo staff, which he can use in quick bursts, or in slower, but farther-reaching thrusts, along with a jump kick and a parry. As the hordes of baddies descend on him from level to level, you must think quickly to devise an attack plan that will effectively dispatch as many enemies in the shortest amount of time. This only becomes more challenging, considering the wide array of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses. Simply going headfirst into the fray is a good way to ensure Cheng never reaches his full legend status.
Unlike many beat-em-ups, 9 Monkeys throws a wrench in the typical format by letting you boost the abilities you already have, while granting the opportunity to unlock new ones. The level progression offered reasons to keep playing, especially in a genre where many levels run together and occasionally end up making for stale experiences.
Still, despite these additions, occasionally, the missions ended up becoming repetitive, or worse, outright annoying. These only happened a few times in my playthrough, and admittedly, the beat-em-up genre is sort of built on the concept of effective repetition.
That said, this may be one of the most story and visually rich games in the genre. Whether that’s a feature or bug depends on what you typically like to get out of a beat-em-up. I rather enjoyed the colorful visuals and the in-depth story progression, which developer Sobaka Studio says is greatly influenced by kung-fu movies of the 1970s.
Review: 9 Monkeys of Shaolin (Nintendo Switch)
Beat-em-ups are a dime a dozen, but 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is at the very least different from many of the other offerings on the Switch. From the complexity of the combat system which offers plenty of potential for variety in gameplay, to the inspired visual presentation, it’s easy to recommend to any fan of the beat-em-up genre.