Old school platformers back in the day were brutal and took everything you had and still took your lunch money. They grew hair on your chest and then ripped it off with ductape and gorilla glue and Shio is definitely one of those games and LOVE it, sadistic aint it? Shio is a punishing difficult side-scroller with no enemies nor a lot of special moves, you instead have a massive challenge of trying to navigate the platforming puzzles while avoiding spikes and many other traps. The story is told in cryptic cutscenes, unlockable diary entries and conversations to be had with NPC’s along your journey. The overarching theme seems to be the inability to live up to expectations – one early diary entry has the protagonist recalling a command by their parents to paint the sunset, but their finished work failed to capture the beauty that their eyes comprehended easily.
Shio ramps up the complexity and challenge considerably, and although the quality of its level design peaks and plummets about as wildly as its difficulty curve, the game maintains a constant thread of percussive platforming throughout. And the one constant of Shio is to make it to the next checkpoint.
The player can run and jump once as normal and can boost their height mid-air by hitting the jump button while touching a lantern. Levels revolve around crossing perilous chasms by chaining lantern-jumps together, avoiding gauntlets of spikes and fireballs while weaving through increasingly small gaps of safety. The game benefits from a few clever tricks in its controls which players will pick up naturally from experience. The movement is floaty but flicking the joystick from one end to the other while mid-air will reset your horizontal speed to zero. The lanterns don’t indicate how high they will propel you, but the path through the level is so clear that you instinctively know where to go. The hit-boxes on obstacles are mercifully small and the hit-boxes on lanterns are gracefully large – if a fireball’s sprite fully overlaps a lantern, the player is able to activate the lantern by pathing to its edge while fully avoiding the fireball.
The game doesn’t give you new moves or abilities but instead gives you new challenges and obstacles, eventually this does get somewhat tiresome as you’ll feel that some moves are inadequate for the tasks at hand and instead of changing up your character the game just gives you harder and harder challenges. I do feel that the challenges are handled fairly however I do feel there’s a thing as over staying your welcome and I do feel that Shio starts to get a little long in the tooth the longer the game is.
Shio is like watching a painting being brought to life in front of your eyes. Its Chinese influences are refreshing, both in terms of its artistic design and soundtrack, and there are some fantastic ideas on display here. The game only wobbles when it tries to marry a ‘deep and wistful’ story to its occasionally frantic platforming sections. If you’re happy to play a platformer with a lot of challenge and a consistently evocative mood, however, Shio is right up your alley.
Shio is laden with symbolism.