Some games try too hard.
In an effort to please the widest audience and provide the roundest experience, developers cram copious amounts of (often underdeveloped) mechanics into a single project, making for a bloated, unfocused game.
It is with this trepidation in mind that I say The Adventures of Shuggy, the new puzzle-platformer from Smudged Cat Games, masterfully lumps together a legion of puzzle and platforming tropes and mechanics to create a light-hearted game that never fails to please with inventive puzzles and platforming at every turn as well as a deceptive immunity to stagnation.
The premise of The Adventure of Shuggy is simple. Shuggy, a purple, black-caped, fang-toothed, vampire inherits his Uncle’s mansion. Upon inspecting it, he finds it home to a host of threatening creatures. Players must navigate Shuggy through the game’s 100+ rooms, cleansing the mansion of evil and other disrepair while collecting numerous green gems. Collect all gems within a level and Shuggy receives a key, unlocking more levels and additional areas.
Each of the game’s five sections—The Dungeon, The Boiler Room, The Gallery, The Graveyard, and The Clocktower—possess a unique aesthetic as well as new mechanics to consider, keeping gameplay fresh and interesting. Abilities and constraints—such as time and spatial manipulation or augmented jumping prowess—develop in parallel rather than forcing players through linear, stifling progression. Shuggy prides itself in never delivering the same level twice and expects players to adapt to its variable conditions. By combining all the best elements from its contemporaries, Shuggy wins out through the endless permutations of solid mechanics.
Comparisons to genre stalwarts will begin within the game’s first level, in which players must rotate an entire level in order for Shuggy to gain access to new sets of platforms to climb (due to the limitations of his agility) and acquire hard-to-reach gems. The concept immediately calls to mind recent indie darling Fez, but Shuggy’s level rotation remains two-dimensional, rotating either clockwise or counter-clockwise. Nonetheless, I enjoy how natural platforming feels within a spinning, disorienting space and admire levels (skillfully) designed with four different perspectives in mind.
The game also features numerous levels involving the use of multiple Shuggys, either as contemporaneous duplicates—each of which can be controlled, one at a time, by players—or as mimetic ghosts that adhere to the trail and actions set out by the player within a specific amount of time. The former feels like asynchronous multiplayer while the latter is reminiscent of Jonathan Blow’s Braid. Smudged Cat tests your limits by forcing you to layer in the specific actions—like hopping on switches to open up locked areas—of up to five or six separate Shuggys all the while sliding through narrow, confined spaces. I felt like a maestro conducting a symphony of my former selves, re-enacting my previous actions in unison while I moved on to the next objective. It’s a wonderful, dare I say powerful, feeling.
Over the course of the game, Shuggy encounters new obstacles and new means for overcoming said obstacles. There’s a rough but loose progression to mechanics, but once introduced, they appear freely in subsequent levels, making for a rotating swatch of gameplay. In some instances, Shuggy will need to herd Shmu (think the little black gobs from World of Goo) by touching and repelling them in the direction of caged gems. Shuggy also gains access to a tethered but never-ending rope, allowing him to rappel off of edges and into treacherous areas, a teleporter to phase himself through difficult spaces in the level, and even potions that shrink or enlarge the playful vampire. Each mechanic is a fully fleshed out puzzle/platforming conceit, but juxtaposed against others, they take on new life as the dependable gears powering this fun machine.
Not every level includes a new toy to play with; instead, some reduce Shuggy’s abilities and provide difficulty through impaired mechanics. In one case, this manifests as a zombified Shuggy, who wanders back and forth on repeat while players must charge and time jumps to reach higher platforms. Shuggy constantly changes pace and provides new ways to interact with the environment and character, helping to maintain a sense of freshness through the game’s 100+ levels.
On top of the main campaign, the game features a cooperative multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, the mode is offline only, so unless you have a buddy manning another controller/keyboard, you’ll be playing by yourself. I tested a couple levels—managing both a gamepad and a keyboard—only to find levels identical to some featured in the campaign in which NPCs assist in puzzle-solving. It’s another fun addition but unnecessary to your enjoyment of the game.
The Adventures of Shuggy is not a difficult game. Taxing? Sometimes. Tedious? Occasionally. Truly hard? Rarely. Despite aping challenging puzzle games like Fez and Braid, Shuggy prides itself on constant pleasure. It’s the people pleaser of puzzle platformers. Difficulty arises due to the game’s insistence that you maintain many mechanics at any one point rather than exhausting mechanics in a feat of skill. The platforming, though lacking the precision of another indie champion, Super Meat Boy, is more than up to task with the game’s obstacles. You may find yourself slipping of ledges into boiling pits of lava or buzzing (killer) bees, but it’s typically a result of player fault. Playing Shuggy feels a lot like juggling. Balance basic platforming needs (jumping, enemies, obstacles) against a measure of skill and variable mechanics in a level and you’ll succeed. I always felt challenged, but rarely stumped.
My initial impression of The Adventures of Shuggy led me to believe the game would rely upon platforming. Levels tout a desired completion time which aggressive players can easily best (in most cases). I thought I was in for a Super Meat Boy, or even League of Evil, level of challenge. As I unlocked new levels, which open up in non-linear fashion and don’t all need completed before facing a boss and moving to a new area, I began to just take my time and enjoy each level. I never felt compelled to complete levels, but rather I couldn’t stop myself from seeing what new set of conditions a map might reveal and discovering how I would overcome them. Even when the game keeps it simple, it always manages to feel fresh and exciting. It’s a constant drip feed of fun delivered in brief measures.
The Adventures of Shuggy will feel familiar to anyone who has been playing platformers and puzzle games during the last couple years. It’s entirely possible that Smudged Cat used a trope infographic for the genre when designing their game, but rather than picking a few mechanics and sticking with them, they choose them all. If the game didn’t offer variable mechanics and invariable fun, I might have a problem with this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink philosophy. As it stands, Smudged Cat has made the swiss army knife of platform puzzle games—great in any situation.