Showcased at this year’s PAX Online Indie Showcase, Polish indie studio Mass Creation present us with SHING!, an arcade/beat ‘em up game that I was given the opportunity of trying out.
SHING! is a beat-em-up game that kicks off its story with an invasion of evil creatures referred to as ‘Yokai’, that have stolen a valuable item called the Starseed, presumably an item that keeps the land safe and in check. With the Starseed stolen, it is up to four ninjas to slay the Yokai and return what is rightfully theirs to restore peace. Here, you have the ability to flawlessly swap between all four playable characters throughout every level and traverse through to the very end, from point A to B in a linear fashion.
You can also play co-op with people and have others play the nonactive ninjas while you control one, making for a fun and easier playing experience if co-op is something you enjoy with friends. While all characters have their distinct appearances and differing weapons of choice, all four pretty much play the same between one another when trying out everyone in battle. In an interesting game mechanic choice, the majority of attacks (swinging your sword etc.) are directed from the right thumb stick on the controller by flicking left, right, rotating in a circle, or back and forth to execute attacks on enemies. Along the way you may also find power-ups to use, such as using bombs or special attacks at enemies to give you the upper hand and change the battle style up just a bit.
To be very honest, I was sadly not terribly fond of this implementation of attacking. While you can kick enemies to the ground by pressing the square button, this did not do much damage at all so attacking with the right thumb stick is the real way to victory. No matter how many hours I spent on practicing and learning the game mechanics, I never got a real grasp of feeling like I was improving or getting any better. It felt awkward and a little uncomfortable, which is a real damn shame. Most of the time spamming one attack that I knew would work felt like the true way to victory, as the enemy AI can be pretty brutal at times and are definitely more skilled than players will be at the start of the game, and even at the halfway point. It isn’t bad by any means and I appreciate a change-up in mechanics to stand out from the rest of the crowd and to be unique. But I was not comfortable with how this was set up and I feel it didn’t pay off in the end.
Once enemies are defeated, they may drop orbs that replenish your health depending on your attacks and if you can get the momentum up, although this can be tricky due to, as mentioned earlier, tough enemy AI and how cleverly they can get to you. The health orbs feel rare to get overall and only provide a droplet of health in return. You only have one health bar and once it’s depleted, your ninja character is out. You can swap over to any of the other remaining ninjas to fight instantly and even help revive defeated ninjas by providing a little of your health to them, although it is in small amounts, so keep that in mind. Like mentioned earlier, co-op is available and if you have friends playing, this should make the transition of being revived and back into the fray easier and faster, compared to playing by yourself.
Levels are split up into several parts of moving forward and fighting Yokai, mixed in with the occasional puzzle to solve in order to proceed before entering a boss fight at the very end, followed by a cutscene playing out and then on to the next level. With regard to checkpoints, there are luckily a fair amount of them spared throughout the parts of each level so if you do die, it won’t feel like you’ve been punished by restarting somewhere close to where you were killed.
You score is tallied up at the end and on to an online scoreboard. So, for all the high score fanatics out there, you should find fun in trying to gloat at being the best there is and to show off your achievement. There are even optional challenge rooms in each level that unlock different skins for the characters if you complete them successfully. These can range from attacking enemies in the air a total of 10 times or defeat enemies only using parry counter attacks, etc. These are a nice addition, but because the battle mechanics feel iffy to me, some of these challenge rooms also did not feel too satisfying to pull off. These rooms are a neat idea overall that adds to replay value and I appreciate that.
What I do love about SHING! are the visuals. This is a visually pleasing game with pretty colours that are all over the screen; from either explosions, sparks ricocheting from your sword hitting enemies, the backdrop of the environment you are currently in, such as the illuminated lights from buildings or even (as gross as it sounds) the rich-red blood spurting from enemies once they have been slain. It’s a treat to see the mesh of colours around you while you are fighting or even just standing still. Even the cutscenes that play out either at the end or halfway through a level all look nice and it’s clear that the art style and direction was given much attention to Even the opening hand-drawn animation intro is really lovely to watch and sets the mood and style of what SHING! is.
Voice acting also accompanies these cutscenes, battle conversations and is pretty decent. The game also has an entertaining soundtrack that has some catchy tunes as you play along. These cutscenes however as funny as some can be, they can also be crude, with sexual innuendos throughout and writing that takes the seriousness away from the plot established at the start right away. It can feel a bit disorienting and does a total 180°, kind of like pulling a rug underneath you without warning.
While I wish that SHING! had a more focused and comfortable battle mechanic system to use, I would be happy to see SHING! receive some kind of sequel or related entry that is just as nice to look at again, if not better, but with a more stable way of fighting because I did enjoy this game due to the art style’s charm and colourful palette, even crude cutscenes and writing aside. If you can look past the fact that the right thumb stick is the method of attacking enemies and love fighting/beat ‘em up games regardless, you should find enjoyment out of this.
SHING! is now available on PlayStation 4 and Steam. A copy of this game was provided for review purposes.