An adorable and welcome platformer perfect for on the go.
A little over a year ago I reviewed Severed, worried that it would be one of the last great titles for the PlayStation Vita. Today, the little handheld that could continues to survive thanks to number of indie titles, ports, and unique portable experiences. Shu, from developer Coatsink, is one such title; a memorable and charming platformer that feels right at home on Vita.
Originally released last year for PC and PS4, Shu puts you in the shoes of the titular protagonist, as he sets out on a quest to save his villager friends and stop a pursuing nightmarish storm. The story in Shu is pretty barebones, but it becomes clear that the main focus of the game are the crisp visuals and engaging platforming.
Shu is a level-based platformer where the player travels from world to world completing each level while grabbing a number of collectables along the way. While completing these levels, the player need not worry about flimsy jumps or slippery movement, as controlling Shu feels great. Movement and jumping is very responsive, and strikes a good balance of being floaty and precise. There are no real enemies for Shu to stomp on or punch, rather surviving and avoiding obstacles like bottomless pits or falling ancient relics is Shu’s main concern. Besides jumping over these obstacles, Shu is able to glide by pressing the shoulder button, a mechanic that separates Shu from other platformers and gives the gameplay a unique flair.
Also unique are Shu’s villager companions and the variation they bring to each level. When Shu encounters a villager, they accompany him for the rest of the level and provide an extra mechanic or platforming ability. For example, one villager gives Shu a double jump, one allows him to walk on water, and one can slow down time. The villagers are a fun approach to familiar platforming mechanics, and give welcome variation to the levels. The levels themselves all feel different from one another too, a stand out being one where Shu must get to shelter before a lightning strike blasts him and the villagers.
There are a handful of levels in the game where you are directly pursued by the nightmarish storm, indicated by a ‘RUN’ prompt on the screen. This makes for tense sequences where the player must think quickly and make split second decisions, especially if you are trying to get all of the collectables. These pursuit levels however become increasingly common as the game progresses, and as they are very challenging, can make for some frustrating levels. This frustration is occasionally heightened by the game’s checkpoint system. For each level, which are all pretty lengthy, you are given five lives until you reach a checkpoint, then the life counter resets. This is both generous and hindering as for every sequence between checkpoints that is easy, there is one that is extremely difficult. When you run out of lives, game over, and have to restart the entire level. I wish the game would have cut the game over and lives system, but sometimes it can make tougher levels all the more satisfying to complete, such as the brilliant last level.
Occasional frustrations aside, the game is stylistically beautiful and visually striking. Shu looks like an adorable mix between Birdperson from Rick and Morty and Owlboy, and is brought to life through a vibrant hand-drawn character design. The running, jumping, and gliding animations all look smooth, and there are cute little details like Shu holding hands with the villagers when they are running. The levels themselves are 3D environments, but they all have enough flair to mesh well with the 2D aesthetic of the characters. The environments and characters also all look great on the Vita’s screen, and aside from some long load times before each level, the game runs very well on the handheld. You can tell this a port from a studio who deeply care about their game and the platform it’s on.
Although the adventure is just a few hours long, Shu is packed with a ton of replay incentive through a number of collectables to look out for, a robust trophy list, and leaderboards.
Shu is more than just another title to come to the PlayStation Vita in its twilight years. It’s a charming, breezy, challenging, and beautiful platformer emanating the love and care that has kept this handheld console alive and well.
Shu is available for the PlayStation Vita through the PlayStation Network.