|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4|
|Developer||Coatsink, Secret Lunch|
|Release Date||October 4, 2016|
Review code provided
Shu is an action platformer in which you guide the eponymous hero in a race against time; a terrible storm destroys Shu’s seaside village, and our plucky hero must run, jump and glide his way in-land in search of sanctuary. With a little help from his friends.
Shu does your normal running and jumping left-to-right found in 2.5D platformers such as these, and like most nowadays, this game adds a few abilities to spice things up. Shu can glide using the shoulder buttons, which in practice is fairly subtle but remarkably effective. This may seem like a bit of a cop-out, like it might make the game easier, but this is deceptive due to the pace required to succeed. At times you’ll be able to navigate the levels fairly easily, yet there’s a few curveballs which keep you on your toes. The odd section brings a more puzzle-esque element to mind which do require thought, but nothing is too difficult. For the most part.
It gets really interesting when you come across other villagers that need rescuing from the storm. Now and again, you’ll find one (or more!) of the ten stranded survivors and, with a quick grasp of their hand, you’ll gain a new ability to take advantage of while they’re in your company. None of these are superfluous; all are required to beat the section in which you find them. One companion will allow you to double jump, one will grant the ability to walk on water for a short while, another slows time down – there’s some real variation on offer which keeps Shu from getting repetitive or samey, and with the game not being overly long it helps each level retain a level of charm and individuality. There’s even a section in which you mount a crazy bull-type creature and barrel your way around like a- well, like a bull in a china shop.
There’s fifteen perilous levels to traverse over five worlds in Shu, each of them with their own distinct character and feel; I have an inkling (sorry) that the stunning artwork on display is at least partly hand-drawn. The characters are all exquisitely animated, from Shu’s delightful innocence down to his companions’ various grumpiness, cheerfulness and… fatness. I don’t know their names. With a distinctly Eastern vibe, I almost lost lives several times from admiring the spectacular scenery and lighting. I definitely lost lives on some of the trickier sections, mind.
There’s a great deal here for completionists to gorge. Aside from the glut of achievements there for the taking, we also get collectables in the form of a trail of golden butterflies, guiding you through each level. These can be misleading though – deviate from the path and you may be rewarded with secret areas which are great fun to pass through. You’ll also need to rescue six tiny bird thingies still in their eggs like cute baby Yoshii (Yoshi’s? Yoshi?), or find segments of some kinda etched tablet. There’s no context for this, or the butterflies, but they look pretty and by the power of Greyskull, I wanted to get all of it.
The way the checkpoints/lives system works in Shu is pretty nifty. You have a stock of five lives, which gets refilled each time you reach a checkpoint. These are quite decently spaced out, which saves trekking through the entire level each time you die. On a one-hit lifespan, I found this to be a boon. It also means the quick pace set early on in the game is kept throughout. The idea that you’re legging it from a somewhat-personified evil storm should be one to spur you on, to keep you moving, and the game really does capture that. While there are moments in which you can pause to explore the environment for sweet, sweet collectables, you’ll tend to keep moving.
At the end of the final levels of each world (and a few others), you’ll get a big ol’ burst of motivation. You’ll hit a checkpoint and the screen will flash, thunder rumbles, rain starts to fall and the word “RUN” is projected onto your retinas. The storm is here. From that point, the rest of the level is a deadly race as the violent purple clouds consume the land behind you, sucking the looser parts of the landscape past you in a deadly maelstrom of deadly death. This is where Shu truly shines. Pushing you through the trickier parts of the obstacles, traps and wind trails for Shu to roller-coaster across as fast as you can makes these segments exhilarating, made even more so if you have one of your companions in tow. Bouncing through these levels, avoiding puzzles, remembering what your buddies’ powers do in time to not fail spectacularly is a huge feat, and the sense of accomplishment felt when you flawlessly weave your way to the safe-zones is absolutely fantastic. This is the reason Shu stands above its peers, and the reason I fell in love with the game.
Shu has just the right ratio of challenge-to-fun. For the most part. Here is where I must make a dreadful, shameful confession. I didn’t finish it. I could not for the life of me beat that last damn level. I really want to explain why, explain how the difficulty ramps up, but I don’t feel justified in spoiling that for those of you who’ll play it (which should be all of you, you rapscallions). Let me just say that it’s not a bad thing by any means, and it’s not a detriment to the game. It just beat me, that’s all. I tried eight or nine times, but there’s just something about it which exceeds my admittedly meagre skills, but that’s okay. I’ll survive.
I do have to point out that Shu isn’t perfect. The length of the game won’t satisfy many; indeed, this is one for the completionists and speed-runners. It’s a relatively short experience otherwise, if you just want to play it through once and enjoy that. It’s fun and insidiously addictive enough to make you want to do at least a few of the levels more than once, however, just for the cleaner run that you’ll be convinced you’re capable of. There was an issue on launch in that there were no button prompts in the tutorial section of the first level – this has been corrected post-launch, and I’ve seen first hand the developers actively getting involved; listening to the gamer community and implementing their ideas and feedback is a sure-fire way to retain fans, especially in these saturated market conditions.
While the controls are tight and the game runs like a dream, I thought some of the hazard hit-boxes were fairly unforgiving; a little on the harsh side even. I was more than a little irritated to fail to clear a group of thorns or watch Shu float gradually into a bottomless pit. That being said, the checkpoints aren’t too far apart, but it was fairly annoying. Like with any platformer though, good timing is essential and in the end I didn’t find it enough to spoil the game.
Shu is a good platformer, but a great game when all the nuances are added in. Fans of the genre will likely spend a great deal of time to perfect their techniques and complete their collectable library. While the last section of the game is much trickier than the preceding levels, I imagine it’s satisfying to finish – please don’t let my ineptitude put you off. There’s even more here for the speed-runners amongst you, so I’d recommend picking Shu up and get racing to the top of those leaderboards. Oh yeah, there’s also leaderboards. Rub it in my face if you like – I’d love for more people to experience Shu and enjoy it as much as I did.
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