The Adventures of Shuggy is an indie platformer that required incredible balance, and I don’t mean from me as a player. Smudged Cat Games have managed to hit the sweet spot in terms of variety, offering more than enough to maintain your interest whilst not impinging on that integral feeling of cohesion. New elements are introduced often, but each one is remarkably well considered and grants this multifaceted platformer near perfect pacing.
The haunted castle that plays host to the eponymous heroes titular adventures is certainly strange, the number of doors for one thing seems to be significantly higher than the norm, but yet again so is the adorable vampire bat that is Shuggy. Plagued by various ills – from a malfunctioning boiler to a gallery dwelling, portrait flinging ghost – the castle can only be fixed by collect green gems via increasingly elaborate platforming… for some reason. Whilst light on detail, sense and prominence the narrative is delivered through charming cartoon cut scenes that successfully facilitates your adventure from one area to the next.
Each area has a distinct visual style which is cleverly maintained both within the levels themselves and the borders that surround them. Further differentiating the areas from one another are ‘boss’ characters, which unlock after a rather high level of completion. The first one (a malevolent boiler) was by far my favourite – With valves to close, a time based mechanic akin to The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom to use and flames to avoid it was incredibly rewarding upon completion. In comparison, the last boss took me one, rather relaxed, attempt. Sure I had grown better at the game at this point, but it was a notably underwhelming way for it to end.
A smaller, but equally well composed, co-op mode is also included. Whilst this is local only, it is still well worth running through if you get the chance as there is some rather interesting interplay required between your partner and yourself.
With the exception of Shuggy’s tendency to ‘slide’ somewhat, the controls are intuitive and precise with an appropriate floaty feel to his movements. This allows for some skilful mid-air acrobatics that introduce another dimension to this 2D platformer. No matter how elaborate the ‘special ability’ that you can use within the level is, it is only ever a button press away meaning that the challenge quite rightly comes from getting to grips with the mechanic as opposed to the controls.
From the ability to rotate the entire screen (somewhat reminiscent of And Yet It Moves) to the intriguing iteration of this where you can only rotate the section of the level that you are currently in, the game constantly impresses with how each new element is used. The rope, which initially simply allows you to dangle from platforms, soon evolves into being used to turn cogs, swing to seemingly impossible platforms and at one point just straight up (literally) defy gravity itself. Every introduction is also balanced wonderfully with the other elements of the game. – For example, being able to fly (technically just jump whenever regardless of if you’re on the ground or not) grants you only as much freedom of movement as the increased and more dangerous enemies end up taking away.
Brilliant games could have been built upon any one of the ‘special moves’ this game throws at you, and the fact that it throws them so often and so successfully is quite frankly remarkable. Part of why this works so well is that you never have more than one to consider at any given time, but much of this success has to be attributed to the length and incredibly well measured difficulty of the levels.
The levels are short and speedy, with the majority falling well within 30 seconds once you know what you’re doing. Many of them will require numerous attempts to complete, but with near instant restarts the only real penalty for failure is the feeling of self-frustration. However, the majority of the replay value comes from elsewhere. For whilst leaderboards don’t tend to resonate with me, a ‘perfect run’ felt so empowering in this game that I found myself almost obsessively checking the online leaderboards.
The game is certainly challenging, but I wouldn’t really consider it part of the ‘impossible’ platformer club. It is a very different beast to Super Meat Boy, and part of that is that it is considerably tamer. There are some levels that will take a fair while to master, but apart from the mosquitoes (which where the bane of my life) the enemies and platforming never become cruel. I like my sadistic platformers, but this game challenges you with new concepts as opposed to new feats of agility, and it meaningfully defines itself as a result.
Available on Steam for £6.99 (actually 20% less than that until the 20th of June), The Adventures of Shuggy is never overly demanding, but it will almost certainly make you demand more from this genre in the future.