Let’s start with a history lesson. Christmas 1991 I got a Sega Megadrive. Sonic the Hedgehog came with it. First confession is that I never got past level two. I never understood Mario, I never really liked Sonic or his foxy friend Knuckles. As time went on I discovered I had the reactions of a stroke ridden sloth and was better suited to playing strategy and war games, and thus I haven’t played any form of platfomer until I installed this.
Well, so far not a great qualification for someone about to write a review about a game billed by Coatsink as a platformer ‘where you run jump and glide up a mountain pursued by a monstrous and relentless storm’ (Yes – I got this straight from their website). I thought the same. It was nice to be asked to review a game, and nicer still to be given a review copy of a game but not really my thing, so I expected many hours in a frustrated state, furiously trying not to put my controller through my PC monitor.
So I got the Steam code and downloaded the game. Installed it. Whilst installing I thought about the statement from their website, did a Google image search and realised that this game was worth a lot more than what they were selling it as on their website. Coatsink is underselling itself. Shu is so much more than advertised, and this coming from someone that is neither any good at or particularly interested in platform games.
I should state from the start that I can only comment on the PC version of the game, but I can’t see the PS4 version being much different, except that rather than playing it on a 15.6” HD screen you can play it on a cinema screen if you really wanted.
I run a pretty basic 8 meg of ram, one terabyte hard drive HP Pavilion Laptop with a HD screen. Spec wise Shu isn’t a resource hog. I don’t feel my legs burning from the CPU overheating if you catch my meaning. It doesn’t lag. I didn’t lose my temper because I was playing ahead of the game. I can run additional software in the background whilst playing this game. That’s about as technical as I get. It even supports my 360 controller – which was a massive bonus as I am an awful keyboard warrior, and also for the marathon to come.
My initial plan was to dip into Shu and write down my initial reactions then keep dipping into it get a fuller view. Well, Saturday morning turned into Saturday afternoon which ended in a Saturday night, which led to Mrs. B becoming very annoyed at my frequent monotone grunts that I spent all day answering her with.
Still stuck on the first level. 36 year old man can’t get past the first level of a seemingly child’s platfomer was how I felt, but at no point did I become annoyed. This is good if you want your kids to play as well – its isn’t so hard or frustrating that you have to take the controller off the Littlie to get them through a bit, nor so frustrating that you have to manage a temper tantrum. The frequent save points ensured that at no point did I even want to throw the controller or more importantly give up and play another game. Your lives refill every so often (I know that’s not a very scientific way of putting it) which means you never get stuck at a difficult part with only one life remaining. Very useful if your useless at platform games!
Visually this game is so beautiful that I wasn’t really bothered about progressing. That was probably why I got so stuck for so long. The game is visually stunning and whoever came up with the concept of it has the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro.
Ending the dripping sycophancy for a moment, and desperately trying to return to being objective, the visuals were like playing a Studio Ghibli film. They are hand drawn which in my simple mind means they are not resource heavy – a bonus for a PC gamer. There seems to be a mixture of Shinto and Aztec influences in this game which although sounding strange is in fact very pleasing. The graphics themselves are bright and can be distracting. There isn’t a time limit on any of the levels I’ve played and it is a pleasant experience to stop and just soak in the visuals. I remember a time all too well when there was a palpable pressure to progress as the level was constantly moving – if you stopped you would fall off the left hand side of the screen and die. No such fear here.
Off the top of my head I know there is a generally quite new genre of relaxation games, and in a way this falls into it. Stressful day? Whack this on for an hour/ ten minutes as long as you can spare and you’ll find yourself instantly relaxed. This leads directly into the music and sound effects.
I’m listening as I write this, and as an amateur musician I can safely say that not only is it well produced, the music suits the game. There is quite a lot of echo on the bass drum that they use, but the music wouldn’t be out of place in a Ghibli film. The soundtrack reminded me of a slightly faster version of a meditation track, and goes with the mainly relaxing theme of the game. In terms of sound effects, they are well done and certainly functional without being distracting. When you glide ‘Special wind’ (Stop sniggering at the back please) the sound effect of the wind is brilliant. This leads to my only real gripe about Shu, and in fairness it isn’t a big one.
There is a lot of sound going on. Music. Chiming of collecting gold butterflies. Special character sound effects. Scenery sound effects. You pick up characters with skillsets that you need to pass certain obstacles along the way, and when you use their set skill they make a sound effect. You get to hear what a bull sounds like when crashing through obstacles, the tone a fairy (I think) makes when opening a flower. Put bluntly, it’s a lot of stimulus when you’re trying to concentrate on finishing a level!
In terms of story, the game is basically about a set of people with different skill sets that are trying to run up a mountain to escape a killer storm. The way that this story is told is itself simple but quite poignant. Nothing needs spelling out, but you really feel engaged, and you do begin to care about the characters. You collect golden butterflies (Bog standard points mean prizes) and the varied nature of the helpers you pick up along the way means that there is never a dull moment. You collect newly hatched eggs that get taken away by hot air balloon.
The gameplay is simple enough for kids to play but complicated enough for adults to enjoy. The main character can glide and jump and your little helpers have various skills that enable you to complete a level. I was particularly taken by the bull which can break scenery, and the monkey which allows you to walk on water for a short while. Again, it is all credit to the imagination of the creators of Shu that you aren’t stuck with one character with one set of skills. On a simple level it teaches children about teamwork – your character can’t pass an area, so you have to utilise the skills of a team mate to continue.
A big selling point as well, is that you can move back through areas you have already passed. Missed some butterflies? Go back and get them. In terms of the puzzle element, in order to proceed in some areas you have to go back. Rather than just busting through a level relying only on reflexes, you have to use some brain power – Shu rewards the player by sometimes hanging back and considering the situation. Come up with a plan. Try it. If it fails, the checkpoints aren’t miles apart so players don’t have to worry that they’ll have to replay a really difficult part should their character die.
The only thing I got frustrated at was what I call the ‘Chase’ scenes. At certain points you are chased by the storm, or at the beginning a wooden wheel. It was difficult. Not to the point of quitting, but things have to be done in quite a set order and you don’t get much time to plan your next move.
Control wise, Shu conforms to the KISS model (Keep It Simple Stupid) in my opinion and there isn’t any button mashing or difficult button combinations that frustrated my youth. The character does what I want, how I want and most importantly when I want.
To sum up Shu, it is a whimsical journey through a mystical land, with magical characters. In addition I hope this game does well for the Developers because the sum total of their imagination to create this game is impressive, and I am excited to see what they will pull out of the bag next. They’ve breathed life into what I feel is a tired genre without quite reinventing the wheel. They have also managed to shoehorn themselves into a really busy market with something that is unique.
The code was given to us by the Developer – Coatsink to provide this review, My opinions are my own, and the review is objective.