To excel as an independently developed puzzle platform game isn’t exactly a simple task these days. Though high quality, visually appealing downloadable titles were once rare to see, 2D experiences that combine both deep riddle solving and tight controls now make their way to PSN, XBLA and Steam quite regularly. It takes a unique hook to sit high above the crowd and be noticed, and while Smudged Cat Games’ The Adventures of Shuggy succeeds in almost every attempted department, no single element within the formula is distinctive enough to make it a true hit. There are hours of fun to be had with Shuggy, but the adventure never ventures far enough beyond the realm of comfort to become memorable.
Previously released on XBLA and now making its Steam debut, The Adventures of Shuggy centers on a light-hearted vampire who inherits a massive mansion from his deceased grandfather. While new, free digs are difficult to complain about, every room in the structure is crawling with numerous creatures that have no plans to move out. Zombies, mice, spirits and many other beings must be cleared out before Shuggy even considers living in the mansion, and the only way to achieve this goal is to collect each room’s key.
The story segments are briefly told through cutscenes straight from a comic book, but the narrative only exists as a framing tool for the dozens of puzzles littered throughout the mansion. Shuggy’s campaign contains over 100 rooms waiting to be explored, and while the goal of amassing every visible gem to unlock the room’s key stays constant, the manner by which the bright green nuggets are collected is in constant flux. Some areas require precision platforming and a keen awareness of enemy patterns, while others rely on time-shifting mechanics where you must work in sync with patterns performed by your past Shuggy. Physics-based puzzles and perspective altering rooms also find a way to add variety to the experience, making what’s behind each new door a true mystery.
Unfortunately, the wonder and excitement that comes with entering a fresh room diminishes over time. The mansion is split up into five different areas: The Dungeon, The Boiler Room, The Gallery, The Graveyard and The Clocktower. Within each segment of the building are a grouping of closed doors stationed both high and low, with a final door, found somewhere across the room, containing an imposing boss. Each new key collected unlocks all adjacent doors; giving players the option to either plan a singular path to the goal or complete every puzzle the specific sector has to offer.
For completionists, it’s difficult to not succumb to the alluring call of an unfinished brainteaser. I began my adventure cleaning out each new region of the mansion, but after making it through all of The Dungeon and The Boiler Room, tedium quickly set in. New, fun mechanics are introduced into the fray as you journey through the mansion, but with the majority of the opening areas relying on rotation and time travel, there’s not enough puzzle variation to keep things interesting. The 10 or 15 seconds it takes to grab all the gems in a few, specific levels relieves some of the monotony, but the sense of accomplishment that comes from seeing all that Shuggy has to offer isn’t truly worth burning out on the mechanics early on.
While it’s unwise to play it all at once, what’s most impressive is the sheer depth of content available in this $10 downloadable title. Along with the massive scope of puzzles in the single player portion of the adventure come 36 additional co-op rooms; each incorporating the tricks and tidbits from the multiple areas of the mansion. Fatigue is still an absolute possibility with a buddy by your side, though, as greater numbers do little to change all the running and jumping required to conquer each level. It doesn’t exactly revolutionize the game, but this local-only piece to the Shuggy puzzle fits nicely.
The colorful, crisp presentation fits nicely with the whimsical nature of the game, but the slightly loose controls hold The Adventures of Shuggy back from being silky smooth. Difficulty is a major factor as Shuggy delves deeper into the rooms, and the tasks being asked of the player are by no means unreasonable. The timing based activities are fair from a distance, but the tightness of the controls just doesn’t match the level of precision being asked. Simply brushing against an enemy or a stray spike will end the level, and the more intricate puzzles that consume a significant amount of time become frustratingly trying for all the wrong reasons. Every key is absolutely obtainable, but an early death is too often met due to a foreign looseness felt when simply moving the character in any direction.
Whether alone or with another blood-sucking friend, The Adventures of Shuggy is a title filled to the brim with interesting and exigent content. The colorful world and straightforward narrative delivery may give the impression of simplicity, but the undeniable depth experienced as you sink your teeth into the mansion’s puzzles allow for a fulfilling, if not frustrating adventure. It may not lead a charge for other independent games to follow, but at the price, Shuggy is worth both a download and your time.
The Adventures of Shuggy was developed by Smudged Cat Games and published by Valcon Game. An XBLA copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.