David Johnston, the man behind Smudged Cat Games, caught our attention with the absolutely fantastic forthcoming Gateways. However, his previous game, Adventures Of Shuggy, is reaching the PC today via Steam. More mind-bending 2D puzzling, but this time without a magic gun. I took a look to find out Wot I Think.
"OH NO! I've touched myself!" I shouted out to a thankfully empty house. For in the Adventures Of Shuggy, such activities are frowned upon. It causes a temporal paradox you see, when you make contact with a past version of yourself.
But that's not what the game's about. It's part of what the game's about, but just one of very many different devices that come into play in its remarkable array of puzzles. Along with looping time travel, there's alsosize-changing, multiple incarnations (playing with yourself, clearly), rope-swinging, teleporting, room-rotating, and many others. Which makes for a constantly changing set of challenges, each of which wants you to collect all the green jewels from a particular room.
You play as an extremely cute vampire bat, the eponymous Shuggy, exploring a spooky old mansion for... I've forgotten why, it's not important. The game's made up of five main areas, each of which contains around 24 levels of various types, with a number open at any time to attempt. Succeed and you can see your time on a shared leaderboard via Steam, while opening up a bunch more rooms to try.
What's most impressive here is the constant variety. Even levels that use the same mechanic always up the ante, or remix how it works. When you first encounter the mind-bending time travel levels you're doing not much more than holding down a button for a future version of yourself. (Let me try to explain that better. In these levels there's a click that counts down about 20 seconds. Once that time is up, whatever you did for the last 20 seconds is repeated by a 'ghost' of yourself, while you carry on setting out what the next looped version will be repeating.) Halfway through the game you're dealing with six or seven repeats of yourself all working together, while studiously avoiding allowing any of them to bump into each other. This is rather splendidly aided by a purple line that extends from each Shuggy, showing the path it's about to take, but of course still means quite carefully planning ahead about where you can stand to ensure you'll be able to move past previous versions of you, and still being able to reach buttons, or gems, you've yet to collect.
Really, if the game were just made up of this mechanic we'd have something rather lovely, but perhaps a little overwhelming. Fortunately, these toughest levels are balanced out by some requiring nothing much more than timing and platforming skill, others that challenge you to negotiate complicated, enemy-filled screens using a long rope that wraps around the scenery, some that need you to shepherd strange bug-beasts around the screen by repelling them from you, others still that want you to drink various potions that shrink or grow you to reach various switches, and yet more that have multiple incarnations of Shuggy that can be switched between, requiring them to work together to complete tasks. (And when you're switching between different sized versions.)
Oh, and the levels where you can rotate the entire screen, then later quarters of the screen, or only when you reach a certain spot that lets the screen rotate. Or when you're given a teleport, meaning you can trap yourself in areas, only if you've pre-planned this and put down your way out in advance. Or the ones I haven't discovered yet, because the two days I've been playing this hasn't allowed me time to finish it. It's big and involved. Am I communicating that? IT'S BIG AND INVOLVED!
It's also extremely charming. Pleasingly not using retro-pixels, it presents a very clear, clean 2D world with cute cartoon detail. The enemies all manage to be appealing and threatening at the same time, and Shuggy himself is just adorable. Lovely details like how a level's characters explode into green blobs when you fail - except for Shuggy who shatters into a cloud of bats - add a great deal, especially when it all happens in reverse as a level is reset. And it's extremely well ported, too. Running neatly in a window, or in fullscreen, the lack of resolution options is a shame, but the ability to switch between a 360 pad and the keyboard is seamless. On screen instructions switch over the moment you press either - something most AAA releases still don't get right.
You can see the gestation for a lot of ideas that I think Gateways is going to get even more right. But that doesn't mean Shuggy is just a stepping stone. It's a squillion really smartly created levels, along with a bunch more designed for co-op, with neatly integrated Steam-based scoreboards, all of which are very deserving of your time. It's a constantly smart, often extremely tricky puzzle platformer, of the highest standard.
Adventures Of Shuggy comes out on Steam later today, and only costs $8. Or you can get a DRM-free version from the developer for $10, along with a Steam code.