I've written before about my adoration for Metroidvanias and for small games. I've even recently had a chance to review a small Metroidvania in Sector 781. I didn't realize that Sun Wukong Vs Robot was going to fall right next to that game when its cover art caught my eye. Having finished it with about an hour of play, that's right where it belongs. Sun Wukong VS Robot is a bite-sized Metroidvania whose edges are rough, but not rough enough to ruin the experience.
Staff vs Robot
There are a lot of ways in which Sun Wukong VS Robot is exactly what you'd expect. You start off with a basic attack and the ability to jump. With very little introduction, you explore a 2D map as you look for upgrades to your attacks, abilities, and health. The controls as you jump around, explore, and smash enemies all feel really good. I like that the main character's staff-like weapon means you have to get pretty up close to dispatch enemies. There's not a huge amount of foes that you'll encounter throughout the game. The same basic enemies pop up again and again. You will find one or two new baddies per area which helps keep things somewhat fresh.
The worldbuilding and storytelling are pretty lacking. The game takes place 500 years after Sun Wukong lost a fight to four robots… and that's about it. There's not really any exploration of what the area you are adventuring through is, what's happened to the world at large in the 500 years that you were asleep, or anything else. There are different color schemes and tile blocks to indicate different environments in the game. Unfortunately, there's almost always a flat black background so every environment ends up sort of merging together.
The music also left me hanging a bit. Through most of the game, there's a moody, atmospheric track playing. It's nothing to write home about, but it's fine. I actually grew to even like it for setting kind of an offsetting tone, right up until I got to the first of the four boss battles. In the boss fights, there's this killer rock guitar riff that blares, and it's fantastic! Then you beat the boss and go back to this atmospheric music and it just feels lacking.
The Upgrade System Needs an Upgrade
There are 7 abilities that you can purchase in this game, along with three special attacks that you find as you explore. When you are shopping for abilities, only an icon is shown for each one: no explanation is given at all. In the pause menu, there's a one- or two-word description for each icon. It's a little annoying to have to see what you can afford, then pause to see what those icons mean. Worse, though, was that two icons both said that they were “Electric Proof”, and then one of them absolutely ended up being a double-jump. I would have bought that upgrade way earlier if not for that mistake in the menu.
The boss fights in this are pretty tough but super fun. They were definitely a highlight for me. At one point, I was having trouble beating a boss so I did some grinding and bought the “Enhance Attack” upgrade from the shop. That worked like a charm, and I managed to take him out pretty easily on my next attempt. As a reward for beating him, I was granted… the “Enhance Attack” upgrade. It didn't stack on top of what I'd just bought… I just got a free version of the upgrade I'd just spent a bunch of money on.
There's a lot of enemies that use projectiles in Sun Wukong, which is a neat dynamic since you're mostly relegated to a close combat weapon. At some point, I unlocked a “Shell” ability, which allowed me to charge up my attack in order to get a temporary force field. This became super necessary in certain areas to let me avoid damage in order to get close to my attackers. Or, at least, it would have, except that about 10% of enemy projectiles seemed to ignore it for no apparent reason.
Sun Wukong Should Be So Much More
Issues like these didn't break the game by any means, but they all stacked up to make the experience feel just a bit lacking. If this was a longer game, I could see these becoming frustrating enough to give up on it. Since it's so short, they were never so much of a burden that they overwhelmed the fun of bouncing around and hitting robots with sticks.
My biggest hurdle with Sun Wukong VS Robot is that the game part of it isn't nearly as interesting as the promotional stuff wants you to believe. The promotional art shows a cartoonified character flying towards the robot enemies on a red background, basically just using the colors red, black, and white. The opening cinematic uses the same art style (although a lot more color) to show an absolutely fantastic fight scene of Sun Wukong fighting those same four robots. Then you get into the game and the whole thing just falls a little flat. I want a game that has the style and attitude that the cover art and opening cinematic show, but this just isn't quite there.
This is a really specific example, but if you look at the screenshot of the cinematic, you'll notice it's got scanlines. Those don't show up in the actual game, and I think even just carrying those over could have gone a long way towards giving this more personality.
I had fun jumping through it, but Sun Wukong VS Robot never blew me away. The gameplay, world building, and level design all fell just a little bit flat. Nothing about the experience was bad, it just wasn't great. It feels like all the pieces were there to make something awesome, but they just didn't get shuffled together quite right.
There's one sequence where you get onto a huge chunk of platforms over a pit of lava, and it starts moving across the screen. You have to account for enemies coming at you from the ceiling and ones on the barge with you while making sure you don't get knocked off as you go past obstacles. If the whole game could have maintained the energy of that section, it could have been something great. Instead, it just fizzles out.
There's fun to be had on a run through of this game if you want a quick and easy Metroidvania between other games, but it's not going to make a lasting impression.