We’ve seen plenty of new releases in the side-scrolling beat ‘em up genre over the last few years, with some old faces even making a very welcome return (hello, Streets of Rage). However, whilst they’re given a fresh and modern look, they rarely do much to change up the formula that’s been established ever since the inception of the genre. You walk through levels, you mash buttons to beat up baddies, and you repeat.
Shing! looks to change that thanks to an intuitive means of attacking that sees you flicking the right stick to dish out some beatings as opposed to mashing buttons. Sounds odd, right? Well, it actually works really well and genuinely brings something new to the genre – even if the other aspects of the game will feel familiar to most.
Shing!’s narrative revolves around ninjas who were tasked with protecting a powerful artefact known as the Starseed. You know what’s going to happen next, right? Yep, it ends up getting stolen by some Yokai, so a pair of those ninjas (along with two additional characters they encounter) must head out on a mission to claim it back.
The main plot itself is very by the numbers really and follows the same outline we’ve seen in plenty of different games and movies over the years, so don’t go expecting some bombastic narrative full of twists and turns. That’s fine though; I mean, this is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, so I’m sure most gamers weren’t expecting some intricate story anyway…
That’s not to say that it’s threadbare though, with plenty of interactions between characters as you progress to flesh the journey out. A lot of it can be pretty funny too, in that childish and rude sort of way that not everyone is going to appreciate. I did, though, and it genuinely made me chuckle out loud to myself in places.
Gameplay-wise, Shing! offers everything you’d expect from a side-scrolling beat ‘em up. You’ll work through a myriad of levels spanning different environments, you’ll beat up plenty of enemies, you’ll smash down some bosses, and you’ll occasionally face the odd set piece or puzzle on your way to reclaiming the Starseed. It can be played with up to three extra friends in local co-op too, so you don’t have to face the adventure alone – alternatively, if you’re playing solo, you can switch between the four characters on the fly so you’re not limited to just the one if you can’t decide who you want to play as. It’s a formula we’ve seen done since the 1980s, so you shouldn’t go in expecting too much change from what you’ve played before.
Well… outside of the innovative way in which you dish out attacks on your foes, that is. Attacks are done via the right stick, with the direction that you flick it being replicated on your sword in a similar manner to the punching in EA Sports’ Fight Night series. On paper, it sounds like something that could be a bit gimmicky and that players might get bored of over time, but it actually feels really intuitive and fun in-game. It made free-flowing combos feel a lot more natural to piece together, whilst delivering some quick hits came with ease too. It especially felt satisfying when juggling enemies in the air – whilst I’ll admit I did resort to some button-ba… I mean… stick-hitting antics at places to deal out some hurt, it always managed to feel good in-game. Add some momentum attacks to the mix that build when you have strung together long combos and the ability to dash out of the way of incoming attacks and you’ll quickly find that Shing!’s slick combat is one of the highlights of the experience.
Whilst I never tired of the combat, the encounters with standard enemies could be a little bit too drawn out. They seemed to have a lot of HP which meant that they’d take a fair bit of beating before they’d go down, making some battles feel repetitive thanks to the sheer volume of enemies that’ll come your way (and the fact that you’ll face a lot of the same enemies over and over again). Sure, it’s fun to slice away at foes, but I couldn’t help but to wish that they went down a little easier at times – especially since they didn’t always offer much in the way of resistance themselves.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some variety to the enemies you face though, with plenty offering varied attacks to keep you on your toes. Some have varying heights or different armour pieces so you have to target them at specific angles, some have powerful projectiles that you have to deflect back at them to destroy their shield, some have area of effect attacks that’ll hurt you if you get too close, whilst some might just have the ability to heal mid-combat. Enemy designs could leave a lot to be desired with plenty of samey looking Yokai to face off against, but there are plenty of different things players have to consider when taking them down. And hey, they often drop special orbs when you defeat them that imbues your attacks with additional power, which is always a treat.
Boss battles also add a welcome spectacle to levels and often challenge you to think outside of the box in order to defeat them, with a few puzzle-like elements thrown in here and there. It’s a nice change to simply mashing them with attacks (though you will do plenty of that) and they make for some really fun encounters that vary things up when compared to the standard gameplay. There’s the occasional puzzle and set piece thrown into the mix too, so you certainly can’t knock Shing! as far as offering variety is concerned.
Despite this, it can all feel a little bit dated in places. Besides the repetitive nature that constantly beating up enemies can bring, it doesn’t evolve too much from an explorative perspective as far as the side-scrolling is concerned… you just move left and right whilst beating up baddies. Don’t get me wrong, as far as titles in the beat ‘em up genre go, Shing! is absolutely fine at what it does; I think I just hoped for a little bit more given how intuitive a change the creators made with the combat.
Then there’s the fact that my thumb was ACHING after an extended playtime with Shing!. I smashed through the six-hour campaign in one sitting and even took on a selection of the optional challenges too, and believe me, it took a lot of resilience to get through thanks to the constant flicking and nudging of the right stick. Whilst it’s certainly a clever and innovative idea, it might leave your thumb feeling a little sore if you play over long sessions. It is probably worth mentioning that there is a more conventional control scheme if you prefer, but it’s not the same and takes away Shing!’s most unique aspect.
I’d be remiss not to mention the load times too, which were frequent and long. In fairness, the game’s levels are lengthy in themselves so you can often go a while without seeing a load screen, but when you do? You’ll want to get yourself comfortable for a little bit.
Whilst Shing! is guilty of feeling a bit repetitive in places, the slick and intuitive combat mechanics do enough to make it a worthwhile venture in the beat ‘em up genre.
Don’t get me wrong, your thumb may ache after a couple of hours of play and it doesn’t do much to evolve upon the genre outside of the controls, but there’s enough charm on show with the story and enemy variety to keep players invested in Shing!’s perilous ninja-fuelled escapade.
Developer: Mass Creation
Publisher: Mass Creation
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC