The Legend of Tianding Review – Unsung Avant-Garde

    Title: The Legend of Tianding
    Developer: Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation
    Release Date: November 1, 2021
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Neon Doctrine
    Genre: Beat'em Up Action Platformer

The video game industry generally draws from a myriad of different cultural backgrounds, but rarely do we see one from Taiwan. So indie developer Creative Games Computer Graphics Corporation decided to fill that void with their debut of the flashy beat’em up action platformer The Legend of Tianding.

The game takes us back to the early 1900s when Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese from the Qing dynasty by the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895. Liao Tianding, the titular protagonist, is often deemed the Robin Hood of Taiwan, stealing from the corrupt and fighting for the oppressed. In this depiction of the legendary unsung hero, Tianding helps the villagers of Taipei fight against the ruthless Japanese police force while discovering an ancient vault filled with treasure and secrets.

The Legend of Tianding

The visual fidelity is expressive and exquisite. Colorful manhua-style panels are utilized in cutscenes that make you feel like you’re reading a fresh release of a Chinese comic book. Voice acting is done in Taiwanese and heard in vital cutscenes, while most text is presented through manhua-style panels or text bubbles. Each area you visit is visually distinct, with different color palettes and architectural structures. There are a few localization issues with misspelled English words and incorrect grammar, but it was mostly fluid.

Traditional musical instruments can also be heard in the backdrop and on the streets of Taipei. From the soothing strums that induce peace and tranquility to the bashing beats of fight sequences, the game stays more than faithful to its Taiwanese heritage roots. To further the degree of historical accuracy, The Legend of Tianding plays out almost exactly how the real-life Tianding did. Themes of political inequality and betrayal are alluded to, as initially antagonistic characters might not be so, and vice-versa.

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Combat in The Legend of Tianding is equal parts fast-paced and exciting as it is smooth and responsive. In short, it’s exceptionally well done and really fun. For a beat’em up, there’s no shortage of combos to string and execute on your enemies. While fighting might seem like just swinging your default knife repeatedly, it demands the accompaniment of an arsenal of skills to carry out in tandem.

Enemies consist of corrupt Taiwanese thugs and Japanese military officers, generally with your grunt and brute variants. There’s a surprising amount of depth to combat, as the developer implemented a unique mechanic that allows you to disarm and steal the enemy’s weapon for limited time use. These obtainable weapons include katanas and police batons to rifles, and rocket launchers! With a vast arsenal of weapons to steal at your disposal, there’s an appropriate tool for every occasion. Need to deal some AOE damage? Steal that RPG! Want to channel your inner samurai? Grab that katana!

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As you progress throughout the story, you also learn new special kung fu moves that you can perform at the cost of stamina. These skills not only allow you to dish out higher combo counts but also act as a slight Metroidvania tool for traversal to previously unreachable areas. For example, the soaring dragon allows you to reach higher ground while the ground stomp enables you to break platforms. In addition, combat is frequently integrated with environmental hazards that you can use to your advantage with your remarkable fighting skills.

Evasion is smoothly implemented with the presence of invincibility frames and the addition of perfect dodges. Visual and audio cues both assist you when an attack is imminent. Perfect dodges allow you to counter with one of two skills you acquire as you progress, including a shadow clone and shadow vanish. For instance, performing the flying kick technique allows you to deflect bullets and projectiles. How sick is that?

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Perhaps the greatest highlights of combat are the boss battles. Not only are they a visual spectacle, but they also provide adrenaline-inducing challenges for you to take on. Every encounter makes excellent use of flashy, vibrant colors and the luscious comic book art style to create standout experiences. There are a total of six bosses in the game, each with its own unique moveset and abilities that put your skills to the test.

Still, there are some unexpected difficulty spikes, particularly near the finale. These are primarily attributed to overpowered moves from bosses and tricky platforming that results in instant death if performed incorrectly. Dying results in losing hard-earned money that you otherwise need to purchase for better default weapons and upgrades.

On the theme of Robin Hood, you can also donate money to the poor, who often grant you a token of appreciation, such as passive upgrades. That being said, much of the difficult platforming is optional as they break off the linear path to hidden treasure chests. Nonetheless, these never detracted from the overall enjoyment of the game. Instead, they felt rewarding and motivating.

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Level design is mostly linear, but there are side paths to look for the aforementioned hidden treasure chests. Movement is slick and enjoyable, and it never felt like a drag to walk from one place to another, thanks to compact area sizes. Even so, the developer added in a convenient, fast travel option via a culturally and time-period appropriate rickshaw.

Granted, this is a concise game, being able to complete it in 4 hours. Replayability comes in the form of two difficulty levels, side quests, and a card-based minigame. There’s also an option to replay any previous completed chapter and boss fight. Unfortunately, most side missions end up being recycled fetch quests throughout previously visited areas.

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Aside from its highly brief playtime and minor use of fetch quests, The Legend of Tianding is an excellent beat’em up action platformer that touches upon a cultural figure that has been mostly forgotten. The polished and fleshed-out combat, along with the brilliant art design and Taiwanese voice-acted dialogue, makes this a thrilling historical adventure with a strong foundation for what can be an anthology of forgotten ethnic heroes.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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