China is the world’s largest video game market in both the number of players and total dollar value. Last year, there were 665 million gamers in the country, making for nearly half the total population.
That said, the international gaming community pays relatively little attention to Chinese video games. This is somewhat understandable, as China has a reputation for producing mediocre mobile games emphasizing microtransactions and profit over exciting and engaging gameplay.
The government, meanwhile, has made understandable but sometimes bizarre attempts to limit the amount of screen time for under-18s. There was even an outright ban on game consoles in the country that began in 2000 and didn’t end until 2015.
Further dampening the game-development industry in China was a freeze on video game licensing that extended from August 2021 to April 2022, causing thousands of video game-related businesses to shut down.
But despite these limitations, developers in China have genuinely stepped up their game, so to speak, in recent years. Numerous excellent games are already on the market, and as the industry continues to boom, many more are in development.
Here, we’ve outlined 10 Chinese games that every video game aficionado should check out. We’ve tried to list great games you haven’t heard of, so there will be no Genshin Impact here, or anything with ‘Honor,’ ‘Legend,’ or ‘Kings’ in their titles.
If you’re into the wildly popular battle royale genre (think titles like Fortnite, Call of Duty, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), this might be the game for you.
Developed by Hangzhou-based 24 Entertainment and first published by NetEase Games Montreal on August 11, 2021, Naraka: Bladepoint is your classic battle royale in many ways. Expect a host of weapons, superhuman characters, and an encroaching arena that shrinks until a single player remains.
In other ways, however, this Chinese video game is wholly its own. For starters, whereas in the aforementioned titles you can kill a competitor from a distance, Bladepoint emphasizes close-contact combat. You can still attack from afar, but a winning strategy will require some up-close-and-personal virtual violence. We’re talking swords, daggers, nunchucks, and something called a ‘bloodripper,’ which looks a bit like a demonic chainsaw fitted with a buzz saw on the end. Not particularly practical in real-life, but certainly ready to get the job done in the fantasy realm.
The intimate combat style reminds us a bit of arcade fighting games like Tekken and Mortal Combat, with movements and an aesthetic that bring the films Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers to mind. The characters, or ‘heroes,’ as they’re called, are all refreshingly unique in their fighting style and weaponry. You can also customize fighters, leading to some mildly uncomfortable renderings of Squidward, Yoda, and more.
Prepare to be hacked to bits repeatedly in the beginning, as there is a bit of a learning curve to the gameplay.
Remember when Lost Soul Aside was first announced in 2016? By now, you’ve probably completely forgotten about it or been driven crazy by the wait. Half a decade ago, the game had only one developer, Yang Bing, and audiences were flabbergasted about how a solitary endeavor could look so damn cool.
Although the development team has grown considerably since the game’s announcement, it is still being helmed by UltiZero Games. Based on the gameplay trailer released in April 2021, audiences have likened it to Final Fantasy XV and Devil May Cry for its fast-paced play and epic visuals.
The main character has a seemingly endless suite of superhuman abilities, and he’s accompanied by a floating robo-dragon (of sorts). The game will have open-world capabilities, and the combat is said to be rather challenging. While there’s no release date yet, we’re anticipating a 2022 arrival.
No list of games would be complete without including a good ol’ first-person shooter (FPS). Enter Bright Memory: Infinite, an FPS that also includes combat with a variety of swords. Players start with a single blade and machine gun and are armed with a few cool battle moves — a metaphysical pull feature, block, and dodge. As the game progresses, you can collect several additional weapons with their own feel and function.
The game is a remade and expanded version of the original Bright Memory, which came out in early 2019. Both were developed by FYQD, originally a one-person studio run by Zeng Xian Cheng. It’s still quite a small operation, making the noticeable improvements to the second game all the more impressive.
Bright Memory: Infinite was released on November 11, 2021, and so far, the response has been great. The title follows the story of Shelia Tan, a Science Research Organization agent tasked with investigating a mysterious force in the sky that is sucking in its surroundings. You probably won’t get too caught up in the narrative, though, as it’s almost nothing but action after the intro, which we’re okay with.
One of China’s most well-known folkloric characters is the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. Sun appears in countless ancient and contemporary texts but is most associated with the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, in which he is a traveling companion of Tang Sanzang, a character based on the real-life Buddhist monk Xuanzang.
The Monkey King has also appeared in numerous theatrical productions, films, TV shows, and more than a dozen video games (even the anime television series Dragon Ball contains elements from the story). But that’s not to say that Black Myth: Wukong isn’t something special.
Developed by indie studio Game Science, Black Myth: Wukong is a third-person action-adventure game where players step into the shoes of the protagonist Monkey King. It is easily the most hyped Chinese game that has yet to be released, and for good reason: The diverse landscapes and characters are laden with nods to Chinese history and cultural esthetic, with stunning visuals and combat scenes that are nothing short of badass.
Small details in the game hold true to the original Monkey King mythology. Take, for instance, the scene in a gameplay teaser where Sun extends his staff and balances on end to defeat a massive white dragon. He can extend the magical golden staff to any length in the original mythology.
Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst with Niko Partners, says Sun will have 72 abilities in total. So expect to see more mystical moves reflective of the original folklore — things like shapeshifting and splitting into infinite versions of himself.
No specific release date has been set yet, but gamers are anticipating its release in 2023.
Welcome to Shadow Torch, a colonized city of anthropomorphic animals known as ‘furtizens.’ This is a Metroidvania, which, for the uninitiated, is a subgenre of action-adventure games where players navigate an open world, unlocking skills and new areas of the map as the game progresses.
Rayton, a juiced-up rabbit and a former soldier in the war against the occupying Machine Legion, plays the main character. He carries a massive, multipurpose ‘fist,’ a gadget recycled from an old war machine that Rayton once piloted, containing his primary weapons. The city is distinctly steampunk-inspired, and different districts have their own appearance and atmosphere.
The game is two-dimensional and utilizes left-right scrolling to navigate the map. It has a fantastic storyline — albeit with some sub-par English-language voice acting — and features cameos from a host of fascinating humanoid animals, from cats to rats and bears to red pandas, but not forgetting robotic canines.
F.I.S.T was developed by TiGames and came out in October 2021 via Antiidelay. With relatively easy and user-friendly gameplay, it serves as a great introduction to the oversaturated Metroidvania market.
If you’ve ever wanted to control the whims of a maniacal warlord conquering foreign lands, you may want to do some soul searching. Alternatively, lean right in and give Conqueror’s Blade a try.
Like many popular games produced in China, this Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMO) is free to play. While there are some pay-to-play elements, most of these are cosmetic, fortunately, and not necessary to succeed in the game.
Developed by Booming Games, Conqueror’s Blade is a turn-based game that incorporates action and tactical gameplay elements. What’s incredibly cool is the fact it includes both Eastern- and Western-style medieval warfare. Released on March 17, 2022, the latest update — Conqueror’s Blade: Paragons, as seen in the video above, was inspired by medieval France.
It is classified as a ‘sandbox game,’ meaning players have a high degree of control and creativity where gameplay is concerned and don’t necessarily have to follow predetermined objectives or goals (think Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto).
Set in imperial China during the collapse of the Ming Dynasty, Wuchang: Fallen Feathers combines history, folklore, and otherworldly dystopian elements that make for a surprisingly fresh take on the ancient era.
Inspired by the turbulent period, players are dropped into a land plagued by unrest. Warlords, banditry, and violence abound. Adding to the mayhem is a mysterious condition causing people to grow feathers and lose touch with their humanity. The protagonist is tasked with unraveling the cause of the strange illness.
This is the first title created by Chengdu-based LenZee Games, formerly Recano Chengdu Hurricane Zone. An action RPG, Fallen Feathers draws influence from games like Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and Sekiro. Don’t hold your breath for a quick drop, though: The game is scheduled for release in 2024.
We were hesitant to include this on the list, given its striking resemblance to Pokemon Go (and we don’t want to be responsible for any avoidable deaths). Still, the animated creatures are too cute to overlook!
To be fair to developers TiMi Studio Group, Pokemon Go was never available in China, which explains their urge to fill a much-needed gap in the niche market. After all, how many mobile games require the player to literally be mobile.
Like Pokemon Go, Let’s Hunt Monsters is an augmented reality (AR) game where players catch digital creatures using their real-life geolocations. Instead of Pokemon, however, the hunt is on for creatures inspired by Chinese mythology. To catch all 302 monsters, players use ‘spirit orbs’ (basically yin-yang pokeballs) sourced from ‘Prayer Drums.’
You can also build structures within the game, mirroring gameplay in MMOs. Using the Tencent-developed blockchain, players can even trade digital ‘kittens’ in a feature not dissimilar to the Ethereum blockchain game CryptoKitties.
Let’s Hunt Monsters was first announced by Tencent in April 2018 and has been available on Chinese app stores since April 11, 2019. While there have been numerous attempts to recreate the success of Pokemon Go, none quite measure up, although Let’s Hunt Monsters has come closer than the rest. Five months after its release, the game generated more than 50 million USD in revenue just on iOS.
Tower of Fantasy is an action RPG infused with narrative elements and open-world gameplay. If you think that sounds a little too Genshin Impact-y, well, you’re not the only one; the game’s developers have even dubbed their creation a ‘Genshin Impact killer.’
Smack talk isn’t the only scandal they’ve been caught up in, though: They were previously busted using plagiarized content in a promotional video, and later, clearly not learning from their own mistakes, allegedly used reviews for Genshin Impact to boost their own game’s ratings.
Nonetheless, Tower of Fantasy has been in China for a year and is set for worldwide release in 2022, much to global gamers’ excitement. In March of this year, it was reported that the title is undergoing closed beta testing in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
While Tower of Fantasy is in many ways similar to Genshin Impact, the former takes place in the future and combines elements of science fiction with anime-inspired characters. It also allows character customization and the use of various weapon types irrespective of which character you choose, further setting it apart from its rival.
Released by Hotta Studios and published internationally by Perfect World, the game is set on the post-apocalyptic planet Aida. Once flourishing and technologically advanced, the planet’s energy source, Omnium, has become its undoing, as the radioactive material has caused some of the planet’s remaining inhabitants to mutate.
Initially developed by Shanghai FantaBlade Network in 2017, Icey is a two-dimensional side-scrolling action game — with a few twists. Led by an omnipotent narrator called the ‘Developer’ who guides your every move (should you choose to obey), the goal is to control the eponymous humanoid robot Icey.
In this hack ‘n’ slash melee-style adventure, Icey is armed with a sword and tasked with defeating a powerful enemy called Judas, all while unraveling the meaning of her existence. From start to finish, the Developer aggressively urges you to follow his every direction, but much of the fun lies in defying his overbearing, sometimes passive-aggressive commands.
The game is cheap to purchase, and the story takes no more than a couple of days to complete, though you can start again and unravel the story differently in subsequent sittings. As such, it’s the perfect game for the casual gamer or anyone who wants a few pleasant hours of digital distraction.
Carving out a new niche, Stray is not technically a Chinese video game but takes place in a dystopian future in Hong Kong. It was developed by BlueTwelve Studios and will be published by Annapurna Interactive, respectively based in southern France and California. The game is set for release in July 2022.
Players assume the role of a stray cat tasked with navigating the chaotic streets and buildings of a once-flourishing megacity now inhabited solely by robots. Its ultimate goal is to reunite with its family.
The game aesthetic is heavily influenced by the Kowloon Walled City, which was destroyed in the ’90s at the behest of Hong Kong authorities. Once upon a time, it was the most densely packed place on Earth and operated independently from the British colonial government and law enforcement.
Needless to say, it was a fascinating place and one that we regret not having visited before it came crumbling down. But thanks to Stray, a Kowloonesque adventure is still possible. Navigating the city as a furry feline offers players a unique perspective on the digital world and allows for mobility and challenges that a clunky bipedal human simply can’t pull off.
Cover image via heishenhua.com
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