Don’t let Shio’s delicate and ethereal aesthetics fool you, this game is a hardcore platforming fans’ naughty dream. It’s appropriate, considering the game takes place within the protagonist’s sleepy visions. Initially created – astonishingly – by just one man, before being polished up and released by Coconut Island Games, Shio manages to not only be a comprehensive 2D platformer, providing extremely fluid action, but also has time to provide several innovations in the genre as well.
In a plot that echo’s Christopher Nolan’s 2010 classic ‘Inception’, Shio sees the player character – a mysterious masked warrior – descend further and further into his dreams. The plot is without doubt the weakest aspect of Shio, being incomprehensible enough to be redundant. Its world setting and characters attempt deep philosophical thoughts and theories, but the result is a mess and is best ignored instead Focus on the gameplay instead, as this is a very challenging game. In fact, it’s so difficult that it will probably make you cry. And not in a ‘one tear gently rolling down a cheek’ Hollywood way either, I’m talking full on snot-filled sobbing here.
Things are initially simple enough, as all the player must do is navigate either horizontally or vertically from one side of the platforming arena to the other. Controls are limited to running left and right and a basic jump, with an additional ability of the warrior being able to utilize floating Chinese lanterns to provide a ‘double jump’ ability. In a break from most other modern games, that’s it. No further abilities are conferred to the warrior, so it’s instead up to the player to develop their own skills and it is the seemingly way in which Coconut Island Games ramp up the difficulty, using standard platforming tropes in entirely new ways, that makes this prospect so compelling.
One aspect of Shio’s success is its fast, fluid and precise controls. Vital in a platformer, it is an aspect that’s often overlooked, resulting in player frustration as a case of premature death is caused through no fault of their own. Shio avoids this through having its admittedly limited controls be incredibly well implemented. Without this, the dance of death the developer asks of the player, as they leap through buzz saws, flame balls and lava walls with the smallest of margins for error, would results in many controllers being hurled across the room with a sense of hopelessness. I mean, many controllers will still be smashed against the floor – I know mine was – but it won’t be the games’ fault, it will be all yours. This sense of frustration is no doubt heightened by the instant death that occurs upon contact with any hazard. Our warrior friend isn’t hardy in the slightest; even contact with leaves will see him explode in blue light.
It’s all worth it though, as that moment of elation when you finally manage to traverse a particularly difficult assault course requiring near perfect timing, is second to none. These assault courses are stunning peices of design, introducing new concepts, a wind-tunnel here, a broken lantern there, before combining them to brilliant effect.
The developer helps mitigate further frustrations through some clever innovations. Prior to each bite size platforming section, the game will provide you with an optional map of the obstacles ahead of you. Though there’s still trial and error to get to the end, this clever addition removes some of a mystery of what’s up ahead. On the easier difficulty settings there are plenty of check points and each self contained assault course takes no more than sixty seconds on a successful run. If you do die, you are instantly respawned at the last check point with no frustrating death animations or loading times to break up the action and slow you down. Coconut Island Games know that you’ll be failing a lot before finally being successful, so why make that process arduous when it need not be?
Extra incentive is provided to revisit each of the many courses, as they are all timed against a faceless antagonist. Trying to figure out how to beat some of these insanely fast times is all part of the fun/failure-fuelled rage, providing an element of replayability that’s otherwise missing in Shio’s brief run time. In another startling example of simple innovation, you can revisit any checkpoint in the game instantly by donning the warrior’s wooden mask with a quick tap of R2. There’s lengthy loading times or awkward menus to navigate, the quick tap of a button will send you to any previously visited point within the game.
Despite these attempts to ease player frustration and to make the gameplay ‘fair’, this is still an incredibly challenging experience. The game also features a number several intense difficulty spikes. What the game asks of you is often almost incomprehensible, and having to make a steep vertical ascent only to fail at the last hurdle, fall to the bottom and begin again is particularly heart breaking.
Be prepared to have to persist in a way not often seen in videogames in 2018. Some sections, despite only taking 30 seconds to complete on a perfect run, took me forty or fifty attempts to finally achieve. Whether or not this idea appeals to you should tell you all you need to know about whether or not Shio is the game for you.
Shio is not a game for the faint of heart. Tremendously challenging, it truly will push you to the limit of your videogame abilities. The stunning level design, clear visuals and wonderfully tight controls all ensure that the game is fair, but that won’t be enough to stop player frustration from ultimately setting in. Played in short sittings this is a taught, tight and compelling experience. Just have an extra controller nearby, you’ll need it to replace the one you just threw out the window.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4
Also available for PC