I like platformers. They offer a tricky challenge of timing, skill, hand eye coordination, and speed. I'm also really bad at them. When I say that I rage quit Shu three times, that's not a reflection of the game. The fact that I came back each time is.
Shu is a 2D, side scrolling platformer with absolutely no narration and a striking art style. Your game starts with a touching, yet slightly bewildering, cinematic in which your village is attacked by a giant storm-with-teeth. You watch as Shu fails to escape and the village elder (who looks like he’s probably Shu’s only living relative, just to add salt to the wound) is killed and the rest of the villagers are lost to the world. Also your village consists of bird-like people who all seem to have some sort of magical power. Those powers aren’t enough to stop the storm however, and Shu is tasked with finding as many villagers as he can and bringing them to safety.
There are five stages, each with about three levels per stage. They follow a predictable pattern. Your first level consists of traversing the world alone, until you meet two other fellow bird people. From then on you learn to use their powers until the end of the level. In the second level you continue on your adventure with your new found friends. On the third level the screen flashes white, and the word ‘RUN’ imprints itself in your retina. I honestly think that is the most scared I have ever been in a non-horror game. Once you have escaped the storm-with-teeth you’re left with one more level in which you get a chance to relax before starting it all over again.
Despite the level structure being predictable, there is nothing boring about the levels themselves. Each time you gain a new villager the levels are designed in such a way that you quickly become adept at your new power. Some levels include lightning, while other include water puzzles and pulley carts.
The different powers your fellow villagers have really keeps you interested in each stage. You have the power to float, which considering you’re a bird person is sort of like the power of heart from Captain Planet. In comparison, villagers have the power to walk on water, make flowers bloom and break things. At least Shu has the ability to make everyone work together?
Levels also look amazing. Your surrounding environment looks hand painted, which is a deep contrast to Shu and all his buddies, who are clearly computer generated. This really works out for you, as it makes Shu much easier to see; he is a very small character in a very big world, but I never had trouble keeping track of him.
Shu is a really simple game to pick up. There are only three buttons to use, which let you jump, float, and access villagers’ powers. It makes Shu come across as a rather simplistic game, though in a good way; I certainly played it for hours. The only downside with that simplicity is that there aren’t enough levels for it to be a game you come back to again and again when you want to kill some time.
Don’t mistake simplicity for easiness. You will die in this game. A lot. Luckily there are check points during each level, and each time you reach one you gain back any lives you’ve lost. You have six lives to get between each checkpoint before reaching the ever dreadful game over screen. It may seem like a lot of lives, but Shu does require a lot of well timed movements, and often your first foray past a checkpoint is a scouting mission.
Despite being a good, beautifully stylised game, Shu suffers from being too short. The price of $20 is well suited but this is a game you will most likely only play the once before pushing it to the back of your gaming draw. Not only is it going to sit at the back of your mind as a fond memory; sadly you’re not going to bother recommending it to anyone either.
Bronwyn received a digital copy of Shu from developer Coatsink for review.