When one thinks about the fictional bloodsuckers known as vampires, they usually picture coffins, fangs and large, brooding castles. That’s because those are the images that are engrained in our minds from watching countless vampire movies and television shows. Never before have we heard of a vampire who is afraid of his family’s large castle.
Until now, that is, as The Adventures of Shuggy – an XBOX Live Arcade downloadable game, aims to show us that tiny vampires are actually afraid of the dark. Though, it doesn’t let us know if they’re still harmless towards us humans though. Perhaps that question will be answered in a sequel?
As you’ve probably gathered, the strangely-named titular character of Shuggy is a young vampire. Not young in the way that he’s just been turned. He’s a kid who has inherited a large, brooding estate, from his late uncle. Our adventure in his world begins when he pulls up to the front gate and has a look at the gigantic manor, which has been empty for quite some time. Fearing the dark and what could be inside (yet another change in vampire lore), he enters his new home, finding tons of puzzles, critters, rolling spikes and teleporters. Not to mention lots of spiders and their webs. It is then that the puzzle platforming action begins.
To get an idea of what this game is like, you should try to imagine a gem collecting puzzle game mixed with the platforming trappings of Super Mario Bros. or Braid. Your goal is to try to beat each of the title’s tonnage of puzzles in the shortest time possible, so that you can be at the top of your friends’ (and overall) leaderboards.
There are many different types of quick-solve puzzle levels (including rotating rooms, switch puzzles, size puzzles and one using teleportation devices or ropes) but they all have the same end goal: to collect all of the gems in the room without hitting an enemy, or yourself. Getting hit once puts you right back to the beginning, so be careful. These puzzles are very tough and it’s frustrating when you’re oh so close and then see yourself reset to the front door.
If you’re still stuck on the mention of being able to get hurt by hitting yourself, it’s understandable. That isn’t something you hear about being an enemy in 99% of the other games out there. One puzzle category that was left off of the previous list is time-based puzzles. In these iterations, you’re up against the clock, with a lot on the line.
Once the clock does a full rotation (either by waiting it out or speeding it up using the right trigger), it creates another version of you, which follows your exact movements. These clones are helpful in activating switches in a correct sequence, but they can be quite annoying when they’re jumping into you and you have nowhere to hide. These puzzles are really interesting though, and are arguably the game’s selling point.
The game world is divided into several different rooms – themed around things like the boiler room, the dungeon and an adjoining graveyard. New areas are unlocked by earning enough keys (which you get for completing a puzzle level) and introduce tons of new challenges, plus the odd new gameplay mechanic. It’s very easy to navigate and even easier to see which ones you’ve completed and what ones you’ve yet to pass.
Luckily, the game doesn’t force its customers to beat every single challenge in a room in order to progress, because that would just be cruel. Some of these puzzles are so challenging you’ll wrack your brain over it. They come in all difficulties, from very easy, to pull your hair out challenging.
Multiplayer is available in three forms: competitive, co-operative and head to head. Each offers a different take on the core mechanics, with challenges based on the type you choose. Work together to pick-up all of the gems or try to get more than your competitor. The only major deviation here is that the other multiplayer mode takes place on a honeycomb grid-based plane. You can play online or on your couch with a friend. The latter is recommended because, as of right now, it’s tough to find any other players online. Hopefully that will change though.
Smudged Cat Games and their publishing partner, Valcon Games, did an excellent job in creating something that is accessible most of the time, yet difficult to master. It’s the type of experience that hooks you and won’t let you go until you’ve solved those seemingly impossible rooms that you’ve passed over for easier ones. Due to its length and creative puzzle designs, it has a lot of replayability that will keep you coming back even after you’ve seen the conclusion of Shuggy’s adventure home. Especially since it has some finely tuned jumping controls, which are a necessity for a good platformer. You’ll almost always beat yourself – the game won’t beat you.
However, it isn’t without its faults. For some reason, the game doesn’t like to load the first time through. It takes two attempts before it’ll load past the opening logo screens. The music will play, but the menu/loading screen will not appear. It’s annoying, but shouldn’t keep you from giving this one a chance. Other than that, it doesn’t have many glaring issues, though there is some repetition. Though it tends to come with the territory. Play it in short bursts and you’ll get the most out of it without getting bored. After a while, the puzzles tend to all blur together a bit.
Each room is essentially just one big square, with a fixed camera that sits at a far away position. Its art style resembles a colourful take on scary movies, so we get a purple vampire, green spiders and a cartoon world – all created with visuals that look hand-drawn. It has a style all its own, which is nice. You’re not going to sit there and say that it looks like a game you’ve recently played. Though each different area has its own theme and backdrop, the fact that it’s used for all thirty plus puzzles in that area can get dull looking.
Sound isn’t as strong of an aspect in this blood-sucking production. All of the game’s story sequences are told through the use of hand-drawn comic book panels, but not one features any voice over work (or great writing). Though, the case could be put forward that the storyline doesn’t really matter in a puzzle game, and that it’s just an added bonus. Other than that, the only sounds you’ll hear are the odd mediocre sound effect mixed with a forgettable score. It sounds a lot like the old retro platformers we played in the eighties and nineties, and still revisit on occasion. Don’t think that this means it’s awful or grating – it’s just not memorable whatsoever when it comes to the audio department.
Fans of puzzle games will want to check The Adventures of Shuggy out. It’s a fun game with a lot to offer, including full leaderboard support that will add a ton of replay value when friends try to beat each other. There’s a good amount of creativity and variety to be found for its reasonable 800 Microsoft point price tag and tiny download file, though lengthy play sessions can lead to repetition as the same puzzle types get repeated quite a bit. Like the stones he’s trying to find, Shuggy’s trip to his new home is a puzzle game gem. While it has some scuffs that need to be polished, it’s still quite a find.
The Adventures of Shuggy was released on June 15th, 2011.