There is something utterly mesmerising, romantic even, about the 2.5D platformer. Watching your gorgeously designed avatar leap and bound across the breath-taking landscapes is a spellbinding experience that encompasses your entire living consciousness. Rayman Legends is a prime example of this – a piece of artistic and gaming magnificence that enamours and entertains in equal measure. To emulate such a masterpiece is a daunting prospect, and yet the small indie game Shu has done just that, to splendid result.
In essence, Shu is a 2.5D platformer takes copious amounts of influence from the aforementioned Rayman series. You climb, leap and clamber your way through a series of increasingly complex levels in a variety of exotic locations, all in aid of defeating an encroaching darkness that is seeking to snuff out all that is bright and beautiful is the world. The story is passable at best, a classic tale of the lone hero saving his people, yet it’s clearly not the focus here in such a mechanically driven adventure.
Yet there is one key difference between Shu and Rayman; the absence of enemies. The game entirely focuses upon the art of platforming, and while such a decision seemed initially perplexing, there is enough complexity and variation to the platforming challenges throughout the game to fill in such an apparent void. Developer Coatsink Software’s decision to completely eradicate the notion of enemy combatants should be wholeheartedly praised, as it has allowed the studio to focus upon providing a truly stimulating gameplay experience. Shu is refreshingly challenging, with the game rigorously testing your reflexes to near braking point.
What makes Shu unique, however, is the companion system, an intriguing addition where you have to rescue your fellow villagers in return for magical abilities. Each one is lovingly hand drawn and possesses a unique ability to aid you on your perilous journey. These abilities can range from magically creating platforms from flowers to slowing down the very fabric of reality. I do wish that you could retain their services throughout the whole game, rather than just a single zone.
Upon descending into the vividly released world of Shu, the first thing you’ll witness are the eye-wateringly stunning visuals. The kaleidoscopic collection of bright primary colours fuse together to create a living and breathing watercolour that soothes the soul and calms the mind. Each zone, from the windswept coastlines to the majestic, yet eerily empty sky fortress radiates with pure artistic passion that oozes charm and elegance is almost every conceivable way. Add in an enchanting musical score that perfectly complements the visuals like a fine red wine and you have an audio-visual extravaganza that few other indie platformers can match.
It’s not all picnics and rainbows however. Shu does feature a few niggling issues that prevent it from eclipsing its limbless mentor. For one, the controls, at times, can be a little unresponsive, an issue that often leads to a few untimely deaths. It lacks the smooth nuance of the likes of Mario and Rayman, almost as if the little wee hero is suffering from a bout of arthritis. The game is also far too short. Upon completion I was left wanting more, and while you can replay levels to case highscores and hoover up collectables, a longer campaign would have been perfect.
Yet aside from these few issues, Shu is a wondrous manifestation of both artistry and gameplay. It’s over far too quickly, but the time you spend with it will indeed be well spent.