While platformers might not be powerful juggernaut that they once were we gamers are still treated to a relatively slow but steady stream of new games in the genre. Unruly Heroes is the latest in that stream, but as always the question is a simple one; is it actually any bloody good? Yes. Yes, it is. This is a hugely entertaining romp that’s near perfect for family gaming.
The first thing that strikes you is just how bloody good Unruly Heroes looks. It has a sublime hand-painted style that is brimming with colour and personality. Each of the various worlds you visit has its own colour palette, too, giving it a distinct look. The pace of the game makes you want to keep pushing forward, but it’s worth stopping just to soak in the background details or the lovely animations, or just to appreciate the design of the boss you’re currently clobbering.
This gorgeous aesthetic is a direct result of the developer’s pedigree. You see, Magic Design is made up of Ubisoft Montpelier people who worked on the excellent Rayman Legends, and that game can be felt throughout Unruly Heroes’s design.
The music also deserves special mention for being fantastic and impressively varied. I was constantly surprised by how many tracks there seemed to be, again helping to give various locations a distinctive feel.
The story takes its inspiration from the classic Journey to the West, a Chinese novel published during the 16th century. In this re-tread of the tale four unruly heroes (HA!) must go forth in order to gather up the pieces of the Sacred Scroll in order to bring peace to the world. It’s a flimsy premise and massive chunks of the game will go by without any sort of story progression at all. Indeed, you’ll probably forget about the plot all together, barring the occasional appearance by a cheerful Goddess who helps you out.
Paper-thin plot aside, though, there’s a lovely sense of fun in Unruly Heroes with a lot of the bosses getting funny one-liners. It isn’t enough to give any of the characters, including your own heroes, actual personalities but it does keep everything light and breezy. Still, compared to their prior work on Rayman Legends I couldn’t help but feel the four characters in Unruly Heroes deserved more. They look visually distinct, but that’s it. Some interaction between them or a few cutscenes where animations could help convey their individual personalities would have helped greatly.
At its core Unruly Heroes is a basic platformer; you run across the 2D landscape while leaping up walls, over gaps and onto platforms, stopping only to pummel the occasional minion or boss. While the controls aren’t the best within the genre they’re still solid enough, letting you get around with minimal fuss and only the occasional feeling that failure was the fault of the game rather than your own sausage fingers.
One of the game’s tricks is that you can swap between your four heroes on the fly, each offering slightly different strengths as well as special abilities which get activated at statues dotted around the levels. The monkey, for example, gets a double jump and a nifty staff with good reach. His party trick is that at any statue of himself he can extend a massive, glowing staff that acts as a bridge. The pig, meanwhile, can glide using his ears and is capable of inflating himself into a giant balloon when using a statue, handy for floating up to high places.
Platforming and puzzle solving often go hand-in-hand in Unruly Heroes. There’s nothing here that’s going to leave you a gibbering wreck, but the puzzles are designed in such a way that they provide just the right amount of challenge without bringing the otherwise quick pace to a grinding halt.
There’s a fair amount of combat to be had in Unruly Heroes as all manner of creatures try to smash your face. Fighting is kept simple with a single attack button and a dodge which can be used in response to exclamation marks floating over enemy heads indicating that an attack is incoming. It’s a solid enough system, albeit maybe too simple considering how often you do get into fights.
Unruly Heroes is excellent at introducing little twists to help keep things feeling fresh and fun. At one point, for example, your characters revert to childhood (the design for each is superb) and can no longer attack. Instead, you wind up with a glowing ball floating about your head that fires off lasers and can be used to ride along glowing blue rails. If the ball ever touches the red glowing objects, though, it’s insta-death. Other sections introduce a vacuum that can be used to move platforms, or even being able to take over the body of an enemy. You’ll also deal with gravity-inverting switches, gusts of wind and even controlling two characters, one of which is in the background. There’s always something new and exciting to keep you playing through the 10-20 minutes levels.
Not everything is winner, of course. There were definitely a couple of levels that left me feeling more annoyed than anything else. The Ascent, for example, was a chore to get through. Some bosses are a tad dull, as well. However, over the course of the 8-10 hours it takes to complete Unruly Heroes there are only a few weak points, and even at its weakest the game feels good.
Along the way you can gather up coins which in turn can be spent to buy new skins for your heroes. With just four skins per character, though, I quickly got the coins needed for the skins I liked and then forgot about picking up the glittery treasure altogether.
The entirety of the campaign can be played in co-op with up to three other people grabbing a controller and lending a hand. The inclusion of local co-op is fantastic. It’s so nice to be able to get some friends together and play a game. However, I do lament the lack of online co-op as it means I’ll never get to play Unruly Heroes with some of my best gaming pals from around the world. Still, the style of the game and local co-op lend themselves perfectly to some family gaming.
There’s also a player vs player mode which is…okay. It feels like a strange inclusion as the style of gameplay doesn’t lend itself to PvP. There’s already a severe lack of people online, so even getting a match is a rare event.
I think the real key to why Unruly Heroes works is because you can feel the passion and love that was poured into its creation. Despite how much I criticise the game industry at large when it comes to the likes of EA and Activision there’s also no denying that we live in an age of some amazing triple-A titles that boast the greatest visuals and a level of technical development akin to bloody witchcraft. But due to the size of the teams that work on them blockbuster games can lack a certain spark. With something like Unruly Heroes, though, you can almost tangibly feel that it was made by a relatively small group of people who put everything they had into it.
Although not Earth-shatteringly original Unruly Heroes is a wonderful example of how to make an excellent platformer. It practically drips charm thanks to the outstanding visuals and strong music, yet underneath that is a game that feels great to play with a penchant for delivering smart gameplay twists which keep things fresh. I don’t think it trumps the brilliance of Rayman Legends, but as Magic Designs first game as a studio Unruly Heroes is well worth your time.
4 out of 5