The Adventures of Shuggy Review
The Adventures of Shuggy is a retro-revival 2D platformer, reminiscent of Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy. But where Super Meat Boy had a slightly twisted outlook (demonstrated by, say, squishy characters and a foetus supervillain) and a vocal media presence, Shuggy has had a protracted development cycle, an apparently low-key release and is stuck with a name far less catchy than, well, something like Super Meat Boy.
However, what Shuggy has in its favour is an abundance of brilliant ideas and a massive collection of levels in which to show them off.
Our little Shugster is … well, I think he’s some sort of junior vampire bat, but that’s not exactly made clear. Anyway, bat heritage or not, he’s inherited a giant spooky manor house from a deceased relative and now finds himself with a number of unfortunate real estate issues. The sentient boiler is on the wonk, there’s a ghost loose in the gallery and the dead have risen from their slumber in the graveyard. In order to sort these problems out, he needs to solve a series of single-ish room platform puzzles.
That’s a convoluted way of explaining why Shuggy has to grab all the gems on each level to receive a key in order to unlock more levels. It’s also a neat way to introduce a succession of backdrops, from the opening Dungeon levels to the final screens set inside the manor’s eerie Clocktower. In all, there are over one hundred levels in the single player mode (plus mini-boss levels for each section), with another thirty or so unique to co-op (but more on that later).
No matter how many fine ideas a platformer of this kind has, it has to be driven by a solid, tight control scheme. Without this, most players won’t bother persevering. Shuggy has a similar sense of momentum to Meat Boy (hold left or right and the main character will gradually accelerate to a top speed) and the same ‘tap A for a small jump, hold it for a higher one’ approach. Side-by-side, Shuggy feels ever so slightly ‘floatier’ than Meat Boy, but not to the extent where a significant number of deaths feel like the result of anything except player error. Death itself is also dealt with sensibly, with a near-instant level restart and no other punishment.
Where Shuggy truly shines is through the sheer variety of ideas it throws at you in the course of its many, many levels. The right trigger is reserved for a level-specific special ability which could be a 90 degree rotation of the screen, a button to switch between multiple Shuggies, a toggle for a Worms-esque magic rope or teleportation to a portable device. In addition, on any given level Shuggy may be able to perform a sort of infinite double jump, find himself herding small orange creatures, have to manipulate time to utilise and avoid ghost images of himself or take time out to snack on Alice in Wonderland style cakes and potions that make him grow or shrink in size. While you’re likely to have seen many of these ideas before in one platformer or another, having them collected together in a series of levels that make such smart use of each concept is a treat. The game also does a great job making it clear which skills and abilities will apply on any given screen; only once did I find myself realising “Ooh, I can do that here too”.
As well as a lengthy single player mode, Shuggy also features the co-op-mode-most-likely-to-end-friendships-since-Portal-2. This provides an excellent, potentially maddening, set of unique two-player levels to play through (in offline/local co-op only). These are every bit as varied as the single player ones, testing reflexes and brainpower in equal measure (fortunately I was playing through with my wife, whose lateral thinking skills have come to my aid before). An example: one player must ride some platforms up to some gems at the top of the screen, but the platform is controlled by a series of switches along the bottom. Both areas are patrolled by baddies, so the one messing with the switches not only has to look out for themselves, but also make sure they’re not merrily sending the other towards their doom. If either of the players die it forces a restart, so be sure you have a secure enough relationship with the person you’re playing with in case someone goes nuts at the other one for blowing the level just seconds before the end.
If working together(ish) gets too fractious, you can always take it out on one another in the head-to-head competitive mode (involving copious gem-grabbing and can be played online) or try to figure out what exactly the turn-based challenge mode is all about. As is standard for this type of platformer, each single player level will also record your time so you can compare it with the performances of friends and other Xbox LIVE users. Or just replay a level and try to improve.
Accompanying you on your bouncy antics are a selection of jazz-tinged tunes by Jesse Hopkins which, crucially, do not loop back to the beginning each time you die. It honestly can’t be stressed enough what a great decision it is just to let the music keep playing after each death. Trust me on this. The classical piano pastiche used for the Gallery segment is especially fine, but it was the saxophone parping of the Boiler Room levels that really got stuck in my head.
Art-wise, Shuggy leans more towards the functional than the spectacular. The central character designs are cute, but other aspects like the enemy spiders and wasps look rather generic (and aren’t a patch on the utterly absurd foes you used to find in Spectrum titles like Jet Set Willy). It may also have been a mistake to include enemies with random movement patterns in some levels. This adds an element of luck which some might find annoying (especially if you’re going for a record time on one of the levels; an activity that should really be all about skill). A difficulty option for occasional checkpoints might’ve been nice too, as a few of the later levels get relatively lengthy and losing a few minutes of play over and over again can get tiresome.
Aside from those minor complaints, The Adventures of Shuggy is a superb 2D platformer deserving of a much wider audience (the leaderboards paint a slightly depressing picture of the game’s sales to date). Smudged Cat Games have created a game with heart, intelligence and a mansion-load of well-applied ideas.