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November 2018


Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Coatsink
Release Date: Jan. 23, 2018

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


Switch Review - 'Shu'

by Andreas Salmen on Feb. 21, 2018 @ 1:45 a.m. PST

Shu is a hand-drawn platformer that will challenge and delight players with an engrossing 2.5D world, filled with collectables, obstacles and threats.

Buy Shu

The 2-D platformer is the somewhat go-to genre for indie developers. It's not very demanding in resources, but it can be beautiful. The downside is that we usually have more 2-D platformers than we could ever play. In order to stand out, developers must emulate the best gameplay aspects of the genre and add their own ideas to create something ingenious and innovative.

Shu is such a platformer. While it may look similar to Rayman Legends, with its hand-drawn 2-D models in a partially 3-D environment, it plays very differently in many regards while its core feels familiar. It's available on the Nintendo Switch, and it's also available on PC, PS4 and Vita.

The protagonist Shu is a bird-like, poncho-wearing creature that witnesses the destruction of its town by a storm. The village elder manages to hold the vicious clouds at bay for a moment and instructs Shu to run for a tower in the distance. While most of the other villagers manage to escape the town in time, Shu stumbles and has to catch up. Throughout the game, we have to outrun the storm and rescue fellow villagers to reach the safe tower at the end of our journey.

Shu is divided into five different worlds that contain three stages on average, making it 15 stages in total. We begin the game alone on the coastline and make our way inward as we get familiar with Shu's controls and abilities. Shu can jump at slightly varying heights, glide across wider gaps, and gain momentum in air streams to shoot through the level. That isn't the standard move set, and before long, we meet different villagers — two per world — that we guide through the stages, and they each grant us an additional ability.

That means we form a little three-person caravan on our way through the level, which can be unusual and initially a little confusing. Shu is always in the first position and determines whether or not we jump to a platform, and he's the only character that can take damage. There were a few situations where we were slightly distracted when things got busy, but generally, it works well to determine where to go and what to do.

Our temporary companions aren't just for show. During our journey, we meet exactly 10 of them to grant us a multitude of additional abilities, such as double-jumps, wall-jumps, walking on water, activating lifts, stomping through special platforms, breaking through walls and slowing down time. The abilities go hand in hand with the stages and ensure the worlds feel different.

We start the first stage of each world on our own to get familiar with the environment, hazards and platforms that are usually unique to that particular world. We then meet the first new character, who grants us a new ability to overcome yet another hazard, followed by a second one later on. It's in this way that Shu introduces new gameplay mechanics in the levels that slowly ramp up in difficulty and eventually lead to a chase where we have to outrun the stormy clouds, which look like monsters that are trying to swallow us whole. The chases can be tense and are designed to test whether we've mastered everything that was introduced in the previous stages of the world. The last level of the last world has us outrunning the storm again by using all of previously introduced companions to create a truly fun, chaotic and positively stressful finale to the entire game.

Apart from the storm clouds, there are no enemies in Shu, so the title challenges players via its level design, platforming, and ever-changing abilities. The game also adds a few collectibles into the mix. There are several hundred butterflies in each stage to collect, as well as six baby birds and a mural piece. The game doesn't push us to collect everything within a level, but there's no way around it if you want to be challenged by Shu. Apart from the collectibles, there is an award for completing a stage without losing a single life, and there's also a speed-run mode.

It's here where skilled players get the most fun out of Shu, as the entire experience is not only short, but only moderately challenging most of the time. We start each level with five lives. Once we lose one, we have to restart at the last checkpoint. As soon as we reach the next checkpoint, all lives are refilled. This means we always have five lives to complete the section, and as soon as we lose all lives, we have to restart the entire level from the beginning.

This creates a somewhat imbalanced approach, as the checkpoints are often fairly close together, especially in the first three worlds, so the game is pretty easy to beat. It's only in the last two worlds that we ran into a few sections that we failed to complete within those five lives, prompting us to redo the whole level. It should take about three hours to reach the end credits. There are incentives to go back and try to get all collectibles, but most players will likely play through it exactly once, making it a short but sweet affair.

The visual style and performance of Shu is excellent, with some positively weird character designs and beautifully drawn and rendered environments. There's also a heavy emphasis on music and sound; in the absence of any voice acting, the audio really shines and creates a beautiful atmosphere.

We did encounter a few game crashes to the home screen after completing a stage, but they didn't break anything within the game or made us lose progress. The last futuristic world was beautiful and fun to play, partly because of the added difficulty. Due to its tight controls and well-made gameplay, the title never got frustrating, even when we missed a jump here and there.

While Shu is incredibly short and easy to complete, the gameplay is well-constructed and varied, so nothing overstays its welcome. We're constantly going through very short loops of new gameplay features that get discarded as soon as we master them. That also means that some abilities can feel underdeveloped and get stripped away just as you start to feel comfortable using them. You're always reduced to controlling Shu with an abundance of abilities, making it an up-and-down affair that doesn't always work in its favor.

In the end, Shu is a well-made platformer that is short but does many things right. It may not be the best, flawless or the most original game out there, but it's a fun and varied journey that's worth taking if you're fond of the genre.

Score: 7.5/10

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