Shuggy is an unfortunately-named vampire heading into a recently-inherited haunted mansion to clear out the demons within. Why does this vampire have a problem with fellow creatures of the night? Who knows. You are dropped in the dungeon of the mansion because, well, it’s as good a place to start as any, right? You find gems in each room, and upon finding all the gems you get a key. And gems form into keys because... you know what, forget it. Adventures of Shuggy is one of those games where the story just does not matter in the slightest.
That’s not always a problem --sometimes a game just needs to set a tone with its visuals and back it up with gameplay. Shuggy aims for a kid-friendly haunted mansion theme, with character designs that would fit right in with Halloween decorations and sticker sets at your local dollar store. But developer Smudged Cat Games couldn’t even stick with that theme: spiders, zombies, and other fitting enemies are joined by wasps, mosquitoes, abstract spike-balls, explosive mines, flaming fish, and robotic chickens(?). Backgrounds are fairly bland tile-sets of bricks, boards, and boxes, and when extraneous details are added for flavour, they sometimes obscure the view of the actual platforms and hazards. Shuggy and the monsters he must avoid pop out from the screen, which is handy enough for identifying hazards, but tends to look pretty ugly. Sounds aren’t any better, with an obnoxious jump effect, the annoying buzzing of mosquitoes (seriously, who thought that was a good sound to have going on so often?), and very little of use for providing gameplay cues. Music is fine, but nothing much to write about.
Okay, so story, theme, graphics, and sound are a bust. But how does it play? Thankfully, the gameplay is good. Not great, not that unique or exciting, but solidly good. B+. The conceit with Shuggy is that for the 100-plus rooms you’ll be puzzle-platforming your way through, the rules can change for any of them. Some levels have gravity pull sideways. Sometimes you can teleport. Sometimes you can fly or glide. Sometimes you can rotate the world around you. Some levels feature multiple Shuggys to control, dramatic size changes, or time-clones that re-run the path you just took. Sometimes you can use a rope to rappel around. I can’t fault it for lack of variety.
This kitchen-sink approach to feature addition helps to stave off the boredom of perpetual gem-collecting, but it creates some problems as well. The overworld screen for each section of the mansion allows you to branch off in different paths as you open adjacent doors upon completing a stage. This means that the developers lose control of what rooms to attempt next, leading to players finishing some complex level with a heretofore unseen game mechanic, then later grinding through a harmless player-training room designed to teach that same thing. Worse though is that with so many tricks up its sleeve, Shuggy never really does anything that interesting with any of them. Games like And Yet it Moves, Braid, and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom focused on exploring only one of the same mechanics found in Shuggy, and end up taking that mechanic to more interesting places as a result.
The game never really feels like a good test of skill either. Sure I died a lot, but I never felt that anything was satisfactorily challenging, it was just filled with annoyances in the way of inevitable completion. Puzzles, likewise, are typically solved just by trying stuff until something eventually works. I can’t help but wonder if Smudged Cat dropped the ball by over-simplifying the controls. As it is, a single action button handles the level-specific mechanic. If they had instead used two action buttons, they could have combined a couple gimmicks together to create something more interesting: multiple Shuggys and room rotation, rope swinging and time-slip clones, etc. etc.
This is what I hoped for when I made my purchase --taking the mechanics I had seen in other games and combining them to unique effect. As it is Adventures of Shuggy, while nicely varied, feels like an ersatz amalgam of other -better- indie games.
Adventures of Shuggy is available on XBLA and PC. This review is based on the PC version using an Xbox 360 controller.