First things first: the level design of a platformer is always the most important ingredient and the level design in Unruly Heroes is sublime. It is excellent. It is fun, varied and just challenging enough. I can’t say enough good things about it. Each level is is straightforward with a fair mix of platforming and simple puzzles along with baddies to fight off. There’s a bit of exploring you can do if you want to find all the optional coins and scrolls hidden about, but mostly you’re always moving forward at your own pace. These elements come together wonderfully so that there’s a flow to each level that feels right.
The game has four heroes among whom you can swap (in single player or co-op) and each of them has their own quirks to add a bit more depth to the game. It’s nothing so cryptic as needing one character to cross a certain gap most of the time, but rather it simply makes some characters better suited to certain tasks. You could play through the bulk of the game rarely switching characters, but if you wanted to challenge yourself to a speed run to get emerald medals, you’ll be flipping through the quartet with finesse as you tackle obstacles. Again, there’s a flow here that feels precise and close to perfect.
All of this makes the basic platforming and movement through levels feel great, but the developers also recognized that even near-perfect level design needs to hold up to extended play. For that, levels are sprinkled in that add new mechanics or ways of doing things that make the levels feel special and refreshing. For instance, one level has a tried and true gravity inversion mechanic where you’ll walk on the ceiling and switch gravity back and forth to navigate the level. Another has you jumping into the body of an enemy and then using its unique skills to progress. Yet another sees you controlling two characters, one in the foreground and one in the background, with challenges to go along with that. These new mechanics never overstay their welcome and they are universally fun and I was excited whenever they popped up. They are the difference between good or great design and excellent design.
I wouldn’t say that Unruly Heroes has a heavy emphasis on combat by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a focus and it too is designed fairly well. Each character has their own string of combos you can pull off as well as a dodge mechanic that you’ll need to make full use of. The enemies are challenging and often won’t die in only a couple hits, so you’ll need to watch for their choreographed attacks and dodge at the proper time to avoid being squished. This all adds up to a combat system that feels fast yet fluid, like an impressively choreographed dance. Then there are the boss fights, which are full of tricks but are still fair, making them a treat to experience.
It’s almost burying the lede to commit hundreds of words before one gets to praising the art style. I would be remiss if I did not mention just how beautiful this game is in motion. The art is vibrant yet dark, flashy yet conservative, so versatile that it can be anything a scene demands. The world is exciting and varied from level to level and the enemies are emotive enough to be a threat. These striking visuals make an already excellent game that much better.
The achievements are going to be a challenge. In addition to the standard achievements for completing the game, which offer generous gamerscore, you’ll need to scour the world for collectibles. Then you’ll need to master each level in both speed and combat skill, as you’ll need both to earn emerald rankings on every level. Finally, you’ll need to play the competitive multiplayer once — you may have noticed I didn’t mention that in the review, and that’s because I could never find a game. That means you’ll likely need to boost that one.
Check out our Best Xbox Platformer Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Nowadays, platformers live and die by virtue of their innovative ideas. Each game has its own new take on the genre. Its own special flair that ensures it offers an experience you’ll find nowhere else. The team at Magic Design Studios had a different idea, however. They opted out of chasing innovation and instead tried to take all of those classical platforming elements and make them perfect. Of course, that’s a tall task. Such a game would need impeccable level design that flowed well from scene to scene, always challenging you without breaking the immersion and also keeping you entertained throughout with unique level quirks that don’t overstay their welcome. It would need combat that is fluid and challenging. And it would probably need lovely visuals that make it all a joy to look at. I don’t know if perfection is a rational goal, but I can say that Unruly Heroes has come as close to platforming perfection as any game should be expected to and it’d be a mistake to miss it.
- Beautiful art and visuals
- Platforming design is excellent
- Combat is fun and fluid, with the right amount of challenge
- Plenty of special mechanics thrown about to make levels diverse
- Multiplayer is already quite empty
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.