Recent years have seen the resurgence of a genre largely swept under the carpet: the 2D platformer. Perhaps encouraged by the triumphant return of Rayman in Origins and Legends, indie developers have been working hard to bring back the simple thrills of running, jumping, and then running some more. With even Sega bringing us Sonic Mania next year, it seems to be the perfect time for games like Shu - a cutesy platformer from Coatsink and Secret Lunch.
You play as the titular character, making your way across the land in order to restore peace when a dark and mysterious entity, the Storm, threatens your home. It's a tried and tested story, yes, but it's told succinctly and wordlessly, giving you just enough context. The story isn't really what will stick with you, though. As with any game of this ilk, gameplay is king, and Shu does a fine job in this regard.
You start each area with just a run, a jump, and a glide, and must make your way from the left to the right, as you might expect. It's extremely pared back, and it feels very refreshing to play. The game moves at a fair lick, and you have very precise control over your movement. It feels as though you can absolutely fly through levels once you get a grip on your abilities and the layouts. There are no enemies to worry about, only hazards like bottomless pits and spikes, so not even that can stop your run.
As nice as it is to play something so pure, a little variety is sprinkled into each set of levels to keep things from getting stale. You'll come across other villagers on your journey, and they'll join you for a short time to help you traverse various obstacles. For example, you'll meet a fellow named Joro who lets Shu perform a ground pound, smashing through wooden platforms or getting a higher bounce off a trampoline-like plant. Lati has the power to open or close certain flowers, causing some tricky jumping sections.
These are just the first two, and while they disappear just as quickly as they appear, the constant flow of new mechanics works well, ensuring each area of the game feels different, and has its own challenges. It does feel a bit like you've lost a leg when your villager friends leave, but it doesn't take too long to readjust again. A more permanent fixture is the threat of the Storm suddenly giving chase. Just when you're settling into the abilities your temporary companions afford, thunder strikes, and the game is transformed into a frantic escape from the pursuing evil. These sections ramp up the challenge and are great fun, in the same way that the Tricky Treasure chases are in Rayman Origins.
Though the chase sequences are probably the hardest parts of Shu, it would be a faux pas to describe the game as hard. Overall, it's an easy game to get through, and won't take most players more than a few hours to finish. The checkpointing is generous, and each one resets your number of lives to 5. Deaths are usually down to mistiming your jumps, glides, or other temporary powers, and never feel unfair.
While it's easy to finish Shu, it may be a little more challenging to complete. In addition to gathering butterflies – your primary collectible – there are hidden items, such as the six Babbies in each level, and stone tablets that are cunningly tucked away. There's also a speedrun time on each level for you to beat if that's your thing, and there are even leaderboards for the fastest times. It's nice that these have been added to extend the life of the game, although there's little reason to tackle them aside from being able to say you've done it.
Shu is a decent 2D platformer that puts gameplay first, and in stripping away needless distractions provides a refreshing and pleasant few hours of fun. The art style and soundtrack are pretty good, giving way to some lovely sights and sounds on your journey, while the ever-changing set of abilities ensures the game is able to provide new challenges throughout. There are numerous collectibles and other goals to encourage players to stick around, although it all feels somewhat inconsequential. Overall, Shu is a fun distraction that goes to show games don't have to be complex in order to entertain.