If Shio, the fantastic platformer by new Shanghai-based developer, Coconut Island Games was a mathematical equation, it would probably be, Super Meat Boy + N++ x emotion….and lanterns = contemplative platforming fun. Ok, so that wasn’t the best equation of all time, but at its core, it’s probably accurate (the sign of any good equation is that it’s ‘probably’ right).
It might not be quite as slick or mechanically precise as either Super Meat Boy or N++, but by imbuing the game with a genuine sense of emotion, an ambiguous but oddly compelling narrative and a more grounded aesthetic, Coconut Island Games have managed to deliver an experience that, while undoubtedly familiar, does enough to differentiate itself in a very crowded genre. While the simple control scheme is nothing to get especially excited about, the tight mechanics married to the imaginative lantern-centric gameplay does make for a compelling if somewhat brief platformer.
Ok, I should probably explain what ‘lantern-centric’ means – while there are traditional platforms to navigate, much of each stages’ challenge is based upon you being able to manoeuvre between lanterns that essentially allow you to keep jumping in perpetuity. These lanterns give you an extra bounce each time they are struck, and when combined with the myriad of environmental traps strewn about each stage, make for a surprisingly challenging experience.
Being greeted by its moving story, striking visuals and thoughtful narrative, it’d be more than reasonable to expect a relatively gentle platformer that is more about the experience than the challenge. You’d be wrong of course, but yeah, it would be reasonable. While not quite as difficult as Super Meat Boy, on anything other than the easy setting, Shio delivers plenty of challenge for those eager to try their hand at one of the more taxing platformers on PS4 and Switch.
Like the best examples of classic Nintendo gameplay, Shio does that great job of building its world and challenges around its basic but successfully implemented mechanics. This allows for a gradual and very natural evolution in your abilities as the game builds around those fixed mechanics to deliver an array of increasingly smart and always inventive trials. It’s nothing genuinely revolutionary of course, but there is enough here to make gameplay consistently fresh despite the inclusion of undoubtedly familiar surroundings and mechanics.
Despite only having 4 full levels, albeit ones split into smaller platforming stages, Shio will probably take most gamers a little while to get through. Sure, if you’re great at gaming, you might well fly through it, but for most of us, getting through the game, collecting a decent number of collectables and completing a few of the secret challenge levels found in Deep Sleep mode will take up a fair bit of time. Sure, the amount of actual content is relatively limited, but with many of the stages likely to take a huge number of (mercifully instantaneous) retries, getting through the majority of what Shio has to offer will probably be, well, quite the ordeal.
In fact, I suspect a lot of people won’t make it at all – despite the tight mechanics and solid level design, the level of difficulty is such that many will be put off sometime around their hundredth death. Like all games of this ilk though, there are plenty of gamers out there who will revel in the challenge provided, and while they won’t be accustomed to the kind of storytelling that Shio employs (this is tonally a million light-years away from the likes of N++ et al), like everything else in this game, the narrative never outstays its welcome, and more importantly, is actually very good. Sure, some will find it all a tad too vague and more than a little ambiguous, but it’s delivered so beautifully and in such perfectly timed chunks that it will likely be hard to care.
Shio doesn’t reinvent the platforming wheel, but by combining the kind of quick-fire, brutally difficult platforming one would immediately associate with Super Meat Boy with the kind of tasteful, artfully delivered story and visuals more closely associated with the likes of Braid or Inside, Coconut Island Games have managed to deliver something surprisingly unique but always solidly coherent. Some might argue that, beyond the challenge provided, Shio isn’t home to much in the way of actual content, but like its story, I’d argue that Shio wisely chooses to not outstay its welcome.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
Some might argue that, beyond the challenge provided, Shio isn’t home to much in the way of actual content, but like its story, I’d argue that Shio wisely chooses to not outstay its welcome.