Coming from a very descriptively named developer in the Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation (yes, really!) and published by Neon Doctrine, The Legend of Tianding is a game based around Taiwan’s answer to Robin Hood.
Now, I’ve played games set in China, Japan and even Korea and Vietnam, but to my knowledge, never one set in and featuring the folklore of Taiwan. Until now, and at slight risk of side stepping the rest of the review, I’m pretty glad that the missing bit of my gaming geography has been sorted. So, let’s go back in time to Taiwan, and rob from the rich to give to the poor, shall we?
The time period is the turn of the 19th Century, and after the Sino-Japanese war, China has been given a good kicking and the Japanese have taken cover the island of Taiwan. We are Liao Tianding, a famous martial artist and vigilante, who is pretty much Robin Hood minus the tights and the bow. And the dodgy accent, Kevin Costner!
Anyway, as the story opens, we have been away for a while, and so the bad guys have been allowed to flourish, bringing the peasants to their knees and keeping them there with their demands for extortionate rents and taxes. What else is a populace in crisis to do but believe that a hero will rise and save them? And that is where we come in, donning the sneaky sandals of Tianding and generally righting all the wrongs. The first guy we take down, we reduce his entire teahouse to ruin, so don’t mess with us is the moral of the story.
Presentation of the game is done in a fantastic kind of hand-drawn, manga art style, with the cutscenes explaining the set up for each chapter, portrayed as a few pages in a comic book, going from front to back and right to left as is normal in the Far East. The art style is very nice indeed, and fortunately this carries over into the main game, with the enemies and Tianding being beautifully drawn and animated. Tthe backdrops all have a similar lovingly hand-drawn look to them too. All in all, nothing to complain about with the graphics here.
The soundtrack is similarly well done, with fully voiced cutscenes helping with the immersion, and the fighting and chop socky sound effects all being on point as well. I have to say, I have been impressed with the way The Legend of Tianding looks and sounds. In fact, there are full marks for presentation.
But what about the actual gameplay, the thing that will keep us coming back to this well realised world? That is all pretty good as well. The game basically plays out as a side-scrolling, fighting platformer, and there are two sides to the coin – there is the actual fighting side, be that against regular foes or bosses, and then there is the exploring and finding stuff parts, which again will help you in the long run.
Sticking with exploring for now, it has to be said that it appears that Tianding has never skipped a training day in his life, as he is full to the brim with cool ways to get around. He has the standard double jump, as you’d expect for a game of this type, but then he also has a dodge move which can be used in the air; if a gap is just a touch too wide, jump, jump, dash will usually get you to where you need to be. If not, he can also include some fighting moves into his exploring as well, so you will soon be whizzing around the place like the floor was lava and your ass was made of rubber. Tianding also has a spiderwire, which he can use to grapple onto various points in the levels, and once attached, you can choose which way he flies off, allowing you to climb higher and higher, for instance. The way that Tianding gets around the place is really well done, and the controls, even when flying through the air without a safety net fill you with confidence that it will all end well.
Sensing a theme, the combat is again another well done affair. Tianding attacks with his default weapon with X, and after applying it to enemies for a bit, he can then use the Y button to wrap them up in his cloak or belt or something, which causes them to drop whatever weapon they have in their hot little hands. When you do this to the big axe wielding baddies, for instance, Tianding can make short work of most foes, and even taking guns from enemies can make you feel pretty special. The B button is used for various special moves, all of which use a single section of the stamina bar to pull off, but that can help you out of a tricky situation.
My favourite move is the one punch. Fifty years before Bruce Lee introduced the world to it, Tianding was using this technique to knock enemies backwards, into spikes or pools of toxic water; it is a great way of clearing yourself a little breathing room. Other attacks include various kicks, either across or straight up, and chaining these kicks into the exploring phase lets you reach higher and further than before. The impacts of the attacks feel real, with wince inducing blows to ensure that the martial arts action here is very well realised.
It is very hard to fault The Legend of Tianding, apart from the fact that after a while the chop socky action on offer does start to feel a bit samey. You’ll find your favourite combos fairly early on, and after that it is very much a case of rinse and repeat – Combo, Y, see what weapon you end up with, and repeat. It doesn’t get stale, exactly, and exploring the “dungeons” (for want of a better word) that you find yourself in does help to break up the action,and the relics that you find can give various passive buffs to your character.
The Legend of Tianding is a very competent entry into the side-scrolling fighting genre. And the tale is a breath of fresh air as well. It may be one of the first Taiwan based games you’ll play, but hopefully it won’t be the last.
The Legend of Tianding is on the Xbox Store
- Beautiful art style
- Great story from an unsung area of the world
- Fighting and exploring action is fun
- Controls are very good indeed
- Can get samey after a while
- Massive thanks for the free copy of the game go to - Neon Doctrine
- Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Version reviewed - Xbox Series X
- Release date - 1 November 2022
- Launch price from - £16.99