Platforms: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Switch, PC

There have been some awesome beat ‘em ups over the past few years. In 2020 alone, we’ve gotten outstanding revivals of classic franchises with Streets of Rage 4 and Battletoads. Then there’s Treachery in Beatdown City, which successfully marries old school brawling and turn-based RPG mechanics. 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is yet another solid arcade beat ‘em up. Developed by Sobaka Studio, who previously worked on the top-down action game Redeemer, this recent arcade brawler brings the worlds of beat ‘em ups and old school martial arts movies together in a highly entertaining package.

Arcade-y Goodness and Kung Fu Movie Action

You take on the role of Wei Cheng, a fisherman whose family and friends are brutally killed one day. Set in China, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is basically a revenge story. The tale itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary, and the few cutscenes and dialogue sequences don’t do much to elevate the narrative. That said, there’s something to appreciate about the simplicity of the game as it takes after the old kung fu films that played in grindhouse theaters in the ‘70s.

Like the story, the gameplay is modeled after those same action movies. You’ll often be surrounded by four or five enemies, and you’ll have to fight your way out of these predicaments. Thankfully, you have a variety of attacks weak and strong to dispose of your adversaries. Simple button taps let you do quick combos while holding down on the different attack buttons essentially does supercharged versions of those some attacks.

It isn’t long before you’re able to perform cooler moves, like a jumping slash or spin kick. There’s even a cinematic flying attack that lets you launch enemies upward and juggle them with multiple kicks. Just like in the movies! Despite its mostly dark tone, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin doesn’t take itself too seriously in terms of combat, which makes for some fun, fast-paced battles.

You’ll be able to upgrade your abilities and attack power as you complete missions. You’ll also unlock better weapons that you give special perks like healing, footwear that aids in movement, and necklaces that grant you passive abilities like energy regeneration. These upgrades come in handy as even on the normal difficulty setting, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin can get pretty tough.

At about five hours long, 9 Monkeys of Shaolin is short and sweet. You can team up with another player in local and online co-op modes, which are a nice touch in any beat ‘em up, though the game is still a lot of fun if you go it alone. Outside of the main story, there’s not really much content to entice you to return. That said, the action makes for a really good time, so if you want to challenge yourself with one of the higher difficulty settings, the game is definitely worth revisiting.

That Old Grindhouse Style

The 2.5D graphics of 9 Monkeys of Shaolin are pretty decent, and there’s a nice art direction to the look of the game. Flaming huts in the background and an orange-brown tinge in the sky give the game a grim look on par with the grindhouse flicks it emulates.

The music is a combination of old school-sounding Chinese themes and guitar riffs. It’s a weird combination that actually complements both the action and art style quite well. And though the story beats aren’t amazing, the voice acting is at least pretty good, too.

9 Monkeys of Shaolin is a solid and straightforward action game, even if it doesn’t hit all the highs of other brawlers like Streets of Rage 4. It’s highly recommended if you’ve been riding the beat ‘em up wave the past couple of years. This is a pure action game through and through, and it’s loaded with some entertaining combat and cool grindhouse style. If you’re a fan of beat ‘em ups and enjoy the subject matter, you’ll have a blast playing 9 Monkeys of Shaolin.