Using history to set your game isn’t anything new. That makes sense, given how historical conflicts have played a role in shaping the world. There’s no shortage of World War II-themed shooters, for instance, and that’s a great example of how some historical events might get a little more attention in games than others.
Case in point: The Legend of Tianding, which focuses on the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the early 1900s and the fabled “Robin Hood of Taiwan”. Can an interactive history lesson be a good starting point for an action platformer?
Unsurprisingly, in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, the residents of the country had to deal with plenty of pain and oppression. It’s an occupation, after all; not everyone’s happy about the situation. There’s an undercurrent of dissent that runs through the country. Nobody personifies that dissent more than Liao Tianding, a thief with a heart of gold who’s a sort of combination between Batman and Robin Hood. With his deadly knife, martial arts expertise and weapon-snatching sash, Tianding fights against the colonial authorities in the name of the downtrodden Taiwanese.
We follow Tianding as he beats the hell out of anyone who needs it. Greedy merchants? They get smacked. Corrupt police? They’re going to taste dirt. Tianding plays a bit like Juan from the Guacamelee games – he’s got basic ground and air combos with his knife, as well as several stamina-restricted martial arts techniques that he can throw into the mix to spice things up or get around areas. You’ll collect more of these as you progress through the game, allowing you to reach new areas in Metroidvania fashion. These will come in handy as you explore levels and engage in the game’s memorable boss battles; there’s even a bunch of collectibles to dig up that include blurbs about Taiwanese culture and history.
The biggest divergence from your usual brawler, though, is the way Tianding’s thief skills work in combat. Once you’ve beaten an enemy to within an inch of their life, they’ll enter a stunned state. At this point, Tianding can use his sash to steal whatever weapon they’re using and put it to work himself. Axes? Maces? Swords? Sure, grab them and give the enemies a taste of their own medicine. Tianding can even steal guns, which are so powerful against the average melee-ranged enemy it almost feels a little unfair. The Legend of Tianding’s combat keeps up a laudable level of variety thanks to the many different armaments Tianding can use.
There’s also something to be said for The Legend of Tianding’s presentation. It’s got the look of a modern manga series and the feel of a 1900s-style radio show, as we’re told to eagerly await the next episode of Tianding’s adventure. It’s a unique style that you don’t see especially often. If there’s any complaint to be had about Tianding, it’s that the UI is a little rough – I’m pretty sure most of the fonts are just stock, for instance, and there probably could have been a little more polish to go around on this end.
That’s a relatively minor complaint in the face of a high-quality experience like The Legend of Tianding, though. Most Westerners probably don’t know much about this period of history, meaning this game makes for a great chance to learn a thing or two while you’re introducing baddies to the floor. Add Tianding’s constantly-swapping array of armaments and you’ve got the recipe for a solid brawling/Metroidvania experience.