Inside Pulse 12

Review: The Adventures of Shuggy (Xbox Live Arcade)

The Adventures of Shuggy
Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Developer: Smudged Cat Games
Publisher: Valcon Games
Release Date: 06/15/2011

Ever play a game that you knew very little about and it ended up blindsiding you with just how much fun it is to play? That is exactly what happened to me with The Adventures of Shuggy, a puzzle/platform game that was recently released on Xbox Live Arcade. The game was published by Valcon and developed by Smudged Cat games, this is the first Xbox Live Arcade game for Smudged Cat, but I recognize their name from a few Xbox Live Indie titles.

When I first started the game The Adventures of Shuggy looked deceptively cute. By that I mean the art style looked like it was aimed almost to a younger audience. The game is brightly colored, with almost a comic book look with bold lines and cartoon looking character sprites. For the single player portion of the game it tells the story of Shuggy, who looks sort of like a young bat-vampire, who inherits a castle. As is the case with most inherited castles, this one is haunted, but this does not dissuade Shuggy from exploring his new home.

It is not the best or worst of stories, as with most platform games the story is just there as decoration, like parsley on a dinner plate at an expensive restaurant. The main portion of the game will have you guide Shuggy through over a hundred rooms of this castle collecting gems. Each room is a level onto itself however, in one room you might be trying to gather gems just by jumping around the level avoiding different enemies like a typical platform game. The next room you might do the same, only now you’re upside down. Or you might have to grab a rope and try to figure out how to use it to swing to hard to reach areas. Or you might have to control multiple Shuggys, flip a room in different directions, deal with time warps, and so on. The puzzle part of the game comes from how each of these rooms have their own unique challenges that you have to try and figure out.

Now I’ve played some of the Indie Games that the developer has previously made, and you can tell their influence on The Adventures of Shuggy. Smudged Cat also made A Bomb’s Way, a platform game where you could flip the room around to collect extra time to keep from exploding (you play as a bomb in that one) and Timeslip, which featured a slug and a time mechanic where every 30 seconds there would be a time loop and earlier versions of the slug would be moving around the level that you had to avoid contact with. I mention these games because Smudged Cat includes some of the mechanics from these games into the overall platform melting pot that is The Adventures of Shuggy, but Shuggy is such an amazing leap forward compared to these games that I have to congratulate the developer. It’s not that these Indie Games were bad, heck you can still pick up each for a dollar on Xbox Live, it’s just that they were simple affairs to how great The Adventures of Shuggy is.

Playing The Adventures of Shuggy is easy. Left joystick (or D-pad) moves. A jumps, and sometimes you have to use the right trigger, though the use of the right trigger will differ depending on the level you are in. Surviving The Adventures of Shuggy is harder.

Every room is a puzzle and every one is crafted extremely well in such a way that while you will die, and trust me you will die, at no point does it feel like the game is difficult. It just feels like you’re kind of testing different ways to complete a level, every death is like having a theory proved wrong. Well most of the time that, I began to really start to hate the mosquito enemies in the game. I played through Co-Op with my wife, who will beat you into submission in Dr. Mario but isn’t really much of a gamer otherwise. At first I was concerned that The Adventures of Shuggy would be too frustrating for her, because cute or not I think the only other game I’ve died this much in a single player game was in Super Meat Boy. That never became a problem though. Sure, we died a lot together, but the difficulty is more on figuring out how to gather all the gems, the controls are tight enough that rarely do you make a wrong jump because the jumping is too floaty or the platforms are difficult to judge the distance between, if you plummet to your death or jump into something, most of the time you know that it was because you timed the jump wrong. The game manages to find that ideal balance between being difficult and yet accessible enough that you know you can beat it with a little effort. This is what kept both of us hooked on playing the game together until we ran out of levels to play, even when you die, you know you’re one step closer to beating it than the last time you died and so you just keep on playing. Then you start the next room just to see what crazy concept you’ll have to deal with in that level, and suddenly a couple of hours have passed without you knowing it.

As mentioned, the game uses a colorful cartoon art style that works well for the game. There are borders on the left and right sides of the screen boxing in the action a little bit for some reason, however it isn’t very much, doesn’t effect the game, and are at least filled with different art so that it isn’t just glaring blank space. The rooms are detailed and everything animates well enough, though sometimes the amount of detail they fit on the screen occasionally distracts from level objectives. During one level I had a hard time seeing a floor switch because a silhouette was half covering it. The music is catchy. Even though it repeats often during the course of the game it is set low enough that this isn’t a problem, though in the future I would like to see a little more variety of background music from the developer. I say that hoping we see a lot more games from these guys.

For an Xbox Live Arcade title there is a ton to do in the game. Over 100 single player levels, 36 co-op levels, a Challenge mode to unlock, and a Head to Head mode. Sadly, only the Head to Head mode is online from what I can tell. This is a shame since both Co-Op and Challenge are the better multiplayer modes. Challenge set you against another player competing for control of grid tiles, which are won by completing stages within a time limit. Head to Head is a race to gather gems with some random power ups that appear within the level. There is also a Leaderboard for the game, but I’ve had trouble accessing it every now and then. As far as the Co-Op, many platform games have struggled with the concept of Co-Op play. New Super Mario Bros should come with a gift certificate for couples counseling given how often you can accidentally cause the death of another player, while the newest Kirby game took death completely out. The Adventures of Shuggy manages to walk that thin line that other developers are still trying to figure out.

The game features a huge amount of variety, this keeps the game fresh as you continue to play and also makes it so that by the time you run through the game it doesn’t feel repetitive to play through it again. By the time I made it though a bunch of rooms, going back to some of the initial ones to get a better time on them didn’t feel like a chore, it was like trying to rediscover how to get through it all over again.

While there are some similarities to other 2D platform games, including ones by the developer, Shuggy offers both a challenge and variety that is sorely missing in other titles. As someone who loves platform and 2D games the last few years have provided some great titles like ‘Splosion Man, Super Meat Boy, Braid, etc. I would easily consider The Adventures of Shuggy within the same pedigree any of these titles. Don’t let a fun game like this pass into obscurity.

The Scores:

Modes: Great
Graphics: Very Good
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Unparalleled
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Great
Miscellaneous: Classic
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Cute graphics, fun platforming game that appeals to both the diehard gamer and the casual fan, a ton of levels, more variety than burlesque show, and it’s $10 on Xbox Live Arcade. I loved it, my wife loved it, and if you try the demo of the game on Live I’ll bet Shuggy will sink his little cartoon fangs into your heart as well.

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