I’ve always been a sucker for games with a striking visual style. And as such, I was immediately drawn to Shu, with its beautiful hand-drawn animation and cartoon appearance. It’s a simple, cute world that is suddenly contrasted by a devouring purple cloud and its frightening evil grin.
Shu is a game that, at its heart, is a simple platformer. You control the titular character as he attempts to save the people of his village while outrunning a world-ending force. Shu begins with standard controls, giving the player a jump and a glide. You can also fly along pre-determined paths using your cloak. The complexity and intrigue come out as you rescue the various villagers in the game.
Each villager adds a unique ability to Shu’s repertoire. Some of the abilities are straightforward such as a double jump or a ground pound, while others are much more unique like slowing down time or the ability to control the direction of moving platforms.
Each section focuses on two specific villagers and the joy in the game comes from figuring out the two new abilities you will gain and how they work together. Once you clear that area, the two villagers are rescued and you therefore lose the special abilities, meaning you can look forward to the next area with its own unique abilities and challenges.
The platforming itself feels a little floaty for my tastes, especially in a genre where the shining examples are all about being pixel perfect and having tight controls. When you get to things like wall jumping and perfectly timing jumps, the game lacks a certain stickiness that feels just slightly off. It never becomes a nuisance because Shu has enough wiggle room to be forgiving of simple missed jumps, unlike some of the brutal platformers of the past.
This by itself would make for a pretty solid platformer but, as previously mentioned, you also have a terrifying monster trying to the consume the entire world. Towards the end of each area the sky will turn black and the simple words “RUN” will flash across the screen. The world-devouring monster will chase you, forcing you to have quick reactions and perfect timing through the rest of the level. These sections are exhilarating, the best of it coming at the very end where the game challenges you to a marathon escape sequence where each of the saved villagers drop in to help you during each section, forcing you to adapt on the fly not just to the environment but also to the abilities you have.
With such focus on timing and perfect platforming, Shu is luckily generous with check points, which are clearly visible bells so you know when you hit one. On the other hand, the game sticks to an odd choice with how lives are concerned. You have five lives, which are refilled at each checkpoint, basically meaning you have six shots of getting through each individual section or you are forced to restart the entire level. Through my entire playthrough I only had this happen once so it didn’t affect me but I could see it being a point of frustration for some people if you get stuck on a particularly nasty section.
Shu isn’t particularly long, with five areas that total 14 individual levels. Naturally the name of the game is replayability and perfection of each level. In each level, you have several objectives to aim for besides simply beating it. You can collect several hundred butterflies (basically coins) as well as six hidden “Babbies” and pieces of a cracked mural. Shu does a great job of helping you out with collectibles by fading out what you’ve already collected while playing a level, making it easy to see what you missed the first time around. There’s also a time trial for each level as well as the ultimate challenge of completing a level with no deaths.
Shu has plenty going for it. The visual style will instantly pull you in but once you get there you’ll find a solid platformer with enough cool ideas and abilities to leave you satisfied. If you’re not the type of player that wants to dive back in to old levels and collect and perfect as much as you can, you’ll probably find it bit on the short side but, if you’re willing, there is plenty to do in the game and plenty of fun to be had.
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10
A code for Shu was provided to Pixel Related for review.