If there’s one thing that’s been missing from Xbox Live Arcade of late it’s simple little platform games. As content for the service have become more elaborate, there’s a niche opened up for something that does things in a more straight forward, old fashioned way. Fitting snugly into that gap for the time being is The Adventures of Shuggy (TAoS) from Valcon and Smudged Cat Games.
TAoS features the titular Shuggy, a bicycle-riding, purple bat who has just inherited a castle. In an age where we’re surrounded on all sides by an abundance of bald space marines and serious military themed first person shooters, anyone pulling a face at this point just needs to just roll with the whole concept. After all, where would we be now without the silly plot-lines of classically regarded platfomers like Bubble Bobble and New Zealand Story?
Unfortunately for Shuggy his new abode is infested with ghosts, goblins, zombies and even robots. While you’d think that a bike riding, property owning bat would be quite at home with such strange housemates, clearly Shuggy isn’t the sharing type. So his aim is to progressively work through the various parts of the castle and clear it out.
Initially only a few doors to the different areas are unlocked, and in order to explore further he needs to gather up the green gems scattered throughout each stage, in turn rewarding him with the keys to other areas. The game aims for a strong retro style and it’s well replicated, striking you the moment you first press the jump button. Shuggy’s upward leap creates a bouncy little sound effect which stirs up fond memories of yesteryear platformers like the aforementioned Taito classics.
Up to this point the game probably sounds like nothing new, but TAoS has some neat little tricks up its sleeve to keep you hooked. Rather than concentrating on just one game mechanic, there are several different ones used to mix things up. One stage might require you to switch between multiple versions of Shuggy to get all the gems. Another will need you to use time travel and doppelgangers to sit on buttons and open the way for future versions (whilst being careful not to come into contact with one another which results in a deadly time paradox). Others still might need you to flip the whole level around to negotiate its maze like design.
Rather than just being expected to simply bounce around ad-infinitum, Shuggy’s take on the genre means you never quite know what to expect the first time you start a level. It’s this concept which helps keep things fresh, long after interest in other titles would have faltered. Whatever the mechanic in play for a particular level, any action which requires the player to trigger it (such as flipping a room) is done by simply pressing the Right trigger. This means that, no matter the task, there’s a reassuring familiarity at your finger tips which limits any fumbling with buttons and allowing you to get on with cracking the puzzles.
The other unwanted inhabitants of the castle, or the various spikes and lava, will kill Shuggy instantly on contact. There’s no health bar or second chances – mess up a stage and its back to doing the whole thing again from the start. From that description you’d be forgiven for thinking that the game is some sort of hardcore nightmare or boring slog, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The puzzles are incredibly well thought out, offering the right mixture of challenge and satisfaction. While some stages won’t exactly be a cake-walk, it manages to avoid making you feel like you’re being treated unfairly. Quick restarts on death aid this no end and on the scant few occasions where the collision detection may have been questionable, it never made itself so apparent that it ruined the experience (and eventually left us wondering if it was our judgement, rather than the game itself). Mercifully if a particular stage is giving you grief then there’s usually plenty more unlocked for you to have a go at and it’s this kind of consideration to the finer details that makes TAoS a joy to just relax and play.
Along with 100+ single player levels to keep you busy, there’s also a multitude of co-op levels to get to grips with. The game also features competitive multiplayer, with a gem collecting mode. Supporting up to four players, both locally and online, sadly we’re unable to tell you how well this worked over Xbox Live because it was impossible to find anyone to play against on the occasions this reviewer tried. This indicates that TAoS might have gone largely un-noticed on release, which would be a genuine shame because it’s inarguable well constructed and really does try its best to keep you entertained.
Despite its simplistic but bright, cartoony exterior the fact that it keeps things fresh manages to raise the game above other glossier titles which have been trumpeted much loudly of late and then simply use their style to blind you to the fact that there may not actually be that much depth to them. Or even worse, are missing the fun ingredients that make you want to keep playing. With The Adventures of Shuggy there’s certainly enough content and, much more importantly, unashamed fun contained within it to warrant its asking price.
Anyone looking for a lovely little way to spend some quality time platforming like its 1980′s all over again (and not in the bad way) would be well advised to buy it.