By Josh Speer / February 2nd, 2018
|Release Date||January 23rd, 2018|
|Platform||Steam, PS4, Vita, Switch|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
Many gamers invest a lot of worth in replay value, as well as how meaty the main experience is. But that isn’t to say that shorter games aren’t valuable or worthy, far from it. It just means those games need to do more to get our attention. One such game is Shu, a platformer with a ton of heart developed by the team at Coatsink Software. They’ve put together a game with a distinct style, a surprisingly emotional tale and unique mechanics which is also relatively short. Shu had previously released on Steam, PS4, and Vita, but now that it made its way to the Nintendo Switch, I felt the strong desire to cover it. The question is, was this short journey still a memorable one?
The game starts as our titular hero, a winged bird child named Shu, is beset by a demonic Storm. This is no mere gale, this is intelligence, vicious power and hunger personified by grasping hands and an enormous gaping mouth. The Storm is devastating Shu’s world, and at the beginning it crushes his village, killing the elder in the process. Our hero has no choice but to run, and keep running from the malevolent Storm while saving as many scattered townspeople as possible. The entire story is told visually though lush comic-like cutscenes, there’s no dialogue or written text at all. So while the specifics are vague, the basic tone of the story is clear. While my inner editor wanted to do a deeper dive into the lore of the world of Shu, I still loved the presentation in the game. This is a world of quiet beauty beset by somber tragedy, and that is clearly represented in every brush stroke of the game’s art.
Presented over the course of several worlds, Shu is a pretty linear experience. The rhythm is pretty laid back, and you can wander around finding things at your leisure. Your goal in each stage is to make it to the end while picking up as many collectables as possible. These come in the form of glowing butterflies, babbies (which are infant birds) and mural fragments. I appreciated the added replay value in finding these, as beating any stage 100% takes some extra scrounging and finding well hidden secret paths. Unfortunately, I confirmed with the devs that collecting all the items doesn’t unlock anything, which may hurt the incentive to replay the game for some.
Despite the relatively short length, the world of Shu is very diverse and creative. Each of the 5 worlds is totally different from the others, and they introduce new mechanics in each. For example, in the forest stage you’re given the abilities to walk on water and wall jump off of flowers, while in the ruins stage you’re able to summon gusts of air from giant bellows and hover in air currents. You’re probably thinking now that this indicates Shu learns new abilities himself, but that’s not quite right. I mentioned earlier that Shu comes across villagers displaced by the Storm. When you find them, they will join hands with Shu and loan him their abilities while they travel with you. It’s a very unique take on the concept of learning new abilities, and it honestly charmed me even more than visual style of the game (which is itself quite delightful). Who knew the buddy system was so powerful?
The controls in the Switch version of Shu are easy to learn. While solo, all Shu can do is run slowly forward, jump with B and hover while holding the R button. When you find a friend, they will show you how to use their skills, which generally revolve around the A and B buttons. There’s no way to attack, so the entirety of your platforming skills are relegated to exploration. Thankfully, the villagers offer you lots of ways to spice things up. My personal favorites were the double jump, wall jump and slowing down time. It pays to learn the nuances of all the abilities, since they’ll be put to the test avoiding many dangers. While the only living foe is the ever present Storm, there are other threats, such as spikes, crushing pistons, encroaching darkness and much more.
Shu is killed with just one hit, so you’ll need to have quick reflexes to survive. Thankfully, the game keeps things fair with their approach to the extra lives. While you can only have a maximum of 5 at a time, each time you reach one of the many checkpoints littered through stages, your total number of lives will be refreshed. Though I didn’t use up all my allotted lives until the post game DLC, I appreciate that this feature makes Shu much more approachable to those less confident in their platforming skills. Those skills will be put to the test whenever the Storm catches up to you. Those sequences are pulse pounding, especially the way they begin with a flash of light and the word RUN displayed on the screen. These sequences offered a fantastic challenge, since they ramp up the tempo of the basic game by keeping you constantly rushing forward as the Storm hounds you.
Besides playing through stages, collecting things and running from the Storm, there is another aspect of Shu that provides some replay value. Once you beat any stage, you can race against your clone, Goo Shu, as you try and beat your best time. I admit I’m not a huge fan of this feature, as I found it rather stressful beating my already quick times. I also don’t enjoy racing against Cosmic Mario in Super Mario Galaxy, for what that’s worth. Having said that, it’s nice to see Coatsink spent the effort to provide some lasting replay value to the game. It’s just a shame there weren’t any unlockable worlds and such, but I can appreciate creating content like that is more challenging for smaller indie teams.
Visually, Shu is a wonderful game. The hand drawn art reminds me fondly of games like Rayman Origins. The game is colorful and detailed, and the mixture of 2D elements and 3D backgrounds work surprisingly well. Special note goes to the terrifying Storm chase sequences, as it tries to greedily devour you. Likewise, the music and sound design in the game is superb. There’s an overarching musical theme of sadness, but there are also uplifting and sunny tracks. I also loved the sound effects for activating the villager’s abilities, since they provide a goofy sound effect each time you use it. Overall, the aesthetic style of Shu is its strongest point.
Since this review is contending with the Switch version, I will spend a little time discussing what makes it worthwhile. Having played both the Vita and Switch versions, I can easily say it’s better on the Switch’s bigger screen. This game deserves to be shown in full detail, and whether that’s on the handheld Switch or TV, it makes all the difference. I also noticed that the load times are significantly faster in the Switch version than the Vita. However, it’s not all roses, as I encountered two random hiccups while playing the Switch version. Once the load screen went black and failed to do anything, and another when I clicked to go to the next stage, it glitched out. Thankfully these problems were few and far between, and hopefully Coatsink can easily patch them if they persist.
Another nice aspect of the Switch version is that the Caverns of the Nightjars DLC comes packaged with the game at no additional cost. This is an extra area that serves as sort of a best of the best, featuring stiffer challenge than the main game. This was the only part of the game I died repeatedly in, and I loved that extra challenge. Having said that, it is only 6 additional levels, so you won’t be playing in the Caverns for long.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review that short length doesn’t mean a game fails to leave a lasting impact, and I left Shu pleased with my time. Even though I was able to beat the main game in less than an hour, and the DLC in about 20 minutes, I enjoyed every minute of my time with Shu. It’s charming, creative and accessible to all levels of gamer. While some may be discouraged by how quickly I beat the game, I would venture my speed is a bit unusual, as the devs confirmed most players beat the game in 3-4 hours. Regardless, Shu is a wonderful game and a delight on the Nintendo Switch. If you enjoy fun platformers or are just looking for something new on your console, I would recommend it strongly for only $9.99. I just hope it’s not the last we’ve seen of this vibrant game world.
Review Copy Provided by the Developers
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