Review: Shio (PS4)

Review: Shio (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC, Mac, Linux

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Shio
Format: PSN (2.36 GB)
Release Date: May 22, 2018
Publisher: Coconut Island Games
Developer: Coconut Island Games
Original MSRP: $12.99 (US), £8.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Earlier this year, I was taken aback by my experience with Celeste, the retro platformer from Towerfall Ascension developer Matt Makes Games. The surprisingly touching narrative is a foreign concept for the genre but with such masterful execution, I began to question why we’ve always simply accepted the disposable stories and inconsequential objectives of most platformers. Enter Shio.

Set in ancient China, Shio’s protagonist is an emotionally plagued man with a slew of personal and even psychological problems intentionally presented to the player in abstract ways such that a concrete analysis is always just out of reach. While the mental challenges, moral opacity, and soul crushing obstacles aren’t undisguised or overtly stated, they pepper the gameplay just enough to motivate the player through some absolutely merciless platforming sequences.

Gameplay:
Each chapter of Shio is broken up into dozens of sections that probably average out to about twenty seconds of precision platforming per successful playthrough. The beginning and end of each section is marked by checkpoint lanterns that symbolize your saving grace, especially when you’re dying dozens of times in the same specific area.

Shio PS4 PS Nation Review Shio PS4 PS Nation Review

The death traps are as unforgiving as the platforming and with no way to gain extra hits and no power-ups, every single perilous obstacle you’ll touch will send you back to the previous lantern. Luckily, Shio respawns at breakneck speed with no loading time or black screen to disrupt the flow of the action.

While the variety of the challenging design is both surprising and creative with everything from invisible platforms to strong wind riding, a central mechanic involves using floating lanterns for a continuous jump. Just when it feels like all ideas surrounding this feature are exhausted, it’s presented anew, and fresh feeling gameplay follows.

You’ll meet NPCs along your path, each offering just a tiny bit of insight into their story. The boy with the deadbeat dad or the struggling, almost begging, mask salesman come to life through just a few lines of dialogue. Using your imagination to fill in their backstories amidst the frenzied platforming provides for a refreshing dual layer where there usually isn’t one.

I appreciate Shio for its lack of reluctance regarding difficulty. If you’ve been put off by games like Cuphead or Super Meat Boy, Shio may not be for you. But, I believe the brilliance in its design comes from the underlying motivation that procures the player’s determination to advance. The next checkpoint is always dangling just ahead and the addictive nature of the fluidity in the gameplay keeps the player engaged.

Further still, the game offers another level of difficulty that spaces out the checkpoints and grants access to secret challenge levels. Any platforming sadist with the gumption to explore Shio beyond a playthrough on the default difficulty gains my respect and will ascertain impressive skills through countless hours of perfecting movement, especially if they’re chasing down the elusive collectibles.

Shio PS4 PS Nation Review

Visuals:
Highly stylized backdrops provide the aesthetic while the animated fairytale depiction of ancient China is also on display. Suspending disbelief and accepting the accoutrements as chronologically accurate is the key to appreciating its whimsy. Characters are dressed in the garb you might remember from Disney’s Mulan while your character interacts with recognizable props from the appropriate folklore.

I did notice some minor localization hiccups mainly in the subtitle and menu text that momentarily made for some awkward navigation. The only framerate dips I experienced happened as I approached a checkpoint, presumably because the autosave was kicking in.

Audio:
With the sort of precision platforming employed by Shio’s gameplay, a successful run becomes almost rhythmic in nature. While the soundtrack doesn’t support this idea, its faint presence is helpful in its serenity. The contrasting undertones of mental instability and peaceful music concoct an atmosphere in which the player’s focus can thrive.

The sound effects created by the mechanic of double jumping from lanterns coincide accurately with your button presses and I was never thrown off by any audible cues. The harmonious relationship between the game’s audio, speed, and overall feel completes the experience.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component but with each checkpoint comes an indicator of your performance via a display of the time it took to complete that particular section. “Tigers Score” is also displayed and I believe that to be either the section’s goal time or an average time across all players. Towards the end of the game, an NPC told me that I had more work to do as 20% of players had better times than me.

Shio PS4 PS Nation Review Shio PS4 PS Nation Review

Conclusion:
The core gameplay of Shio is built upon a solid foundation of fluid mechanics. From the outset, the jumping feels right with appropriate timing, the obstacles are dangerous but inviting, and the challenge is considerable without frustration.

While other tough platformers include boss fights, vehicles, or other tactics to alleviate the monotony, Shio focuses solely upon the ‘time attack’ aspect that many games include as extra content. Rather than detracting from the game, the narrow approach offers a lean experience for the skillful speedrunner. An argument that the game would benefit from being more fleshed out would certainly hold merit.

Coupled with a narrative that, at the very least, is worth following, Shio delivers upon the parallel between overcoming not only in-game obstacles but also intangible ones from the protagonist’s psyche. I found myself coming back for more, not for review purposes, but because proving to myself I had the capability to overcome was both appealing and rewarding within the game’s hypnotic ambience.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
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It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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