Hello World! Arcade Android here. Today I’m going to be doing something a little different. I normally review good games, because why would I want to waste my time and your time telling you about something that’s not worth anybody’s time? But today’s game is so bad I feel it is my duty as a gamer to warn you of it. Well, that and I’m participating in One More Castle’s “Review a Bad Game Day.” Alright, let’s get this Monkey Business started. Today’s Licensed game isn’t technically a licensed game, but rather a video game adaption of an ancient tale: Journey to the West. And some of you that have played this game will likely argue that it’s not a bad game. That’s fine, you’re entitled to your opinion and so am I.
Journey to the West is a fictional story that is loosely based on the real events on one monk. The monk traveled from China to India to gain enlightenment and find Buddhist scriptures. In the fictional version the monk is accompanied by a few companions and they visit fantastical places and confront gods and demons along the way. It is a truly beautiful story, and any of the translations you can find of it are more faithful than today’s game. If you think some of this sounds familiar it’s because the story has been adapted and referenced in various media through the years. In most adaptations you will see a monkey, possibly with a headband or necklace that allows someone to control him. He will have a staff that can grow or shrink to any size, a floating cloud or the ability to walk on the clouds, and the ability to transform. He will have the desire to become the world’s strongest entity and attempt to fight God. His name may be a variation of Son Wukong, Son Goku, or just Son. There may or may not be a Buddhist monk leading the journey. Other companions might include a pig known for lust and gluttony, and a side character that is often used is Princess Iron Fan with a magical fan to put out fires.
Today’s adaptation, and I use even that term loosely, is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The game is set in United States some time in the far off future after the war with the machines has ended. Presumably the machines won, but it’s just as likely that both sides were decimated as other humans are mentioned numerous times without being shown. Our cast consists of three characters, all based on Journey to the West characters. The game starts off with two of them being hauled back east on a slaver ship. Tripitaka, nicknamed Trip, is a tech savvy girl from a peaceful village in the west. When she busts out of her cell she causes the ship to lose control and accidentally lets out another prisoner. This is a stoic human called “Monkey,” and the character you will be controlling. Trip tries her best to lock Monkey on the crashing ship, but they both manage to get out and use an escape pod. Upon regaining consciousness Monkey discovers that Trip has placed a slave-band on Monkey’s head to control him. If he ignores a command he receives pain, if he goes too far away from Trip he dies. Trip forces Monkey to help her get home, and in exchange he will be freed when they get there. Along the way they meet up with Pigsy. He helps Trip on her Journey because he’s an old friend of her father. They fight mechs, the remnants of the war that inhabit the desolate cities, and navigate the worn torn post-cyberpunk scenery.
You may be thinking “A reimagining of Journey to the West but in a cyberpunk setting!!! What’s not to like.” I really wanted to like this game. It’s got a great premise, and it has a lot going for it. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so first let’s look at what Enslaved: Odyssey to the West did right. The first thing I noticed was that the visuals really pop in this game. Everything is bright and colorful, which is something you don’t see in most video games aiming for realistic graphics, ESPECIALLY video games in a post-apocalyptic setting. The landscapes. The environments, despite being broken and littered with machinery, are gorgeous and I can’t help but stop and look around. Aside from the occasional streaming textures taking a bit too long to stream in, the graphics are perfect.
The three-person cast plays their part perfectly. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West does not rely on voice acting but opts for motion capture of the actors to sell the characters. Andy Serkis plays Monkey, Lindsey Shaw plays Trip, and Richard Ridings plays Pigsy. They all have the body language down, and unlike most voice actors, all mocap and voice acting was done with all actors present so the chemistry is really noticable. Andy Serkis, a mocap veteran, was able to give pointers to the others, and had some say the direction of the game. I found myself really sympathizing with these characters and wanting to know what was going to happen to them.
The music matches the setting perfectly. I would’nt catch myself humming any of the tracks after a playthrough, but it helps to set the mood for each environment. Even the ending song does its best to make you feel an emotion matching the situation. That’s about all the good that can be found in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Well, that and an IT Crowd reference (when Monkey can’t get a computer to work Trip asks if he “tried turning it off and on again?”). Unfortunately, this game is not equal to the sum of it’s parts. And it IS Review A Bad Game Day. So, onto the bad game. The box would have you believe that you’re going to experience “Lush & Vibrant Worlds,” a “Captivating Story” and “Epic Gameplay.” What you get is “Lush & Vibrant Worlds” for this bad game with a bad story.
The trailer would have you believe that the primary gameplay mechanic is platforming. To call Enslaved: Odyssey to the West a platformer is like saying that a DVD menu is interactive. It’s misleading, and everything you do is predetermined. Monkey can’t jump. You guide him to the shining ledge or platform, push the thumbstick in the direction of the shining object and push X. For the most part, it’s pretty obvious where you need to point at and press X. But it’s not platforming. What you do for the majority of the game is closer to a quick-time event where you push X every time than it is to platorming. There are a handful of times where the pointing the thumbstick in a direction and hitting X is fun and feels like gameplay, but for the most part it’s restrictive wall climbing and I’d rather stop and enjoy the view than keep going. But I can’t because the camera is locked to certain angles and gives you very little control.
The secondary gameplay mechanic is fighting. Monkey swings his staff to beat down the robots. The combat looks cool, but quickly gets repetitive. When you’re fighting a lot of robots it can be hard to see if you’re about to get attacked since the damned camera zooms into Monkey’s back! You can also use Monkey’s staff to shoot blasts that stun and blasts that damage. These blasts also come in handy on some of the puzzles. The puzzles are what you would expect in a puzzle platform. They usually require you to hit the right switch or lever, climb to the other side and have Trip hit the right switch or lever. When you are near Trip you can upgrade Monkey’s combat, staff-shooting, and health. You do this with experience orbs that you can collect throughout the levels or aquire from destroyed mechs. This is horribly balanced, though, so you can easily be fully maxed out in way too early in the game.
This makes combat easy, and seem even more repetitive after the first few chapters. In fact, all in all this game lacks any challenge. As I stated earlier, Monkey can only jump in predetermined spots. You can’t fall off or miss a jump. In certain areas Monkey can use a cloud, which controls like a skateboard, and Trip warns that if he falls off in the water he will be damaged. But you can’t even fall or jump off the cloud unless you are clearly over land. Any challenge of the game is sucked out by the restrictiveness, and when you do die it’s due to poor level design and that restrictiveness.
However, for some poor gameplay is tolerable in a story-driven game, and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a story-driven game. The story, though? I could go on about how the story seems like it was written by a 12 year-old with a misguided view on manhood, womanhood, and homoeroticism. Seriously, how else do you explain a game with this as the protagonist, the only female being a “love interest” and exhibiting numerous negative female stereotypes, and the only action in the game is Monkey touching Pigsy’s penis? 12 year-old me can tell you!
I could go on about how Monkey has hallucinations at certain points in the game, and instead of using those to reinforce the connection to Journey to the West, the developers chose to stick in pictures from ANDY SERKIS’S PHOTO ALBUM. I’m not joking. There are images of Andy Serkis on vacation, Andy Serkis at the office. ANDY SERKIS AT HOME! ARE YOU F*CKING KIDDING ME NINJA THEORY?!?
But since the game is an adaptation and that’s why I was initially interested in it, let’s compare to the source material. Unlike the whimsical Sun Wukong, Monkey is aloof as hell. The lead designer Tameem Antoniados drew inspiration from the Rambo character to make Monkey a survivalist, rather than a cocky trickster. The headband that Trip places on him is not to keep him from acting up, but to force him to help her. He’s not even a monkey, he just has a scarf that looks like a tail, and when asked what his name is he broodingly gives his nickname with little explanation. Likeness to the character he’s based on. ZERO. Then there’s Trip, based on the monk Tripitaka. Rather than going on a journey to gain enlightenment she is an emotional, helpless girl that seems to care about the most insignificant forms of life, but has no problem dooming Monkey to certain death multiple times. Some might argue that in the end she gains enlightenment, but more on that in a minute. Likeness to the character she’s based on. NONEXISTENT. Pigsy is living in his own lair of his own free will and chooses to help Trip, since their relationship is something like niece and uncle since he’s been a family friend since Trip was a baby. You could argue that he exhibits lust when he tries to pork Trip, but that’s just gross. He has a babe tattoo and makes several sexual innuendos, but mostly he just wears pig paraphernalia. Likeness to the character he’s based. DUDE LOOK LIKE A PIG. And then there’s the story. There are minor references to Journey to the West, but for the most part they f*cked it up. The game is titled Enslaved which is a misnomer. Wukong was never enslaved, he chose to go with Tripitaka to rather than be imprisoned, [but I guess Community Service doesn't make for a good video game title]. In the game, Monkey was never given a choice. Furhtermore, HE commands Trip. It’s part of the damned game. You can literally carry her through 90% of the game, even though she can walk. Furthermore, at one point in the f*cking game Trip tries to take off Monkey’s head band and he chooses to leave it on. FURTHERMORE, at one point in the game Trip does take off the head band and Monkey commands her to turn it back on. This negates the enslavement, and negates any enlightment that the game tries to give Trip. And that’s another thing, this game lacks an ending.
That’s it, I’m done. I can’t review this bad game anymore! I can’t recommend Enslaved Odyssey to the West to Journey to the West fans, I can’t recommend it to platform gamers, and I can’t recommend it to people who like story-driven games. Unless they like story-driven games that lack an ending and are fueled by a 12 year-old’s machismo.