After having my first taste of Shu at EGX 2015, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the game’s full release. It’s been a pretty long wait too, with the game having originally been unveiled back in 2014. Still, the long development cycle has proven to be a good thing – Shu provides one of the most enjoyable platforming experiences I’ve had in a long time.
Shu is an old-school style platformer set in a fantastically vibrant 2.5D world. It’s taken all the different elements that made the platformers of yesteryear so special and rolled them all into one beautiful and charming amalgamation of a video game, all whilst adding it’s own ‘Shu-nique’ (wa-hey) touch. It relies on simplicities rather than intricacies, in turn providing a gaming experience that’s easy for anyone to pick up and play, but will take a long time for anyone to master.
The game’s narrative is fairly straight forward and doesn’t go into too much depth, with the story featuring no dialogue and instead depending on a series of illustrations to tell its tale. The titular hero Shu’s home is engulfed by a giant, creepy storm (with a very toothy smile) and all of his friends are swept away and lost. It’s up to Shu to venture through the lands to find his friends and in turn a way to vanquish the huge purple storm.
Shu looks absolutely fantastic with its impressive blend of 2.5D environments mixed in with some beautifully illustrated characters. There were five main environments to play across including the likes of a lush forest full of greenery and treetops, glowing dusty cliffs full to the brim with leaning platforms and wooden mechanisms, and even a huge tower full of scaling structures and strange advanced technology to work through. Everything consistently looks great, whilst the backdrops aren’t devoid of detail either; it felt like this was a living, breathing world I was adventuring through and it always felt like there was more to see than what was simply right in front of me. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the storm with its giant purple clouds and creepy smile – you can even see hands clutching out from the storm clouds on occasions… creepy…
If you loved the likes of ‘Donkey Kong Country’ and ‘Rayman’ then you’ll certainly enjoy what Shu has to offer. It’s all very old-school with the classic formula of running, jumping, gliding and collecting through a selection of incredibly well designed levels. Surprisingly there’s absolutely no combat mechanics to be found in the game; it might be considered an odd design choice for a genre that has had us bouncing on the heads of foes for years, but it actually works really well in the long run. Shu focuses more on making sure each level is enjoyable to traverse through and it certainly succeeds in doing so regardless of whether it includes combat or not; I never felt like I’d be running in one direction for too long, the game instead constantly challenging my twitch reactions and platforming skills. The free-running vibe of it all felt incredibly satisfying and simply getting from point A to B always felt great.
Whilst Shu can run, jump and glide competently, some levels require more specialist abilities to get through. This is where Shu’s missing friends come into play. The game’s sixteen levels are split across five different lands, each land featuring two unique characters that can assist Shu with their abilities. These abilities include the likes of double jumps, running across water, controlling flowers to make platforms, or even stopping time momentarily. Of course, you can only use these powers when you have the corresponding character by your side, but each level has been cleverly designed to utilise the corresponding character’s specific ability. When they’re brought into play they’re always fun to use – plus the fact that the abilities on offer keep changing between each land keeps the game feeling fresh right up until the very end. Wait until you reach that final stage though, it’ll really put everything you’ve learnt throughout the game to the test.
Whilst Shu features fantastic level design and solid platforming, the one thing that really stood out to me was when the villainous storm came into a level, something clearly conveyed by the introduction of an ominous change of music and the word ‘RUN’ flashing up on the screen. The storm’s introduction always felt so foreboding, the feeling of desperation to escape being on par with the many encounters with Nemesis in ‘Resident Evil 3’. It might seem odd comparing a colourful platformer to a survival horror series, but seriously, when the storm hits the screen the panic quickly kicks in. There’s a sudden pressure to dash through as quickly as possible with the giant, biting grin chasing you down from the left of the screen. If it makes contact with Shu then you’ll meet your demise, forcing you to restart from the last checkpoint but with the added advantage of being an extra bit of distance ahead of the storm. Get ready to get caught a lot too, because the game can be a little harsh with the storm only having to barely touch Shu to get him in its clutches. Either way, the storm chases were brilliant with the feeling of dread they bring being equally matched by the thrill of out-running it.
In true platformer style, Shu comes with an abundance of collectibles to be found throughout each level. You have the common butterflies that come in the hundreds, the six quirky yet cute ‘babbies’ and a typically incredibly well hidden piece of mural. You won’t find all these collectibles in one run either; each level has been cleverly designed to include varying routes of progress, meaning if you want to find absolutely EVERYTHING in a level that you have to play through it more than once. You also get a bonus for completing a level without dying (not an easy task), whilst the completion of a level unlocks the time-trial challenge for you to compete with other players around the world for top spot on the leaderboard. It’s actually surprisingly addictive to try and best your time over and over, though I’m already faltering well behind the top performers on the leaderboard; knowing how well others have done only motivates you to explore each level for more shortcuts though, in turn adding to the longevity of the game.
Whilst I could spend all day heaping praise on Shu for all manners of its design, I was slightly disappointed at the level count of the game. Whilst sixteen levels isn’t a particularly low number, I couldn’t help but to want more. My initial playthrough was complete in under three hours and I was taking my time to explore and find as many collectibles as possible. It’s a compliment to the game’s developers that I wanted more to play through, but a disappointment to the gamer that it wasn’t there. Whilst there is plenty of replayability thanks to the previously mentioned collectibles and time-trials, I would’ve liked a few more levels to play through. Here’s hoping for some future DLC.
I played the PC version of Shu and it worked fairly well, though I did run into a couple of issues. One time the game completely crashed and required me to manually close down the game. This just happened the once though and wasn’t really an occurring issue. What I did notice on more than one occasion though was that Shu would come to a halt at certain points of a level, almost as if there was an invisible object blocking his way. It would keep happening at the same point too, so it wasn’t exactly a random occurrence. It was odd and I didn’t notice it on the Playstation 4 build (which I also played). It only happened two or three times throughout the game, but when it happened it could be frustrating – especially for players trying to shave seconds off a speedrun through a level.
I have no problem singing Shu’s praises – I really adored the game and the sublime platforming experience it provides. Whilst it could be argued that it doesn’t offer much you wouldn’t have seen in a platformer before, it never feels like a copy-paste job thanks to the charming touches the developers have added to every inch of the gameplay, art style and level design. It really is superb.
Whilst I’ll admit that it would’ve been nice to have a few more levels to play through, Shu will still keep you hooked for hours upon end thanks to the replayability each level offers with their collectibles and time-trial challenge. It just seemed to get everything right and it certainly deserves to stand tall along the likes of the classic platforming greats – let’s hope Coatsink make a franchise out of this…
Release Date: 04/10/2016
Format(s): PC (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Playstation Vita