There are games that entertain you, games that excite you, games that hit you emotionally, and games which frustrate you to the point of either rage quitting or throwing your controller across the room in a fit of anger. Shio is a combination of all of these glorious aspects.
Originally created by a single man, Laio Yi, Shio was shown to developers Coconut Island Games during the Independent Games Festival in China back in 2014 who partnered up and turned the game into the beautiful creation we have today. Shio is a strange game, it combines precise jumping mechanics with perfect timings and frustrating obstacles which are all delivered within a mysterious story headed by a silent protagonist. This is a game you seriously shouldn’t miss out on if you enjoy games like Super Meat Boy and I wanna be the Guy.
The story of Shio is shrouded in mystery and delivered in a few in-game dialogues and playable cutscenes. You play as a silent protagonist who hides behind an unusual mask, not only physically but also spiritually as well. We don’t know anything about this man, what he looks like, who he is, what his past involved, or even his real name (as I imagine it isn’t Shio). The game begins with a multitude of questions yet with very few answers. We do, however, have the means to find out the answers – traverse through a maze of an ancient Chinese village and his dreams to uncover secret information.
As you travel through these fantastical environments, you will meet a few strange and interesting people, people you don’t know; yet they know you. Upon the intro screen, you have the option of two difficulties, one will have you travel through the chapters as normal and uncover the bare minimum about our masked stranger, and a more difficult one which unlocks new bonus areas and more challenges to overcome as you discover a lot more about ‘Shio’. So, which one will you dare to try? I’ve been playing through the ‘normal’ difficulty in order to get the hang of it – something I don’t believe I’ll ever do as the game is brutal, unforgiving and sadistic. I love it!
Shio isn’t your standard platformer, it also isn’t your usual ‘Super Meat Boy’ clone either. Shio is Shio, it’s different yet similar, it’s exciting yet frustrating, it’s fun yet downright annoying. The gist of it is, you must run through the level and get from checkpoint to checkpoint whilst trying to beat the time of the person within your dream. However, you don’t traverse in the usual manner, you can run and jump and that’s it, no double jump, no special abilities, and no energy bars. The unique mechanic here is that each level is littered with magical lanterns which you can hit whilst jumping, by hitting the jump button in the air, and they thrust you further in the air.
Basically, hitting a lantern is like a double jump which can only be performed in certain areas considering you time it right.
Sound simple? Well, it’s not! The opening levels will have you jumping over spikes, past saw blades, and up through tiny gaps, but soon enough you will have to time your jumps to avoid fireballs, light beams, wind tunnels, moving walls, and more! The jump from easy to hard is quite steep as well, so be prepared to die a lot at the beginning. The main aim of the game is to reach the end of the chapter, sleep, dive into a ‘nightmare’ of a level and then move onto the next chapter which has its own new mechanics and hazards. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a one-hit kill game. Make one mistake and you will be whisked back to the previous checkpoint.
As previously mentioned, the game has a speedrun element built into the game for each and every checkpoint. Once you reach one it will tell you how long it took you to complete that section of the map and what time the game wanted you to beat. This gives you plenty of reasons to jump back to a previous chapter and keep trying whilst also offering more replayability to the game. However, some of these times are really tight and the controls can sometimes screw you over getting a great time (which I’ll discuss below).
One thing which I found great is the checkpoint restart ability. If you get to the end of a checkpoint and find out you were a little too slow, you can press R2 to put on yet another mask and the chapter/checkpoint selection appears. From here, pick any point to return to and you will instantly go back and the counter will begin again. If you pick a checkpoint from a different chapter then you have a loading time, otherwise, if it’s the same chapter you are in, it will be instant. You also get a counter at the checkpoint which indicates how many attempts you had at getting there – for me, this was mainly 0-4 apart from the ‘nightmare’ levels which were 30-70. Yes, one single checkpoint took me 45 minutes to pass!
I have touched on it, but I both love and hate the controls – sorry guys! There are issues present on the PS4 version which appear to also be on the Steam version (based on comments I read over at the Steam Forums). First of all, I love the smooth fluid movement of Shio within the game, both when running around and when jumping from lantern to lantern. True, you’re a little floaty at times, but that just helps with chaining your run, jump, lantern, avoid death, lantern, land, run motion. It’s also a game which you will learn the controls within a few seconds of playing, yet you won’t master the game until you have died a few hundred times – to put that into perspective, there is a trophy for dying a thousand times and I believe I will get that naturally over the four chapters.
Now the part I don’t like, which surprisingly is a knock-on effect of a part I do like! When you choose to replay a checkpoint by using your second mask, for about a second you can’t move upon respawn. Shio has an animation of him taking off the second mask and putting it away. Within the time you can’t move I believe the timer is still ticking down. Even if it’s not if you’re holding a direction button whilst he is putting away the mask, Shio won’t move. You have to not press anything until he has put it away and then press to move and if you are holding a direction before the animation stops, then you must let go and then press it again. It’s annoying and it wastes time, especially when some of the runs are required to be done super fast with no issues if you want to beat the time.
The only saving grace for this is if you die. Yes, if you die then you reappear at the last checkpoint and you can move immediately. You can even hold the direction whilst being resurrected and you will run instantly. So, what I do is reload the chapter then instantly kill myself and THEN perform my run to beat the clock. I saw someone bring this up on the Steam forums and the developers said they would look at it, but it’s still present in this version. It’s a shame but it’s not a deal-breaker as I’ve still beaten times with this in place, it’s just annoying above anything else.
The level design of Shio is amazing. everything is pieced together perfectly. You have your secret areas which are well hidden yet fully accessible, defined routes that are possible to traverse in one swift motion if you’re accurate enough, and hazards that are a pain yet fully avoidable. A lot of games could take a lot from Shio if they studied the level design and saw how perfectly it was all put together. Yeah, I died many times whilst playing the game for review, but I never felt like it was unfair or it was the game’s fault. I always felt like it was because of me as I was able to overcome the issues after trying a few times.
Each of the chapters also plays on the various seasons. This doesn’t only change the aesthetic and the gorgeous artwork, but it also changes the mechanics a little and throws in some new hazards. For example, in chapter two you will encounter wind machine-like devices which blow out dead leaves which kill you when they touch Shio. I really enjoy these effects as the game is only four chapters long yet it felt like I had been playing for a year, not just because of the amount of time’s I died but because I had played through the various seasons as well.
Shio is so beautiful. Not the man, although I’m sure he is very handsome behind his wooden mask, the game itself. The developers have really gone all out with the artistic design and style of both the characters and the environments. If you have played Detention then you will see a lot of similarities in the artistic design. Detention is also published by the same team and is yet another game I highly recommend. Each background and object looks like a hand-drawn painting with so much detail yet also very simple in design. The amount of talent that has gone into the artistic side of this game is incredible and I really can’t fault any of it.
The music is equally as beautiful, with each chapter having its own original music along with various segments like the nightmare levels. The music is subtle in areas but you can always hear it and it helps you with the timings of your jumps in places as well. The sound effects, in general, are also really well done from the sound of you slashing the lanterns to the fireballs and wind machines. It all fits together perfectly and makes an intense and frustrating game a little bit calmer and relaxing.
30 Minutes of gameplay:
Shio is a very challenging, yet also satisfying, platformer. With its instantaneous respawn and reload mechanics, it will have you attempting the same treacherous sections over and over again until you beat the required times and progress further into the story. The story will have you seriously intrigued into who Shio is, who is the girl, why is everyone so familiar yet different to our protagonist, and why do we keep having these dreams? The art style and music alone are enough to draw anyone into this gorgeous masterpiece, the gameplay and the story will ensure that you never want to leave. Fans of brutal platformers, such as Super Meat Boy, will feel at home with Shio and seriously should add it to their collection. It may not be a long game when you break it down on paper but in reality, Shio isn’t a short game if you aim to complete both story difficulties and seek out all the hidden rooms.
I can’t recommend this game enough – it’s mesmerising and compelling, whilst also frustrating and unforgiving. It’s also tonnes of fun!
- Beautiful art style and music
- Fluid movement and solid controls
- Very unique setting and original mechanics
- Intriguing story
- Great level design and weather effects
- The checkpoint reload isn't as smooth as dying (you can't instantly move)
- Some people may get put off by it's difficulty as it is a brutal platformer.