The Adventures of Shuggy
Consoles and games from the third and fourth generation bring back many memories for me. The Master System and Megadrive still get booted up occasionally; old cartridges dusted off and replayed. Games were simpler back then, often borrowing huge chunks of ideas from each other, designed for quick pick up and play sessions. The Adventures of Shuggy is much like a game from this time. It ticks all the retro boxes and adds plenty of variation to keep things fresh. Trouble is, Shuggy and myself were often left shrugging our shoulders, trying to put our finger, or fang, on exactly what it was that’s missing.
As Shuggy you need to clear out every room of a recently inherited mansion to make it your own (no Poltergust to help in this game though). There’s the dungeon that’s full of steam, flying paintings in the gallery and some rotten ideas going on in the graveyard. The concept is simple and executed well: enter a new room, collect all the green gems and you’ll be awarded with a key. Touch an enemy or trap and its back to the beginning. The more keys you collect, the more rooms that’ll open for you to explore, with every room featuring a twist to keep you on your toes, eventually leading to a combination of ideas stretched across larger locations. In this aspect, Smudged Cat Games have succeeded in creating a premise that feels reminiscent of older titles and yet fresh.
A lava lake running through the floor, a room that can be spun on its axis, a handy rope to rappel past killer wasps, timed areas with ghosts of the past and much more await. Little Shmu’s, immortal maggot-like bugs, need to be guided to unlock cages and creatures that follow set patterns of movement try to impede your progress. There are a lot of ideas for the rooms; a hundred variations and combinations in total, including a few boss puzzles.
As you complete the beginning puzzles, a looped musical theme follows; a cheeky haunted house piece of music that has sprinkles of ghostly moans. It’s quirky, for about thirty seconds. Then it loops – forever and ever, amen. It’s not surprising that the ghosts of the mansion have gone crazy if someone’s left this on a continuous loop for the past hundred years. Fortunately that theme finally changed upon entering a new location of rooms. Phew. The sound effects are basic, the jump effect sounding instantly familiar. The library sound effects do little to add to the world that’s been created, one that already features static cutscenes, limited sprite animations and fonts with no character.
The locales and rooms are vivid and easy on the eyes. It has a clean-cut image that stands out, aesthetically appearing like an old ‘80s cartoon (think a static Count Duckula). Each section of the mansion has its own set colour to the walls, helping to differentiate it from the rest. At times, though, you’ll be clearing scenes that’ll start to merge together with one another, especially as enemy sprites are reused throughout all the areas.
While bright and colourful, the world Shuggy inhibits does lack life and sparkle. Perhaps this is compounded by the limited range of sounds; it doesn’t sound immersive. Not a huge issue for a puzzle-platformer, but these little touches can help draw you into the developer’s world. The presentation and looped themes makes this appear to be marketed at a younger crowd, however the old 8/16-bit design would most likely be more at home with those that enjoyed games such as Bubble Bobble, Ghost House and Puggsy.
To get moving you need to push in one direction to quickly pick up speed. Slowing down off a jump can be twitchy at first until you learn to judge Shuggy’s light weight. Occasionally, you’re allowed to speed up time but you’ll be frustrated when that ability then disappears in the next room, forcing you to wait for that slow fiend to follow its routine and move out of the way, allowing you to make the next jump and then wait again.
Pressing Back brings up the ability granted for that room. Having Shuggy announce the ability by voice (‘double jump’ or ‘teleport time’) when entering a new room would have added a needed additional sonic layer. Even a quick message across the bottom of the screen would have been more dynamic, giving a quick notification without the need to pause the game.
Many levels necessitate trial and error to work out exactly what is required to empty the room of those glistening green gems, and there is a sense of adventure in seeing what twist is next. If each door took you to a set of three to five rooms with the same ability it would have been a more coherent and consistent approach. This wouldn’t have been a drastic change either, as the areas often feature a few of the same room styles that could’ve been grouped together, rather than randomly littered.
Once you enter the graveyard and clock tower the game finds its feet. However, the early slog through may deter some gamers who aren’t attracted to the visual style of the game. The rooms expand and cover bigger areas with superior jumping abilities. Double-jumping is intermittently available and it’s more natural to traverse environments spanning multiple screens, using that extra mid-air jump to dodge enemies and secure a safe landing. They’re some of the best levels on offer. By combining a few ideas at a time and making all the levels larger this would have been a more engrossing achievement, possibly even adding a few hits (shown as hearts) before respawning; a very direct nod to gaming’s past.
Once you collect enough keys a challenge mode unlocks outside of the campaign; for two players or more. There’s local co-op with separate levels, a great addition that’s bizarrely offline only, and an online versus mode. Unfortunately, at the time of publishing no one was playing the game online so the modes are yet to be tested.
Nothing is broken, and The Adventures of Shuggy is a solid, functional title. But it wasn’t until the later levels that the toe-curling, tense moments came in and I felt any exhilaration or reward. It’s hard to feel attachment to a world of repeated sounds and sprites that lead to a blur of level design, no matter how many little variations were added. Those that want some retro puzzle-platforming would do well to consider The Adventures of Shuggy, but its shortcomings make it harder to recommend to anyone else.