Whilst I love the influx of releases that constantly hit the Nintendo eShop, the size of the selection on offer often means that I end up accidentally ignoring some intriguing releases. That’s what nearly happened with Shio, a game that I didn’t give much attention leading up to its release but that I actually ended up thoroughly enjoying when I gave it a try.
Shio’s tale revolves around a masked hero’s memories and how he has to go through a series of dream-like sequences to uncover them. It tries to be deep and emotional and in some ways it succeeds, but it’s also left feeling slightly awkward thanks to just how cryptic it can be (which isn’t helped by some mistranslations and typos). The message it’s trying to deliver is simple and effective though, whilst you can also find out additional details by finding hidden items that are scattered throughout each level. Personally, I didn’t find myself too invested in the narrative – it was all about Shio’s gameplay for me, and thankfully that was top notch.
It utilises a simple platforming formula that’s been done in multiple games in the past, but that never becomes boring thanks to just how satisfying it is. You’re tasked with jumping your way through obstacle course-like levels, all whilst avoiding the countless hazards that are in your path. You can’t just jump around willy-nilly though, but have to connect with lanterns that are scattered across the map to give yourself the momentum and ability to boost your way around.
These lanterns vary as you progress through the game and often change the momentum that the protagonist moves in, so you’ve always got to stay on your toes. Then there’s the fact that Shio’s world is a dangerous one, with hazards seemingly everywhere – you’ll have moving platforms, floating spikes and saws, disappearing obstacles, deadly winds… seriously, there’s plenty out there to send you to an early grave. You’ll have to be patient and time everything perfectly if you’re going to survive, but it makes for such an addictively entertaining experience that you’ll have a blast doing so. Each stage is perfectly crafted and never feels unfair in design, so you’ll never feel like each death is an unfair one and when you do end up succeeding it’s always a mighty satisfying feeling.
The game reminded me a lot of Super Meat Boy, in that it’s full to the brim with deadly hazards and demands pinpoint precision in everything you do: basically, it’s tough as nails to play. You’ll look at some areas of the game and think that they look easy enough to get through, but it’s incredibly deceiving and you’ll instead find yourself dying over and over again as you try to pull off that perfect jump. Shio gets even tougher the more you play and you’ll need slick platforming skills and perseverance in equal measure if you’re going to survive. Seriously, there’ll be plenty of moments of frustration with your failures, so if you don’t have the patience to practice and figure out each area’s hazards you might want to give the game a miss. That being said, it’s pretty generous with checkpoints, so at least you’re not sent too far back if you do end up dying over and over again.
Those who do persevere should be able to finish the Shio in around four hours, though that may vary depending on how well you handle some of the game’s trickier sections. There are two difficulty modes to tackle, with the easier option offering more forgivable layouts but not allowing players to try out some of the hidden (and often tougher) levels. It gives you a reason to play through a second time, though in honesty some players might not want to go through some of the game’s latter challenges again…
Visually, Shio embraces a very simple but stylish aesthetic. It doesn’t try to be a visual marvel and some areas of the game didn’t offer much environmental detail, yet I always found myself impressed with the oriental sights. It embraces this incredibly peaceful vibe, which is quite contradictory given that the game is anything but thanks to the bombardment of deadly hazards it sends the player’s way, but it works and feels fitting. Everything runs smoothly too, with in-game animations looking slick and the framerate consistent. It’s just a pretty little game to see in motion, both on the TV screen and when played on the Switch’s handheld mode.
Developer: Coconut Island Games
Publisher: Coconut Island Games
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC