I knew nothing about Shu until it was teased as an upcoming #IGCParty event game. The colorful art and the fact it was described as a platformer had intrigued me heavily. I watched the trailer and saw how this purple cloud-like demon creature was trying to engulf the fleeing characters that inhabited the land. It looked very curious. So first, a quick Thank you to Coatsink and @IndieGamerChick for the copy. I appreciate it and I appreciate being one of the lucky ones to have gotten it for Switch. Nintendo is my main platform after all.
Ultimately I found myself being rather torn throughout my full play through of this game. There were plenty of details and moments where I was loving it one second and kind of loathing it the next. It has made for quite the challenge to express my feelings and experience with this game. To start things off, this game truly is a platformer. Excellent, right? I love platformers. In the last five years of logging all the games I’ve beaten, a whopping 25% of them have been a core platformer or at least half-platformer. I love the whole idea of running around a world, soaking in the sights, seeking out the hidden nooks and crannies, and collecting stuff. A nice story goes a long way too. Nothing too detailed is required but something to chew on. A motivation to move! Shu seems to find itself right in the middle of being really great and being rather bland. It does neither though and for perhaps lack of better phrasing that is ultimately okay. For every moment I wasn’t pleased about something, I was also joyed at an area. Ultimately the game is more fun than the opposite but this inconsistency weighs on the experience.
The platforming is here. You’ve got the jumping, the running, the exploring. The stages do have different paths on occasion and some secrets to discover but it is a rather linear game overall. Then again, so was Super Mario Bros. and look how that turned out. This game even has some neat air currents that whisk you away on a quick and often-winding trajectory that makes you feel like a leaf in the breeze for just an ever so brief moment. Mario ain’t got nothin’ on that (or he didn’t in 1985 anyway). This platforming experience, while occasionally joyous, can sometimes feel like a chore due to some clunky controls. The main character never really feels tight. You can be running and jump and never really know where you’re going to land. You often utilize your floating-mechanic (the only mechanic you keep the whole game) and that usually helps but even while in that position you’ll find yourself able to sway left and right so easily that it makes some simple-looking areas weirdly frustrating. A majority of my lives lost were more about slightly slipping into an awkward hit-box and not actually due to some tough challenge that got the best of me. The platforming was also a little un-inspired initially. The game is designed to ramp up slowly across its many worlds and it really did take till the third area for me to feel like it was catching its groove. The stages were more visually interesting and the move set you could use were simply more fun.
In the first world, the very first character you meet along your journey is a dude named Joro. He’s got some kids in a cart and once you touch him he’ll follow you to the end of the stage. He allows you to butt-stomp weak platforms. The game shows you to press the B-button when over a platform, but it took me way too long to realize that the B-button again has to be pressed along with hitting down on the joystick. Later power-ups would be more intuitive and hell, honestly this one wasn’t bad, but the lack of text or clear direction in this game did hurt things for me. The story is done with some ambiguity. The moves are dished out with ambiguity. All the things you collect… you collect for no real reason or understanding. Maybe I missed something in the opening cinematic. Maybe I glanced away and this all was shown to me. I simply didn’t quite get it. The motivation was ‘escape the wrath of the purple fart’. I kid (about the fart thing). Before I discuss the purple demon cloud, I want to touch on the other moves in your repertoire. You only have special moves once you find the friends in the worlds. At the end of the stages, these friends get rescued and you lose your move. Luckily the worlds are designed with this in mind, so you won’t find yourself stuck wishing you still had a power-up, but you definitely will wonder why the game limits you in such a way. In some regards it does seem kind of novel. It emphasizes your support and friendship with these characters but ultimately it means your favorite way to play or the most fun portion of the game is certainly limited. Like with the stages in general, the moves get way better midway through the game. One you rescue and say good-bye to Joro and Lati, you’ll find the likes of Yrb who will give you a double-jump (which makes for some slick platforming) and Chom (who allows you to ride up-drifts along with her rather grating noises). Ultimately these moves and stages end up making for generally fun platforming if you can look past the short-comings. The game is in its prime when you have multiple support characters following you and the game has you make the most out of your varied yet specifically-paired move set. Without spoiling too much, near the end of the game you’ll make use of all the moves in the game in a pretty fun way.
The game itself looks really nice. The art style is colorful and enjoyable. Reminds me a bit of the more recent Shantae: Half-Genie Hero style with hand-drawn animation and characters. The characters are quirky and interesting. Yet, the world itself is not entirely intuitive. Previously-mentioned hit boxes can sometimes surprise you to your doom and sometimes you’ll land on a ledge you can’t believe is there. Plus, it has no purpose anyway. The frustrating aspect of the stages can be mostly mitigated by the plentiful checkpoints. I liked this aspect. It meant that I didn’t have to start over by much on any areas that tripped me up (whether my fault or not). If you lost all five lives then you end up having to restart a level. This only happened to me once in the main game and once during a RUN segment (more on those in a moment). This method of handling things made for a dampening on the frustration front, making death a bit more akin to Super Meat Boy or VVVVVV. However this also made me feel like lives should have been erased altogether. I “think” I understand why it wasn’t handled this way. I had read in an article that the game is intended to be prime for speed-running. I guess having a limited set of lives helps ensure people can fail to be successful at speed-running better than if they just could quickly reset and keep going. However, perhaps that’s just conjecture.
The big hook of this game is easily the RUN segments. I’ve bolded and capitalized these references in this post because they really do that in the game as well. When these moments come up, the tension is ‘on like Donkey Kong’ and you gotta bust a move. The purple apocalypse is coming for you and it’s hungry! It will chase you around (using a set path mind you) as you race through the level with it looming right behind. It can taste the hair on your glutes; that’s how close it is. One simple hesitation or mistake generally means your demise. Thankfully the checkpoints exist here too. This has helped lessen the struggles I’ve had while still keeping things challenging and fun. However I do feel like the controls can sometimes hinder what otherwise should have been a better run through a segment like this. One of my Twitter friends, Katelyn (Pikateychu), commented on an early Twitter post of mine that she hadn’t finished this game because she got stuck on one of these RUN segments. Something tells me it may not have been entirely her fault either. The weird sense of momentum and weight that the game lacks just ultimately keeps coming back as I play and think about it. It feels more like a flash game and less like a video game sometimes for this. A quick aside; the run animation for the character also doesn’t match the pure speed you can move through the stage. He runs so ‘slow’ in his animation but he moves so fast in practice. Just was a weird marriage is all.
I’ll finish my thoughts up by noting that overall the game has its fun moments. I think different people will get different mileage from this one and I think that the pleasant graphics will be useful to lure in curious players. Certain gamers are going to embrace what I have deemed flaws but some might even be more harsh that I. it is not my intent to be harsh but I was simply surprised at how different my presumptions were from the reality. The game does get better with each world and ultimately I finished the game feeling that it was time well spent. I’m certainly curious to see more from Coatsink and I really want to thank them for supporting the Nintendo Switch. That alone is the first stepping stone to catching my interest (literally since I don’t own a PS4). If you are looking for a simple, artsy, platformer,… try jumping into this one.