There’s very little exposure to South and East Asia folklore in video games on this side of the world. Sure, there are some games and genres that explore these tales, but you’ll have to go looking if you want to experience more than just a handful of examples. Yet, as gaming becomes more global, we’re getting more opportunities to explore local histories and tales we may not have otherwise heard of.
One of those tales that is getting the game treatment is that of Taiwanese hero Liao Tianding, who robbed from the rich to give to the poor during Imperial Japan’s occupancy in the early 20th century. It’s a story that will sound familiar to those in the West who’ve heard of Robin Hood, but The Legend of Tianding has a more modern tone.
The Legend of Tianding is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up with Tianding facing off against the police and criminals that are causing issues for his community. The game’s opening chapter of the game in which Tianding has returned to put corrupt business owner Wang in his place.
The first thing that catches the eye is the art style of The Legend of Tianding, which is evocative of classic Chinese manga. The art style is one of my favourite things from this demo. It looks fantastic and really brings the world of early 20th century Taiwan to life. There is a lot of colour and there are so many details to spot in the environments as you move from screen to screen.
Much of the preview build actually takes you away from the streets and down into the sewers instead as Tianding looks for a way to enter Wang’s Tea House. The sewers are far from quiet though, as both police and criminals look to take out Tianding, engaging in fights to subdue him.
The combat system allows for quite a few tactical options. The most basic attack sees Tianding hitting enemies with his blade and using a sash to disarm enemies so he can take their weapons. These weapons can vary from bamboo poles to axes to guns, and if you get a weapon you do not like then you can discard it. Tianding can dodge through attacks and this move becomes crucial as enemies rush him. Additionally, Tianding learns new moves such as the one inch punch and dragon kick, both of which do a good amount of damage and can push back enemies to give some breathing space. The fighting feels smooth and fast paced though you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times as enemies spawn in. A bullet may hit you if you’re not paying attention, but you can also deflect them back towards enemies if you time it right.
There were two difficulty modes to try out, with both casual and hardcore options. The hardcore difficulty adds additional traps in the environment and makes enemies more dangerous, while casual will let you have an easier ride if you just want to experience the story.
Outside of the fighting, you need to navigate the levels using jumps, moves, and a grapple. For the most part, getting around is fine, though the grapple needs a little bit of work. One section toward the end of the preview build needs Tianding to grapple upwards using wheels as grapple points. Sounds easy enough, but when there are two deadly polluted falls and a deadly pool of polluted water beneath you, there is a lot of things that can go wrong. The issue is that the window to grapple in this scenario feels way too short with the arrow indicators only appearing briefly before Tianding is out of range. It took a lot of attempts to get past this bit, and with every death Tianding loses some of the money he has collected.
The Legend of Tianding is shaping up to be a fun side scrolling beat ‘em up, but just as important, it’s bringing a folk tale to more people of other cultures. It’s a story that’s getting a good treatment in the preview build we played, and the demo ended on a rather intriguing note. The Legend of Tianding is set to be released in October for PC and Nintendo Switch.