By all accounts I should hate The Adventures of Shuggy. It’s one of these 2D puzzle platformers with a retro sensibility that seemed to start breeding after Braid was a huge success. I didn’t like Braid as much as I was apparently supposed to, which by the law of diminishing returns means The Adventures Of Shuggy should be humoured and then casually thrown aside. Except, and I realise this may be a touch controversial, The Adventures Of Shuggy gives Braid’s pretentious backside a full on wedgy and slaps the self-congratulatory grin off Super Meat Boy’s face.
Shuggy himself is an oh so cute little vampire sprite who has inherited a Scottish mansion from his Grandfather. Skipping vampire genetics and the concept of the undead pro-creating (a disturbed shudder going out to Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy at this point) the Grandfather’s former abode would appear to be haunted. Death and let death you might think, but Shuggy doesn’t want to share his palatial new home with the likes of ghosts, ghouls, giant insects, and possessed heating appliances and so sets about removing them from the hundred plus rooms.
To make his way through the mansion Shuggy needs to collect keys – awarded for clearing a room of gems – to open up locked areas. Commencing his adventure in the Dungeon, Shuggy’s initial rooms are a gentle introduction to the controls and some of the puzzle types that will get progressively more difficult and complex. The simple matter of moving him to the left, right, and jumping are nothing we haven’t seen innumerable times, but the addition of an action command does hint that something more taxing may be along, and sure enough those first few levels give a clear indication that The Adventures of Shuggy will indeed be more than standard platforming fayre.
Standing outside the dark entrance to the first of the Dungeon’s room, the detail that appears tells that the room is rotatable. Once inside a tap on the action button will rotate the room through ninety degrees in the direction Shuggy is facing. As soon as I hit that action button my mind raced with the potential for mischief that could be wreaked by such a device, and sure enough as Shuggy works his way through the mansion rotations get more fiendish with Shuggy required to jump while rotating to ensure he doesn’t land on something that will shatter his tiny body into particles and force him to restart the level, or to divert a particular nasty from reaching him and doing likewise.
In addition to rooms that rotate at Shuggy’s command are rooms that rotate in whole or in part on a timer, rooms with sliding or undulating platforms, rooms with teleports, switches, rope climbs, and rooms with little creatures called Shmu who are the only means of freeing gems trapped in cages. Many are also populated by a variety of nasties such as spiders, wasps, and floating limpet mines, which can make for a fiendish combination of puzzle solving and dexterous thumb gymnastics. The most fiendish of all rooms however are the time travel ones.
Time travel rooms have a clock up in the top right corner that on striking the hour sends Shuggy back to when he came in. Note I said when he came in, not where. Shuggy remains where you had him and fully controllable but you’ll also see Shuggy arrive and perform the actions you just had him complete. This is the mechanic used primarily for opening barriers controlled by pressure switches. As with the rotation puzzles the first few are relatively straightforward with you taking Shuggy to a switch, standing him on it for a few seconds and then moving him to the barrier in preparation for his past self turning up and repeating your actions to let the present version through. Once you have to make Shuggy open multiple barriers and retrace his steps it becomes a test of memory and reaction as contact between any of the past Shuggys with the present one result in disintegration and a restart.
Time travel isn’t the only way to manage switches as some rooms offer either weighted blocks which can be carried into place or multiple versions of Shuggy. Some will have you directly controlling each Shuggy in turn using the action key to move between them, while others have alternatively coloured Shuggy’s who are AI controlled. Such levels tend to be more about co-ordination and speedy reactions rather than straining your grey matter and it’s this constant change in approach to each room that keeps Shuggy entertaining to play. That’s probably why I’m not sure if I missed the explanation as to why there would be multiple Shuggys or whether one wasn’t offered. I was simply having too much fun and eager to get into the next room to worry over such trivialities.
I think that’s what has set The Adventures of Shuggy apart in my mind. There’s nothing individually that marks it out as exceptional, yet the sum of its parts make for a joyous experience that tests reactions, precision controls, and puzzle solving while being presented as something innocent and accessible for all ages. It’s not without its frustrations, particularly the boss battles which can bring a session to a sudden halt just as your belief in yourself as a platform puzzle deity is about to reach a crescendo. Though not quite to rage quitting degrees. And I say that as someone who is not averse to throwing his joypad on the desk in frustration. It does however mean that The Adventures of Shuggy gets dropped in the really good basket as opposed to being placed on the truly great platter.
I’d still heartily recommend it now that developer Smudged Cat have broken the shackles of XBLA and brought The Adventures of Shuggy to PC via Steam, as unless you have a particular loathing for platforming and puzzle solving Shuggy’s budget pricing represents a lot of fun for a comparatively small assault on the pocket.