It is a beautiful, colourful day. The inhabitants of a village that sits atop a jut of rocks gather in the village square, happy, and excited for the day ahead. Adults chat, and children fly kites – there’s clearly not a single worry in the world. Our protagonist, Shu, overlooks the ocean with an elderly chap. His grandfather, or just some wise old man? We are not told, but before we can conclude anything, he turns and warns Shu about a big bad storm, and instructs him to head to higher ground – to a tower that sticks out above the clouds to be exact
And then, the rain comes. Before we can even soak in this foreboding premonition, ominous grey clouds cluster together, and drops are pelting from the sky. An evil presence rears its ugly head, the old man (or grandpa) holds it off as best he can.
But it’s too late. He succumbs, and Shu is forced to flee, along with the rest of the villagers. Before our young hero can cross the rope bridge to join them in some sort of safety, it snaps, and he falls to a cove down below.
That there, is essentially the only explicit exposition Shu has in its short two to three hour playtime. It’s a bit of a pity I feel, because the platformer’s beautifully hand drawn world; the Pelican Coastline, Warblet Woods, Vulture Cliffs, Skylark, and City of Eagles, along with the bright cast of characters, all feel like they have a lot more of a story to tell. Sadly, there is no dialogue whatsoever throughout the game – no voice, and not so much as a scrap of text.
All of that was avoided I suppose, to place emphasis on the actual platforming, where Shu does indeed shine. The game feels like it has a combination of all the classics we are so used to, like Mario, or Rayman, along with a few modern mechanics to provide a tight, albeit simpler experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I saw my fair share of deaths in Shu – especially during those sections when I was being chased down by the storm’s gaping (and damn terrifying) mouth. But there are checkpoints spaced out throughout each level, and they top up the pool of lives up to five each time they are crossed. They are so frequent in fact, that I only saw a game over screen once, somewhere toward the end of the game.
Again though, I believe this approach was taken by the developers purely so the player could focus on the platforming part of Shu. In that regard, it genuinely is enjoyable, and speckled with small doses of variety.
Our little protagonist can only jump and glide, but with the help of villagers he meets along the way, he can do a lot more. One character for example, gives Shu the ability to run across water, while another lets him burst through brittle obstacles. Another allows him to wall jump, and another, the ability to slow down time.
Only two can accompany Shu at a time however, meaning levels see a repetition of limited ability use. This here too is another opportunity missed by the developers I feel. It really would’ve been cool if later stages required the player to use a combination of everything. I think of platformers like Ori and the Blind Forest for example, where as Ori gets more and more powerful, and as the levels become more difficult, she needs to string abilities together to make it through. That to me is what makes a platformer really stand out.
Limited abilities aren’t the only annoyance I encountered. In Shu, sidekicks only stick around for short spurts. By the time I was accustomed to using some or other ability, like a double jump for example, that villager was taken out of the equation, and our protagonist was forced to move on alone to find the next set to help him along. What this results in is a lot of platforming that requires only simple jumping and gliding.
I need to stress again that perhaps this is exactly what the developers wanted however – a title that can be enjoyed by newcomers to the genre. Too often, games of this nature are a little too challenging, and it discourages certain gamers. If they can’t crack a tough section, they may choose to give up and move to something else. With Shu, I really don’t see that sort of thing happening. Though the game does have its moments of raw challenge, overall, I think just about any gamer, regardless of skill level, can make it to the end with enough trial and error, or just plain old practice.
Veterans can at least look forward to tackling each level as best they can in the time trial mode, where they can compete with the rest of the world. Other than that, there are collectibles and such to be found in each stage (some of which require a fair bit of scouring), but they don’t serve any real purpose outside of being the tick on a big collection list.
Despite its niggles, I do think Shu is a great platformer overall. Sure, it may not be the most challenging of games, but it is still really enjoyable nonetheless. I just fear that it hasn’t done anything really special to make it truly stand out.
It’s a short game though, with an equally small asking price. If you’re newcomer, or a fan of the genre, I can recommend checking Shu out at the very least. It’s a gorgeous game, and one that’s not about to break the bank.
Last Updated: November 17, 2016