The Legend of Tianding, by indie developer, CGCG, was made with sublime innocence and breathtaking artistry, in a time when simple values ring true. In these cynical days when political correctness cannot be presented without subtext, this fun little game comes to light in an eternal season of chivalry.
The purpose of the game, I suppose, was to demonstrate one’s will to do good, to fight back against foreign invaders, but more importantly, to right the injustice that comes along with such oppression. It is this simple premise that is at the heart of the story in which we require no complex examples, no revisionist analysis, nor any type of explanations; it is only enough that that proof of civility still exists.
The Legend of Tianding is a side-scrolling, platforming, action game about Liao Tianding, the legendary Taiwanese folk hero made famous during the pretentious Japanese occupation of Taiwan. The title is essentially two games in one, paying homage to the classic platformers like Prince of Persia with the fighting mechanics of Tomb Raider.
Players can navigate Tianding through various levels and utilize his fighting moves using an elaborate scheme of button combinations. The controls may seem daunting at first but become second nature as the game progresses. Each level culminates in the obligatory boss fight that will push your reflexes to the limit. Once you defeat a boss, you are rewarded with ‘collectibles’ which enable you to learn a different skill to add to your growing arsenal.
The developers have created an incredibly well-integrated environment that brings vibrancy and a refreshing story to a game that really creates its own living world. While the title’s aesthetics take on a comic-book feel, the citizens move, the rivers flow, the trees sway, and everything inside of it has its own unique behaviors despite being background placeholders. Like Prince of Persia before it, Tianding is so much more immersive and lusciously vibrant that you can’t help but stare at it before realizing it is just a game.
For all of its technical splendor, however, the game would not be a great one without the setting–not just the fact that it takes place in the early part of the 20th century, but also because it was such a volatile time in the history of our world. And unlike other games where alien landscapes dominate every level, the Legend of Tianding has depth in storytelling so much so that the setting can resonate with more than one niche group of players.
What makes the game so fun to play is Tianding’s lighthearted exuberance, the good cheer with which he embodies a role like Robin Hood who takes from the rich and gives back to the poor. When someone would ask me what I looked for in a good game, I would say, ‘solid mechanics and appeal’ and Tianding embodies these two characteristics with a careless rapture.
Look at Tianding’s swagger, for example, as he enters Wang’s Tea House and immediately throws down with a couple of sword-wielding guards, knowing full well that the punishment for entering such a place would equal death. Surrounded by enemies, Tianding fearlessly makes his way down to the sewer system and fights off wave after wave of bad guys, and then reverses his tracks to make his way out again. In any other game, this might be redundant and boring, but the developers so supremely create levels that one must approach it meticulously rather than bull-rushing it. Yes, being extra cautious slows down the pace, but by doing so, Tianding can observe dangers and anticipate them.
If there were a nitpick box I could check off it would be in two categories: first, I have not found a way to completely skip the cut scenes; sure, you can keep pressing the A button, but you should not have to do so after having replayed specific levels multiple times. Thankfully, the game has a generous Save system that makes it easy to pick up where you left off. Second, the game is relatively short which is in no means the fault of the game, but the genre specifically. After all, once you’ve seen all the game has to offer, everything else becomes trivial and experienced players will blow through the gameplay rather quickly.
Overall, Legend of Tianding is a solid game with beautiful scenes that have a directness that is almost bold. The game knows when to be simple and what it takes to make the player vested in both the characters and the story. While many developers have promised intriguing and interesting gameplay, this one actually delivers. The Legend of Tianding is a combination of all things good about gaming and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to play and review this fantastic game.