Do we stay awake for fear of nightmares, or do we sleep to escape from the ones we’re living through? In this review, we take a look at how Coconut Island Studios redefines suffering on the Nintendo Switch with Shio!
Shio’s gameplay is akin to other hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy or Slime-san. Players must get through platforming stages filled with traps – hitting lanterns to bounce over hazards like spikes and moving saw-blades.
The controls are simple – the analog stick runs left or right, and the A (or B) button jumps. Pressing the A (or B) button while mid-air will make the player character swing their blue lantern – which allows them to bounce off other lanterns (and chain multiple jumps together).
The flow of movement is great, and players will feel very acrobatic while clearing these deadly mazes. While some levels require a little trial-and-error, you’ll likely find yourself developing great reflexes as you push forward.
There are two difficulty settings – “Shallow Dream” and “Deep Sleep”. “Shallow Dream” mode is easier, and sprinkles more checkpoints in the middle of stages. “Deep Sleep” mode takes away those checkpoints, and also gives players access to hidden stages.
Personally, going through “Shallow Dream” was a satisfying challenge for me already. On average, earlier stages would take 5-10 tries to beat, while harder ones could take 30-50 tries to overcome. I would recommend it for first-time players, as it is the best way to master the game’s physics without too much frustration.
The game is split into four chapters – with each chapter containing about 20 stages each, followed by a tougher ‘boss’ stage. The first chapter is gentle and well-balanced to ease new players into the experience.
All four chapters tell a cryptic story about the main character’s dreams – which are further expanded through journal entries (as stages are completed). However, many of these text snippets have odd grammatical errors or are too small to read – so some players may not feel inclined to read up on Shio’s narrative.
There are also secret items that give some insight into the character’s history. These can be obtained by hitting secret lanterns hidden around some of the stages – which offers a fun distraction for completionists.
At $12.99, this indie game is priced just nicely for the action that it offers.
The visual style of Shio is bold and flat, almost like it was constructed out of paper. It’s very effective for the complex platforming required in the game – cutting out any confusion about how to move from point A to B. The developers went for a high contrast aesthetic (dark backgrounds with bright obstacles) and it really makes Shio look stunning, despite its short tenure.
The simple look also helps Shio run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second – which is mandatory for navigating the game’s brutish mazes. I never felt like any of my deaths were due to technical issues.
The game’s soundtrack is also not too intrusive – using a mix of Chinese strings and synths to imbue a sense of calm. Like Shio’s visuals, this also keeps the player’s focus squarely on the difficult platforming gameplay.
There were one or two times where my character glitched through the floor (and died unfairly) – but otherwise, the entire presentation of Shio is rock solid.
As beautiful and kinetic as Shio is, however…I would warn gamers with limited patience to think THRICE before jumping in. This is NOT an experience you want for a relaxing night.
At around the final quarter of Shio, the game’s difficulty took a dangerously steep climb – beyond anything I had previously experienced. While I had built up an amazing impression of the level design at first, my opinion fell sharply after dying over two hundred times on a single stage.
Yes. It can get pretty bad.
One of these insane stages expects players to bounce on a group of five lanterns – which travel through a winding maze of spikes and saw-blades. There are zero platforms to rest on throughout the whole sequence.
If you bounce with the wrong rhythm…you fall and die.
If you bounce too early…you miss an opening and die.
If you bounce too high…you hit a spiked ceiling and die.
If the developers wanted to simulate a nightmare – they definitely succeeded…but not necessarily in a good sense.
Some players may crave this kind of punishing gameplay – but you need to be prepared for utter pain and sweaty palms in the late-game. Shio was obviously developed for a smaller niche of hardcore gamers, and it shows.
Shio is a game that starts out beautiful and brutal. The mechanics are easy to understand, and bouncing through obstacles flawlessly is super satisfying. Completing harder levels does offer a good rush of euphoria, and you’ll want to move on to the next stage for more. If you want a game to test your endurance and reflexes to the absolute limit, Shio is fine recommendation.
However, the game suddenly nosedives into a torturous rollercoaster in the final few levels. You will probably get your money’s worth by the time you walk away from Shio – but the frustration of the end-game may overwhelm any satisfaction you experienced earlier. If you’re looking for something to lift your spirits, you may have to look elsewhere.
Shio releases for the Nintendo eShop on 23 August 2018.
- Beautiful visuals and soundtrack.
- Gameplay up to the fourth chapter is extremely satisfying.
- In-game text can be too small with odd grammatical errors.
- The fourth chapter can get too difficult for the average gamer to enjoy.
Soup Verdict: This soup can get too spicy for some – be careful.
A review code for Shio was provided by Coconut Island Studios for the purpose of this review.