Developer: Coatsink Software
Publisher: Coatsink Software
Platform: PS4, PC
Release Date: October 4, 2016
ESRB: E for Everyone
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game
Shu is the equivalent of video gaming comfort food -- it may be new but it feels entirely familiar, like you've somehow played it in the past. In a way, that's because you have. Coatsink Games' latest offering borrows elements from some of the most well-known games in the platformer genre such as Rayman Legends and Donkey Kong Country, yet it still manages to feel original and retain its own identity, for the most part. If you're in the market for a great new platformer, Shu makes a strong case for being one of the best this year so far.
The most striking thing about Shu at first glance is its aesthetic, which uses a combination of low-poly 3D backgrounds and foregrounds as well as 2D sprites. Shu and his anthropomorphic, bird-like friends have a charming, hand-drawn quality about their design and are definitely the bright spot here, though the levels are often quite beautiful themselves, featuring various geographical locales.
As the story begins, Shu's people are forced to flee from their home and are separated when a vengeful, dark force that's embodied as a storm arrives and consumes everything in its path. Shu must traverse the world and gather his friends along the way in order to outrun and find a way to bring an end to the storm's destruction.
Just as I mentioned earlier, the inspiration for Shu's gameplay is pretty evident right from the get-go. The underlaying core of each level is more or less modeled after the level design in Ubisoft's Rayman Origins and its sequel, Rayman Legends. It isn't entirely shameless, as there are original elements that I'll get to in a minute, but the speed-run-esque flow of the gameplay, chase segments (where you attempt to outrun the encroaching storm), and the fact that it features collectibles such as "babbies" (yes, that's spelled correctly) in place of Rayman's teensies, "butterflys" instead of Lums, a meter dependent on how many of the latter you've collected that fills up at the end of each level, and time records that you can break, it's almost as if Coatsink took an existing formula and gave it a new coat of paint. Just saying.
That said, Shu comes into its own by including a few key elements that keep it from being an outright clone. One of the biggest is the ability to glide through the air after jumping and make use of riding wind currents, which gives the experience a unique pop to it. The other big element is the addition of other characters that you find in your journey who add their own unique ability to the mix as long as they are with you. For example, you'll find a larger bird that can smash through boxes and planks, or a purple female bird that can cause flowers to bloom (and close) that you can use as platforms. Each world introduces different characters all with their own skill, introducing new ways of interacting with the levels, which in turn helps to keep the design fresh and interesting throughout the game.
Ultimately, the game is on the short side (2-3 hours), but the amount of collectibles and extra tasks (such as setting speedrunning records) help extend the playtime significantly. The shorter length also works to the game's benefit as it feels like Coatsink managed to do all they could with the experience -- if it were any longer, the gameplay might've run the risk of becoming stale.
Shu is an impressive platformer, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the game that really puts Coatsink Software on the map and makes people take notice of their future output. Yes, the game may have used Rayman Origin's core as its base, but it manages to build something extremely impressive from it. And though I'm not completely convinced that the 3D backgrounds mixed with 2D character art is the optimal look for its overall design (I would have loved to see what they could do with 100% hand-drawn animation for everything), it's undoubtedly a beautiful-looking game. The soundtrack is also quite nice despite not having a lot of tracks (there is generally one song/theme for each world's levels).
Fans of platformers and speedrunners will ultimately get the most out of the game, but anyone that's looking for a new indie title to dig into is, ahem, shu to find a great experience on their hands.
*No, I'm not apologizing for that pun.
+ Game features beautiful combination of 2D sprites and 3D backgrounds
+ Soundtrack is pretty good
+ Story is surprisingly well done
+ Gliding and partner abilities lend themselves well to the gameplay
+ Plenty of things to collect and find in each level
- Core level design is derived from Rayman Origins and lacks a wholly original quality to it
Overall Score: 8.5 (out of 10)
Shu is a great, short indie platformer that draws inspiration from Rayman Origins but manages to expand on it in meaningful ways and in so doing creates its own wonderful and unique experience.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS4 code provided by the publisher.