A little indie game that could.
When Digitalchumps was contacted from Coatsink about reviewing Shu we honestly didn’t know what to expect with the title. It seemed like a standard platform/runner that could probably be conquered pretty easily within a given day.
Thankfully, it was much more than that and it certainly felt like the little game that could.
The story of the Shu is simple. There is a great evil that attacks a village lying on the shore of some ocean. The storm is filled with vile, evil and a mean set of teeth that would give anyone and everyone the chills. Once the storm initially subsides, the village is in disarray. Villagers are missing, wonderful homes are wrecked and our protagonist, who looks like something straight out of Journey (the game, not the band), is ready to help find villagers and put their lives back together. The only issue? The evil is still alive and kicking. So, our main character must run, jump and make their way through the village quickly and precisely picking up pieces along the way.
Again, a simple story, but honestly Shu doesn’t need a complicated one.
The gameplay of Shu is the element that sells the title. Your main character, as described above, simply runs, jumps, floats and avoids evil at every given turn. The gameplay is fast, furious and difficult as can be, but it works for a title like this. There are times where you character literally bounces off walls in a race to the finish line. Timing is key in most situations, especially once a boss starts chasing you, but the clever design of the levels, that are quite tiered for your pleasure, help to keep the gameplay interesting, you motivated and provides encouragement to keep going. In short it is exciting and fast.
For this type of gameplay to work, the controls have to be kept simple and the game certainly follows the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) design when it comes to control scheme. Developers Coatsink have done their best to make sure that players don’t have to think about the controls as they cruise through the levels. Gamers will seamlessly jump off walls at the touch of a button, catch a breeze and float through multi-tiered levels at a whim and run for their lives with clear focus on obstacles, rather than what buttons they’re mashing. That combination and design makes for a fun time with any game and, in a sense, feels like early/good Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay, at least in terms of speed.
Related to all of this, the level design is conducive to the gameplay design, as the environments are cleverly built to not only cause the player to think a bit about their actions, but also blindly cast themselves off a cliff with faith that everything is going to be okay as they progress through the game. Going up and down through buildings, structures, cliffs and such makes for a visually interesting time. The variety of locales as you progress through the game, as well as the amount of levels you get with an indie game like this, makes it feel like Coatsink was in it for the creativity and not for a quick buck to support another project. The design wasn’t simply thrown together without thought, it seemed to be methodical and well constructed.
Now, if running and jumping weren’t enough for your to be happy, there is a small element of exploration added to the mix. You get small toy bears in each level, kind of like the large coins in Super Mario World, that you can find and pick up. They offer up rewards and such and are cleverly hidden throughout the world Coatsink has made. Adding that to the mix while running through the game can be complicated at times, but it adds yet another layer of complexity to the gameplay mix.
Overall, the gameplay is darn good in Shu. It’s quick, easy, fun and challenging. You will certainly run into times where you want to throw the controller through the wall because some of the levels have to be precisely timed to complete, but the game’s design and girth overshadow any sort of difficulty it presents. In short, the gameplay is fun for a small indie title such as Shu.
As for the presentation side of things with Shu, it’s cutely animated, though when you see the horrifying bosses, especially the large set of teeth, coming your way all the cuteness will go away quick/fast. Anyway, the animation is clean, crisp, colorful and welcoming. The textures for this side-scrolling runner are very nicely detailed, but at the same time plain, which seems to be a stylistic decision. Picture yourself a 2D version of Journey with a sprinkle of EA’s Fancy Pants and you get the idea of what to expect visually. Shu has a lot of visual personality going for it, so you won’t be disappointed. The visuals match the story and I’m not sure it would work or feel as welcoming without them. Also, the visuals help with the frustration of the game. It’s hard to get mad at a game that looks so adorable.
On the audio side of things, it certainly takes a backseat to the visuals, but they’re good.
Presentation aside, is the game fun? Well, it is fun, especially for you sick people out there that enjoy challenges that will get you cursing like a sailor. I do think that if someone is going into it with the idea that this is going to be a quick run through that they’re going to be sorely disappointed. The game is built to challenge hardcore gamers. In addition, the game has a lot of replay value you to it, which adds some value beyond running and overcoming its difficulty. Shu has a collecting element to it that will encourage the gamer to explore. Anytime you can add another layer of gameplay to the mix, then the game becomes more than a two-dimensional experience. In short, understand you’re going to have a tough, challenging time with Shu, with running being the crux of the experience, but also understand exploration is going to keep you coming back for more.