Monday, January 22

Review: Shu [Nintendo Switch eShop]

The endless runner has become a pretty serious genre in the mobile space, a mix of platforming and quick planning allowing you to avoid obstacles to keep yourself alive. The more traditional platformer is another animal entirely, utilizing a core set of skills to navigate a space but often without anywhere near the same sense of urgency. Shu represents a somewhat curious combination of the two, moving between more relaxed item collection and platforming puzzles and then segments of pretty intense urgency on a pretty regular basis. Mix this up with a gorgeous visual style and you have a pretty compelling package overall.

Your title character is a somewhat cute but owly sort of creature, who has fled from their village to escape a grim fate at the hand of a malevolent darkness. With only an ability to jump and then sort of go into a controlled float you can’t just do it on your own. So, in the search to stop this darkness you’ll meet up with a variety of other characters, each giving you an additional ability while they’re in your party. While none of them will stick with you for more than a few levels they then return in the game’s final stage where your mettle will be fully tested.

Structurally the game is broken into stages, with each stage consisting of multiple levels. Within those levels is where you’ll run into the contrast in styles, though the overall scheme from level to level can vary a bit in both variety and intensity. For the bulk of your time you’ll simply be platforming around, jumping and using the skills of your companions to try to collect the little fireflies, baby owls, and stone tablets hidden everywhere. Bear in mind that there’s no compelling reason to collect all of these aside from being a completionist, which was a bit disappointing, but it is something to make you stretch and work. Then, usually quite suddenly, the darkness will come for you and things shift into high gear. Where before you were just somewhat messing around to use your party’s skills to move around in this phase you’ll be pushed quite hard to keep a quick pace or you’ll be killed.

This leads into a discussion of the game’s difficulty and the somewhat hard pendulum swing it has from a bit numbingly simple to quite challenging. It’s a bit strange honestly. Especially if you’re not determined to find and collect everything the general platforming portions of the levels are largely vanilla. They do require some skill to find everything but in general you won’t find yourself at risk of losing your 5 lives that reset at every plentiful checkpoint. Once things kick into high gear though expect to have some close calls or even get stuck for a bit while struggle to master the use of your abilities and where you can cut corners to keep ahead of the darkness. Rather than being a consistent challenge it most often goes from being very easy to pretty hard and there’s not much in between. It all works as a whole but it is a pretty big contrast. To go with this the structure of some of the levels can be odd and when you almost slept through the bulk of a level it can then be aggravating to have to repeat it all because you got taken out by the darkness at the end. As an added note the game works far better in docked mode, the scale and darkness in some levels can make it tricky to see critical details in handheld mode at times.

All said Shu is an absolutely gorgeous game that can likely be enjoyed by gamers of all skill levels as long as they’re ready to challenge themselves. The darkness phases can all be beaten if you’re patient and work out how to cut corners to save time, so even if you feel a little overwhelmed at first some commitment should get you through in the end. I do wish the challenge were more evenly distributed and there were tangible rewards for bothering to collect everything but overall Shu is a solid platforming experience.

Score: 7

  • Attractive hand-drawn art
  • Plenty of collectibles for completionists
  • Overall a pretty mainstream-friendly level of challenge

  • Rather than having a consistent level of difficulty it swings between easy and hard
  • The collectibles are just there for flavor and provide no benefits for getting them all
  • Playing in handheld mode can be tricky at smaller scale

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