Shuggy just inherited a castle. Great news, yeah? Obviously you haven’t played enough video games, because everyone knows that no self-respecting video game character inherits a castle that isn’t haunted, and Shuggy’s pad is no exception. Luckily for us, this means we get a fun twitch platformer with a ton of variety and creativity to the mechanics. After somewhat disappointing sales on XBLA, Adventures of Shuggy has made the jump to PC, in both Steam and DRM-Free Humble Store flavours. It’s a pity this game hasn’t received more attention so far, because it really is a creative take on the platforming genre. Consisting of over a hundred short levels, each with unique mechanics and layouts, there’s a lot to like about the game. A few minor issues hold some of the game design back, but clever tricks help to alleviate some of the problems.
As mentioned, Adventures of Shuggy is part of the twitch-based platforming renaissance we’ve enjoyed in recent years, along the lines of N+, Super Meat Boy and Dustforce. Adventures of Shuggy uses many of the traditional design elements to great effect, like tons of short, bite-sized levels, solid controls, one hit deaths, and snappy loading times. The baseline mechanics are relatively simple to understand, limited to just running and jumping around the suspiciously laid-out castle. Dodge baddies, spikes, lava, and the other usual suspects, collect all the gems, and finish each level. Simple, right?
Well, not even close. The gameplay mechanic that separates Adventures of Shuggy from the rest of the genre is that it uses every mechanic you could think of. In one level, you might be able to rotate the entire chamber with the push of a button. In another, the level is divided into tiny segments that rotate separately. Another turns Shuggy into an auto-running zombie, where well-timed jumps are your only method of control. Yet another adds size-changing potions to enlarge or shrink as the level calls for. Some levels give you multiple Shuggys to control, while others throw in an AI-controlled co-op partner to assist with switches. This sounds like a lot, but this is only scratching the surface; this is perhaps a sixth of the available mechanics.
My personal favorite mechanic is where Shuggy is tethered to a rope, letting you grapple and swing through the levels. It’s a fluid mechanic that follows the basic rules outlined by the game, but adds in so many new ways to navigate the level. There are other very innovative mechanics as well, like a series of Lemmings-like creatures you must guide to a series of cages, or a couple of levels where you can jump infinitely without landing. Some of these mechanics wind up being more frustrating than fun, though, including a time-shifting mechanic where every minute, time flips back, yet you continue on. You need to stand on switches to open doors, then wait for the Shuggy from a minute ago to do the same and scoot through. However, if you run into your past self, you instantly die. While it’s a neat mechanic, the levels it’s used in become time consuming and frustrating, creating a very hard and aggravating experience.
In many other games, having a particular style of level that just doesn’t work for the player might be enough to turn you away from the game. However, Adventures of Shuggy accommodates differing taste by offering a very non-linear path for unlocking levels. Beating the first level in each chapter unlocks three more levels, which each unlock one or two themselves, and so on. If there’s a mechanic that just grinds on you, it’s possible and quite easy to simply skip the level and work on others. Once you reach the boss of the chapter, you can even work backwards and unlock any segments you missed from the other side. The freedom to pick and choose how you want to play is a great design choice, as it lets you save the really tough challenges for when you’re feeling a little more masochistic. While I’d prefer to not have scrappy or rough mechanics at all, it’s a good stop-gap solution to the problem.
While it’s clear that the gameplay is definitely prioritized here, the graphics and sound are certainly not too shabby. The art is in a smooth, ghoulishly, cartoon-like style, which suits the minimal yet adorable story well. The sound is similarly light-heartedly haunting, although it is limited to just one track per chapter, making the soundtrack feel a bit sparse. Ditto for the rooms, which are also exclusive to each chapter. There’s not a lot of variety or really distinctive bits, but the assets that are in the game are quality enough to support the platforming.
Some players might find the game itself to be a bit short depending on skill level. It’s easy enough to do the bare minimum of levels and beat the game within two or three hours, but mopping up those last few time-shifting puzzles can take quite a while. There’s also 36 extra local co-op levels to try with a friend. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t handle co-op controls particularly well; you can both play on the keyboard, or with an Xbox controller each, but not a mixture.
It all adds up to a very manic game, where you’re never quite sure what you’re getting into with every level you play. Sometimes a level will follow a somewhat slower-paced puzzle structure, while others will emulate the fast-paced enemy dodging of other twitch platformers. Even the boss battles offer yet another spin on the mechanics, usually in a totally unique way. If you’re a platforming fan, and you like to see a game take chances with plenty of creative mechanics, the Adventures of Shuggy is a haunted house well worth journeying through.
Final Verdict: Over a hundred short levels and tons of unique mechanics make Adventures of Shuggy a fun, varied experience. It’s a well designed and creative platformer that definitely deserves a second look.
This review is based on a Steam copy of Adventures of Shuggy provided by Smudged Cat Games.