It’s always a joy to see an under-represented culture or time period in video games. In The Legend of Tianding, you’re thrown into the streets of Taipei - the capital of Taiwan - during the early 20th century as the legendary outlaw, Liao Tianding. It’s a wonderfully authentic take with locations that feel remarkably alive with bustling streets and tall, imposing structures lining the roads. It’s also a game that, unfortunately, doesn’t entirely respect the players’ time, stubbornly refraining from showcasing its best aspects at frequent intervals.

The game is split into chapters, each of which tells its own standalone tale in the life of Liao Tianding. Typically, the stories start off with a load of exposition and set-up, before dropping you into the main mission area where you’ll navigate a series of passageways and arenas, fighting off hordes of enemies as you go. It’s a light take on the Metroidvania genre; the locations are, by and large, fairly linear with only a few additional areas to explore for items or collectibles.

The real meat of the game is centred on its combat. If we were to compare it directly to another game, it’s pretty similar to the Guacamelee! series, but showcases its own style and flavour with a sharp focus on disarming enemies and using their own weapons against them. You’ll be utilising everything from a tanto to police batons and even rocket launchers as you dispatch your foes, with the game gradually introducing new abilities as you go, allowing you to string together attack combinations with style.

You’ll need to use every ability at your disposal too, as the enemies will come thick and fast. With the game set to the ‘Wanted Outlaw’ difficulty, these guys don’t pull their punches; you’ll need to be swift, agile and aggressive, as it will only take a few mistakes to find yourself back at the last checkpoint. Of course, you can take the difficulty down to ‘Gentleman Thief’ for a more easy-going ride, but we’d recommend at least starting off on the higher setting for a more robust and rewarding experience.

At the end of each chapter you’ll come face-to-face with the area’s boss. On the tougher difficulty setting these foes really test your skills and patience to the max, requiring you to use all the moves at your disposal whilst dodging, ducking, dipping, diving, and dodging out of the way of multiple projectiles at once. Be prepared to face them multiple times (at least!), as recognising their routines and attack patterns is vital to success. Put it this way - they could give some of the boss characters in Metroid Dread a run for their money.

The Legend of Tianding absolutely shines brightest when you’re knee-deep in its excellent combat. It’s a shame, then, that it insists on spending so much time on other aspects of the game. When each chapter commences you’re introduced to new characters and given context behind what you’re required to do (and who you’re required to wallop in the process). This is fine in itself, but the game spends way too much time around this aspect, often asking you to go from one end of the map to the other to simply pick up a key item and bring it back, with multiple interruptions from NPCs along the way.

It’s admittedly a good way to bolster the already impressive sense of place within the city of Taipei, but when you just want to get cracking with the superb combat, stopping off to hand money over to beggars or buy some meat from a market feels very much like wasted time. The experience would benefit greatly from a bit of trimming here and there to improve the overall pacing.

Aesthetically, The Legend of Tianding is a pleasingly colourful affair, with anime-style visuals providing a nice style to the overall presentation. Character models are unfortunately repeated quite frequently throughout the game, but there’s nevertheless a lot of personality in both the friendly NPCs you encounter and the countless enemies. Similarly, the cutscenes used to bookend each chapter are designed in the style of traditional manga, with an authentic Taiwanese narrator guiding you through the excellent images on display.

From a technical perspective, the game runs at a solid frame rate for the most part, with minor drops during the more intense combat scenes. These are noticeable, for sure, but rarely get in the way of the otherwise impressive gameplay. Load times are similarly brief, which is certainly a mercy when you’re up against a particularly fierce boss character that requires you to reload your checkpoint multiple times.

Conclusion

As a combat experience The Legend of Tianding is up there with the Guacamelee! series, showcasing excellent gameplay that allows you to string together multiple attacks and use your enemies’ weapons against them. With distinct chapters introducing their own standalone missions, however, the game stubbornly forces you to endure a huge amount of set-up, with long conversations with NPCs and arduous treks across the hub world of Taipei. Trimming this fat would have benefited the overall pacing greatly, but push through this and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most thrilling combat experiences we’ve encountered in a while.