The Legend of Tianding is a comic book-styled action-platformer hack-and-slash where you play as Liao Tian-Ding, the legendary Taiwanese folk hero, or if you’re as uncultured as I am, a sort-of Taiwanese Robin Hood figure. As Liao, you will explore the streets of Colonial Japanese Taiwan, all rendered in a dazzling comic book/manga art style. As an outlaw you will rise up against the Japanese ruling classes, rob from the rich, give to the poor and do an awful lot of kung fu fighting. You might even learn something about the Japanese rule of Taiwan along the way.
The first thing you’ll notice on booting up The Legend of Tianding is the art style. It metaphorically roundhouse kicks you in the face with how gorgeously comic book-ey it is. There is a lot of hidden beauty in The Legend of Tianding but the most beautiful beauty is very much worn on the game’s sleeve with the aesthetics on display from the very first frame. I’m no artist so I’m painfully restricted in the language I can use to describe how nice this game looks, but it’s got the comic pane borders, the dotty colouring in and the pop-up picture-in-picture that sell the whole effect. Every screenshot I’ve taken looks hand-drawn and wouldn’t feel out of place in any manga – in fact, for all I know every frame has been lifted directly from a Naruto or a Sailor Moon.
Once you pick your jaw up off the floor and recover from the visuals, it’s time to pick up the controller and deal with the pesky necessity of playing the game. The first bit of gameplay that you’re let loose with is the platforming. This is introduced to you through a super quick and simple tutorial that shows you all the types of jumps, rappelling and dodging without any unnecessary faff. It’s just a case of ‘here’s everything you need to know, now go and play the game’. As far as I can tell the platforming controls aren’t added to through the game so the tutorial sets you up nicely. The platforming feels tactile and satisfying and there is a perfectly positioned range of moves – more than your simple run and jump in a Mario but less than the complex behemoth of Mirror’s Edge. Before long you’ll be flinging yourself around the map with no difficulties, jumping off a platform, rappelling onto another and dodging through the spikes in your path.
Once you’ve had some time to master the platforming, The Legend of Tianding introduces you to the next set of gameplay. It’s a hop, skip and jump into a combat situation. To start with you just have a simple attack that you can mash to your heart’s content, but the game quickly introduces you to its disarm move. Once you’ve weakened an enemy you can press a button to wrap them in ribbons and throw them in a direction of your choosing. This does a fair amount of damage but also causes the enemy to drop their weapon which you can pick up for a significant damage upgrade from your basic weapon, with my personal favourite being a war axe arrangement like Thor’s Stormbreaker only with less lightning and more pummelling enemies in the face. Even with just these two attacks, the game feels amazing, allowing you to combo attacks, throws and weapon changes to juggle a mass of enemies in a buttery smooth dance. But that’s not all, the game slowly introduces you to new attacks and upgrades that you can add into your combos, making you feel like a serious kung fu badass. There is a potential here for some seriously powerful combos of attacks that’ll stop your enemies from getting a hit in and mean you never touch the floor. The worst thing about the game is knowing there are 12-year-olds on YouTube doing just that while I can barely couple together two attacks. Once you start thinking about joining the fantastic platforming into your smooth as hell attack combos you’ll get a real feeling for the potential on offer in The Legend of Tianding.
The Legend of Tianding is one of those games that I had no expectations for going in but completely blew me away. The thing I love about the game is so hard to get across in words, but it’s the feel of the game – how well the combat and platforming are built to be smooth and intuitive. Pair that game feeling with the brilliantly realised comic book visual style and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.