I am a huge Metroidvania fan. I have been ever since I was introduced to the genre with Metroid Fusion, and have been spoilt rotten since with titles like Guacamelee and Hollow Knight. Unfortunately, I don’t get a lot of time to dabble in the genre, so when I saw the ‘dinky title that could’, Sun Wukong Vs Robot, I was somewhat intrigued. A bite-sized adventure on a budget – what could go wrong?
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Most things. Most things can, and do, go wrong. Sun Wukong Vs Robot starts strong, but almost immediately peters off into oblivion, before desperately clinging onto near-mediocrity. The game starts with an interesting animation showing the eponymous Monkey God battling against mysterious foes. He loses, is forced to wear an inhibitor headband and it’s up to you to guide the cheeky deity to freedom.
Doing that is the issue, however. Right off the bat, Sun Wukong Vs Robot is ugly – really ugly. It goes for a below-8bit style and has a color palette to match. Each area is set on a stark black background, then uses a variety of basic colors for platforms and enemies. It’s very basic, and also not massively intuitive at first. There were multiple instances where I wasn’t sure if an object was platformable, which lead to some cheap damage. Additionally, enemies just get stronger sometimes, and bizarrely, they don’t always change color to represent this. Enemies that died in 1 hit suddenly take 4.
Conveyance issues continue with practically everything. Nothing is obvious at a glance, especially at the shop that appears from time to time. Unless you go into the menu and explore what every symbol means, you are never going to figure out the difference between a diagonal line with a small L and that same line, but with a plus. Simply including some text would go a long way to smoothing out these issues.
Looks Bad – Sounds Worse
Then we have the soundtrack – an incredibly limited selection of tunes that range from literal silence, to repetitive foreboding…and that’s about it. Sound effects are worse, with stock sounds being used often. One particularly egregious inclusion was those generic lightsabre sounds that dominated mid-2000’s flash animations. It was a cool throwback to my youth, sure, but it screams cheap.
Which is what this is. Sun Wukong vs Robot is a cheap-looking, cheap-sounding, cheaply-made game that can be bought for a fairly low (but not low enough) price. All of this can be overlooked if the actual act of playing the game was engaging – which it’s not. Wukong moves like a brick, especially when traveling vertically. Moving left to right is fine, but the moment you try to get airborne this monkey struggles. He goes up slowly but descends like a stone in water. This naturally makes platforming a chore, and considering the genre, this has a direct impact on combat, which takes place on various ledges.
Speaking of which, combat starts bland, gets slightly better, gets bad again, and then rests on ‘meh’ by the end. Wukong has a stick which he uses to thwack enemies with. It has a limited range but decent damage. As you progress you will gain access to special abilities that cost mana to use, and range from kung-fu-monkey-fireballs, to a floating gourd/flamethrower. This slowly turns the combat into a bit of a puzzle, as using the right tool at the right time became more and more important. I enjoyed this aspect of the game the most, and it is clear that the developers put some effort into designing some of the rooms around these abilities.
Then They Added Grinding!
As you take out bosses you unlock new abilities too, such as a projective absorbing shield that makes melee combat much easier. The aforementioned shop also provides some vital upgrades, such as an immunity to lava and damage bonuses, making progression smoother – providing you’re willing to grind. Considering this game is only a couple of hours long, grinding was not something I was particularly happy to see.
As this is a Metroidvania, exploring and uncovering secrets is one of the core tenants, and Sun Wukong vs Robot does an alright job at this. The game is a giant maze, with progression locked behind various bosses and difficulty spikes. You go one way until the game tells you to stop, then you go the other way until you find a way to overcome the barrier preventing you from progressing in the original direction. It’s very formulaic, and there are few light puzzles to solve here and there that unlock new abilities as well as health and mana upgrades.
The issue is the punishing save system. Save Points are few and far between, and death, which is common, yeets you straight back to the last save point. It punishes exploration as enemies can suddenly gain a massive boost to their stats without warning, resulting in cheap deaths. Thankfully the developers placed save points right before boss fights because these guys don’t pull any punches.
Bosses are the most interesting aspect of Sun Wukong Vs Robot, but that’s not saying much. They suffer from badly telegraphed attacks, attacks that are dodgeable in an infuriatingly inconsistent way, huge health pools, and high damage numbers. Taking one down is satisfying, sure, but so is not playing the game. This is where the grinding comes in as you will need damage upgrades, as well as damage reduction, to take them out reliably. Even then though, Sun Wukong vs Robot suffers from input delay, meaning sometimes you don’t attack, jump, turn or move when you want to.
Sun Wukong vs Robot is a mess. It looks bad, sounds worse, and plays pretty poorly to boot. The only reason you would play this is if you were desperate for a Metroidvania and only had a fiver to spend. Even then, the game is not worth that price, especially when some of the best games in the genre can be bought for slightly more off sale, and less on sale. It’s the 10 pence mixup of the gaming world – disappointing, cheap, and it barely registers on the serotonin scale but might give you diabetes all the same. Hard pass.
SUN WUKONG VS ROBOT IS NOT RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Ratalaika Games for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Forged in the rainy wilds of northern England, I carved a path of mediocrity through generations and genres. My play style is often described as: “optimistically awful”.