“Enslaved”: Monkeying around

If having a monkey on your back is bad, is riding on a monkey’s back good?

It certainly works out well for the characters of “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West,” a T-rated action game developed by Ninja Theory for Namco Bandai.

You play as Monkey, whose hulking physique, tail-like sash and painted face make him look a lot like the Monkey King from Chinese folklore. And that’s no surprise since the storyline is basically a retelling of the 400-year-old Chinese novel “Journey to the West.”

As the game begins, you are trying to escape confinement on a giant flying slave ship soaring over a post-apocalyptic New York City. While sprinting though the vessel and fighting off robots, you run across Trip — a shapely young woman who’s also making a break for it. Unfortunately, she’s less than helpful. She ditches you several times before climbing into an escape pod and blasting into the sky — with you clinging to the pod’s exterior.

After a rough landing, you awake to find a slaver’s restraining device affixed to your noggin. Trip needs to get home — desperately — and figures the device is the only way to get your help. So, the two of you head west — often with Trip perched atop your back.

Along the way, you spend most of your time doing two things: bashing robots and platforming.

Monkey lives up to his name during the platforming sequences, climbing and leaping around the ruins with ease. However, the game is nowhere near “Prince of Persia” or “Assassin’s Creed” in its level of sophistication. While there’s plenty of leaping and climbing, there’s no wall-running and little swinging. And when you hit puzzles, they’re usually pretty easy. However, “Enslaved” offers much more than platforming so the balance works very well in the end.

Monkey’s other main duty is dispatching mechs — an assortment of potentially deadly robots. Your primary weapon is a staff. In addition to delivering some solid whacks, the big stick can fire energy bolts that can destroy or incapacitate robots from a distance. Because of Monkey’s diverse attacks and the differing abilities of his foes, combat is highly entertaining.

Another of Monkey’s tricks involves his “cloud,” a hovering energy disc that lets him zip around the landscape with ease. It’s not always available but, when it is, it’s fun to use.

Despite her slight build, Trip can prove helpful. She can offer healing, distract enemies or scan the surroundings for dangers. In addition, you can toss her up to hard-to-reach locations. She’s linked to you at almost all times via the slaver’s headband, so you can call on her to use her skills or to help you solve puzzles whenever necessary.

Beyond the game play, there’s plenty to keep you interested in the game. In general, the missions are well conceived, offering interesting challenges and a wide selection of activities. The story line is compelling and the characters are very engaging. It certainly helps that the voice work is very good and the dialogue is entertaining. Andy Serkis — Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” movies — provides the voice for Monkey, so you know he’s packed with spunk. And the graphics are excellent.

This all adds up to a game that will certainly enthrall a lot of gamers.

Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3


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