The Chinese novel Journey to the West might be a title unfamiliar to most people, but one of its main characters is – The Monkey King. Often sporting a zany, snarky, and mischievous attitude that makes him loveable for the audience and insufferable for his adversaries, the Monkey King has been used in the movies, anime and games, with one of the more popular iteration is Goku from the Dragon Ball anime albeit a loose adaptation at that.
There is so much potential in creating a game that revolves around a character that has such a rich back story and lore. That’s where R2 Games comes in. They’ve tasked themselves to creating an MMO that pays homage to the titular Monkey King with their MMO title Monkey King Online.
Monkey King Online is the free-to-play, browser-based, MMO from R2 Games that has players take the role of the Monkey King and explore the vast, mystical Chinese world and create their own epic adventures.
Does the developers give the proper homage to Sun Wukong and his journey?
A Monkey Needs His Troops
Right off the bat, Monkey King Online has players choose what class they want to play as. There are four classes to choose from – the Fox, the Bull, the Monkey, and the Iron Fan. On the outset, it seems like the game presents the usual mage, tank, assassin, and ranged characters, but for the most part, all their attacks look the same and are only different in their name. The “classes” hardly give the players any room for strategy or different gameplay as most of their skills require close-quarter combat (I’ll get to the gameplay later). In terms of customization, the aforementioned classes are gender locked, and equipped items do not change the character sprites.
As the game progresses, players are given a shapeshifting mount that aids in fighting the multiple enemies in a set plane. The mount cannot be controlled, however, and will auto attack the character the player is battling. Then, when completing the main quests, Monkey King Online gives players access to the Immortals, mystical and celestial beings that the players can morph into (tying to the Monkey King’s ability to change his form at any time). But for the most part, switching from one’s class to one of the Immortals is cosmetic as best, as Immortals have only a handful of nifty spells at their disposal.
Monkey King Online also offers players the chance to acquire goddesses, yet another order of celestial beings that aid the players by means of boosting their battle rating. They can be unlocked by “checking in” their quarters for as many times as their requirement says.
Having these allies and power-ups are crucial because Monkey King Online incorporates an open-world PvP where players can wail at each other at a moment’s notice. This adds a dynamic element to the game, as you have to be on your toes when grinding unless you might end up being killed by another player.
You and Your Monkeyshines….
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s time to talk about Monkey King Online’s gameplay. After players choose their preferred character class, they are unceremoniously thrust into the fight. While there’s nothing wrong with that, it would have been nice if there was some sort of tutorial that would help players get accustomed to the game. But alas, Monkey King Online has that dreaded auto-path and auto-play feature that automatically skips most of the basics and leaves players wondering what the hell happened, and by the time they’ve figured out how to toggle out of the auto-play, it’s already too late. The addition of the auto-play and auto-path system seems to be in place so that players won’t be able to see the glaring mediocre and faulty stuff that the game is rife with.
For instance, the story of Monkey King Online does not feel important for players to immerse themselves in. The characters are too one dimensional and are forgettable at best, even if the writers try their hand at giving them wit. This proves to be a major disappointment, as their source material is chock-full of great stuff that has the potential to be incorporated as a game. Even Dragon Ball’s loose adaptation pays better respect to their source material than this game, which says a lot, considering that this game has the Monkey King on it.
Monkey King Online’s graphics and character designs do stick to their motif of the traditional and fantastical Chinese narrative, with Imperial guardsmen who use pikes, maidens who use concealed knives in their weapons (apart from throwing fireballs from their hands), But they look rather dated when compared to the other browser-based MMOs in the market nowadays that have the same play style as this game does. The spell animations need work as well, but at least players can see their characters actually cast a spell or swing their axes when in battle mode.
Speaking of design, the user interface of Monkey King Online is too cluttered with so many icons, chat boxes, prizes and other needlessly “appropriate” things that it’s a miracle that players can still see and click on the actual game map and control their characters. It’s as if the game developers think that all gamers are curious enough to click on every single thing that’s presented to them in the heads-up-display so that gave them the license to pepper the screen with so much stuff that it puts preschoolers’ sticker-laden notebooks and lunchboxes to shame.
The battle scenes are of the basic point-and-click variety, with the addition of having spells as mentioned above at the players’ disposal. But by having the option to put the game on auto pilot, knowing what abilities to level up doesn’t feel as important as well, just as long as you have your health regeneration items, you can leave your character (and wherever you’re playing this game on for that matter) to farm and grind as if it’s grown its own sentience and is leveling up to get strong enough to get out of his virtual predicament.
Playing with Yourself is Never a Good Thing, But…
Perhaps the most criminal thing Monkey King Online has done is that it gleefully incorporates the auto-path and auto-play function for players to use. People play games because they want to take control of a virtual representation of themselves and do fantastic things that they can’t do in real life. Participation and immersion are paramount things that game developers should be focused on honing in their games because these are what players are looking for.
That’s why creating a system that effectively eliminates the participation of the player is a negative and stupid move; there is no point in playing a game that does not want to encourage its players to take part in all the fun and just have them turned into clicking zombies that just buy potions and click the quest completion button. Even if there is the option to manually control the character, most would just opt to keep the auto-play on as there is NOTHING in the game in terms of memorable characters or a dramatic storyline to keep the gamers interested. It’s clearly one of those cases where the developers heard the saying, “to live vicariously” but mistakenly changed the word vicarious to “detached”, as the players would feel detached when they play this game.
The emotional attachment to the story let alone to one’s character are immediately thrown out, and the joy of completing quests and getting the epic loot in this game do not feel fulfilling or even important for that matter, as the auto-play feature sucks out all that positive emotions of winning and enjoyment and leaves its players on the outside looking in.
Pros and Cons
– multiple unlockable characters that can be switched at any time
– PvP can happen anywhere that are not safe zones
– the user interface becomes cluttered with new unlocked stuff as the game progresses
– unlocked items will be glossed over as there are no instructions on how to use them
– players will feel left out due to auto play feature