Two weeks on from our 10/10 console review of Coatsink’s beautiful Shu and it has exploded into the indie scene in a very apt storm-like fashion. I was lucky enough to try out the PC version and gain a closer insight into how the game was developed from the creators.
Shu had humble beginnings. Created by Secret Lunch, the game was pitched to Coastink Software, and so the two developers worked together to create the game we now know. The unique hand-drawn characters with their unusual abilities were brought to life due to the wonderful coalition, and in 2014 it was announced by Sony that the game would be released on PS4, PS Vita and PC.
Shu‘s starting point though, was the simple creation of Shu as a character. Drawing inspiration from the original 2D platformer genre – such as Klonoa and Abe’s Oddysee – along with a visual style based on Studio Ghibli films and stylised games like Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, the end result was a glorious amalgamation of bird people fleeing from a storm – something that is more relevant than ever as the notion of an apocalyptic presence came from seeing refugees in need of aid. This unique selling point is what sets Shu apart from other games of this ilk. Though it may have generally changed a little over time, these key ideas stayed with the game and have been present since the very first design all the way to the released version two years later.
The delightful characters in Shu are all simple villagers who live on a cliff overlooking the sea, spending their time working fields, tending livestock, and fishing. This agricultural life means our protagonists don’t really understand the concept of war or of wealth, even though there are other places in this world that are more advanced.
Despite this rich background, the developers created the characters to “tick boxes”, but quickly realised they would need to be more detailed to encourage players to care for them, so they were refined to have exaggerated personalities that could be portrayed through their movement. After the addition of brighter colours and a more vibrant aesthetic, soon these characters came to life.
At this point, the characters are all fully realised, each one individual in their own way, with their own powers and colour schemes. But these lovable chaps wouldn’t be the same if their surroundings hadn’t been so vividly intriguing. Each world is so delicately precise and awe inspiring, from the ringing of a buoy out on a choppy sea, to the whistle of wind through wonderfully lush, emerald forests. This is a kind of beauty I haven’t seen before in games as far as I can remember. From the get-go, I couldn’t stop staring and finding tiny meticulous details that built up a truly immersive world.
It’s ingenious if you think about it; the world is bright and cartoon-like, but there are still elements of fictional culture and history in the environments for those who go looking for it – something I feel many platforms never explore. Infusing a relatively “simple” game with this kind of lore creates a background players will want to be a part of, and leaves us with characters we can truly connect with on a deeper level.
Like most traditional platformers, Shu relies heavily on simple mechanics like jumping, running, and gliding. However, the addition of things like the ability to crush floorboards, and the manipulation of the environment really adds a new feature to platform gaming. Much like the more recent Rayman games, players are expected to tackle each world by using all the individual skills they’ve picked up, making each level delightfully tricky and – quite literally – puzzling.
When I sit down to play a platformer game, I expect them to start off fairly easy, and though Shu didn’t start off in hardcore mode, it was still much more of a challenge than I was expecting. Though not infuriatingly difficult, the game cleverly sets it up so that players aren’t patronised with tutorials explaining that moving forward means pressing the forward arrow on your keyboard. Instead, it is more of a “learn on the job” experience, where you can easily get to grips with how the game works, while still being tested on your puzzle solving skills.
Throughout the game I was constantly blown away (no pun intended) by this game. Despite having played the demo at EGX this year, nothing could have prepared me for how utterly stunning the full game would be. To go from such a serene, calming, and almost mindful experience, to the sudden onset of a biting, crashing storm to escape from is incredibly inspired. I felt genuine fear for my little bird-like friends, attempting to run away from such a beast. This adrenaline propelled me through the end of the first world, and as my heart raced I realised I was playing on of the best games of the year – by far.
As I’m sure you’ve sensed, the gist of it is that Shu is phenomenally well done. No, it may not be a power house in the charts, or a completely new trendsetter, but it is genre defining. Shu is the ultimate example of how a game should take its desired platform and then shape it into the most perfect game that platform has seen. It knows itself and it pronounces it proudly as a seminal indie classic, and it has secured itself a place in my heart.
I implore you; give this game a go and see for yourself.