Sadly not a Chinpokomon nor a game about PlayStation President Shuhei Yoshida taking
a round-the-world trip via a magic carpet, no, this is Shu from developers Secret Lunch and Coatsink, a 2D platforming title in
the vein of the classics such as Mario and Rayman, but does it hold up quite as well?
Offering no spoken dialog or written narrative to speak of; Shu begins high above a colourful, wispy land, wherein a flock of odd-looking birds
currently live in peaceful cohabitation with one another. That peace is about to come to an abrupt end though, as an evil embodiment of a vicious storm arrives to
lay waste to their home and in the process murder the village elder who sacrifices himself to save his avian people.
One of these bird-like creatures is Shu, who upon falling to the surface must now jump and glide - with a wallop of death on the side to go
with it - across this land and regather the inhabitants to fend off the bad weather once and for all.
If you have played any platformer in... well.. since the inception of the platforming genre itself, then Shu will be instantly familiar to
you. Playing through 5 distinct worlds, each of which containing 2-4 levels for you to test your platforming mettle, portrayed through some beautiful visual
work that feels vibrant and inviting.
Whilst the environments are stylised 3D objects - made to look hand painted - itís the characters themselves - clearly
taking a page out of the recent Rayman ensemble of games - being completely cel shaded that create not only a distinct look, but allowing a stark contrast
between the two, so your controllable character is always easily identifiable, and never managing to get lost amid the colourful trappings on screen.
As you take your first scaly steps within the introductory level of Shu, multiple things will become apparent. First and foremost, that the
controls are very responsive, whilst thereís literally only 3 buttons that youíll primarily be using - mainly Cross, Circle and R1
- throughout the majority of Shu, platforming games tend to live or die by how that gameplay feels and in turn reacts to the
player's input, and in this aspect Shu nails it.
Skewing towards the floaty spectrum of the genre - with air-movement fully controllable - that becomes instinctual in speedy fashion, allowing you
traverse through the levels with ease, and whilst you will die (plenty of times) itís rarely that a specific control aspect of Shu is at
fault. And as you begin to cross large gaps within levels, the holding - or rapid pressing for finite control - of R1 allows
Shu to slowly descend, whilst Circle - or ocassionally Square - activates an ability that is entirely dependent on whether you
currently have a feathered friend accompanying you.
Within each world of Shu, two of these aforementioned feathered friends will be waiting for you to stumble upon them, wherein once found,
they will join you - literally, by the hand - on your merry quest for a short period of time going forward, and in turn employing you the use of their ability
These newfound abilities can either be passive for Shu; such as a double jump or a wall jump, to a very specific mechanic which
are activated by the player - with the use of Circle or Square - such as being able to slow down time or activate lifts. Moreover the
specific levels these creatures are found within are crafted with these exact mechanics in mind, which eventually culminates with your newly acquainted
fluttering friends leaving you via an air balloon near the end of a stage - itís one of the more surreal scenes Iíve witnessed in a video game recently.
Whilst the characters and abilities - along with the basic platforming mechanics - work well to make Shu feel polished and in line with
its peers, unfortunately the same canít be said for the camera.
Cameras are a curious thing with gaming, like an invisible hand that either helps or hinders the player and tends to stick out like a sore thumb only when
they succumb to the latter. The camera in Shu is frankly like a drunk ice skater on a Friday night, sliding every which way from every minuet
movement on a thumb stick - that to make matters worse diverts from its usual patterns at specific junctions within a level - becoming an extra burden in an
already semi-difficult game.
And whilst admittedly the camera is obviously suited better for periodic speedrun purposes - as the evil storm continues to chase you at regular intervals
throughout Shu - itís first impressions which count, and youíll be aiming to go slow-and-steady in your initial playthrough of
Shu; collecting the six ĎBabbiesí - baby birds, clearly a developer was a little too high during naming process - and the various hidden secrets among each level, and
unfortunately the camera is definitely not suited for this far more leisurely purpose.
Throughout my impressions of Shu thus far, Iíve noted difficulty being a factor, but honestly it doesnít really rear its head (at least for
me) until itís endgame, its fifth and final world. As you progress through a level youíll hit checkpoints - a standard practice in the genre - the trick to
the game is you only get 5 lives - or attempts in this case - to reach the next checkpoint which then refills this number - and never exceeding your allotted
5 attempts - lest you face the dreaded game over screen.
So in essence youíll be given many attempts at the various obstacles between checkpoints, that sometimes can stray a little on the cheap side, from traps
off-screen - with that camera rearing itís head once again - or a piece of the environment that up until now you thought youíd figured out, altering its
behaviour or timing slightly, but itís generally par for the course and becomes a game of memorisation rather than skill per se.
This is never more apparent than in the final level, as in usual video game fashion, Shu throws everything including the kitchen sink at you,
wherein youíll once again reacquaint with all your past friends - that you've encountered throughout the game - and replay small segments suited for their abilities
before moving onto the next, all the while being chased by the storm of course, which again seems to alter its speed making replaying checkpoints
- and ultimately the whole level - far more of a contrived necessity than an indication of skill. But these segments and the many storm chasing sequences
throughout Shu show-off itís most positive aspect, when the game is moving at speed.
After completing a level within Shu youíll be given the opportunity to replay it, but this time activating the option of a timer and even
competing against ĎGoo Shuí - your fast-moving shadow doppelganger - who has set a best-time on each and every level. When you're flying through a
level at speed - racing to secure a time with no deaths - is truly when Shu comes together, creating a rhythmic gameplay akin to recent
Shu is a bit of a mixed-bag of a game, with its slow moving platforming elements - involving the collecting and uncovering of a myriad of
secrets within each level - hampered by its haphazard camera. Conversely when the game is moving at speed, being able to stretch its wings as you speed run
through its beautiful visuals, Shu fully comes alive with a rhythm brought about by games like the more recent Rayman Legends.
If youíre a fan of the genre, and enjoy a beautiful platforming game with some challenge
then Shu is definitely worth a look, but donít go in expecting more than that.
Review copy provided by the publisher for the PlayStation 4.