The Adventures of Shuggy, by Valcom, is a hateful game full of hatefully executed ideas and mechanics. They’re not bad, just hateful; it’s as if the people who worked on this game were trying to visualize what algebra would look like if you replaced numbers with a childishly shaped bat-vampire boy that had to clear his new mansion of pests. How does Shuggy clear said pests, you ask? The answer is by platforming and puzzles, of course. Don’t expect anything in the way of story, however. Shuggy inherited a mansion, and now he has to fix it up. Frankly, if I inherited a mansion like Shuggy’s, I’d burn that **** to the ground, and be happy to serve the prison time associated with arson and insurance fraud if it meant I’d never have to go back. Now that I think about it, I’d go to the same lengths to ensure I never again have to play The Adventures of Shuggy; however, I’m afraid not even hard time would get me far enough away, mentally and spiritually, to forget. Oh, how I long to forget…
Upon playing The Adventures of Shuggy for the first time, I was convinced it was an iPhone or iPad App. Everything from the menus, to the pre-title screen load and the square playing area that each level takes place in seemed directly lifted from the kind of casual games you get on mobile devices. Even the gameplay is no more complex than those games. You can imagine my shock when I went to look up some other examples of mobile hits that were ported over to consoles, and found that The Adventures of Shuggy was not such a game. It was, in fact, developed for the big beefy console on the shelf. That right there is the biggest problem with The Adventures of Shuggy. As a proper downloadable game, it comes with a proper downloadable price tag of 800 MS points. That’s 10 dollars for a game that’s no more complex or interesting than Angry Birds, or any of those other casual games I can get for free on my internet browser as a Google App.
So what do you get for your 800 MS points? Well, the Adventures of Shuggy breaks down into a single player mode and a handful of co-op and competitive multiplayer modes that can be tackled either locally or over Xbox Live if you have a gold subscription. The single player mode is simple enough. Shuggy has 100+ rooms in his new manse to clear. Clearing a room consists of simply collecting all the gems inside. The rub is that each level is filled with enemies, obstacles and, most of the time, at least one of the game’s featured puzzle mechanics. If the game had a highlight for me, it was those puzzle mechanics. They are mostly interesting and original, ranging from simply changing the direction gravity pulls from down to some other direction (instead of jumping up and falling down, you might jump left and fall right while the level itself remains properly oriented relative to you, the player) to rotating the whole room either clockwise or counter-clockwise. My favorite was the time-loop mechanic. In these levels, a timer would count down, and when it hit zero, everything would reset. A brand new Shuggy would appear and follow the exact path you led him through prior. To solve these puzzles usually required multiple buttons to be pressed simultaneously, with each one being pressed in the past at the same time you are pressing one in the present. These instances weren’t so much fun as they were intense and mentally taxing. You can imagine how hectic a level got when five buttons were in play, meaning five past-time Shuggys and five sets of enemies that you have to avoid - one touch by any of them meant insta-death.
It was those insta-deaths that really made me dislike The Adventures of Shuggy. One touch by an enemy, a past-time Shuggy, or even bumping into the side of a set of spikes means game over, forcing you to restart the level. Normally, this would not be that big of a deal for me. I’m an adult gamer and I have been dealing with failure at videogames my entire life. However, in The Adventures of Shuggy, the general difficulty level (which can’t be changed) is ramped up way too high. Enemies are fast, close together, and some were, most unforgivably, seemingly unpredictable. Often, the old trick of standing in a safe zone and mentally mapping out enemy positions and routes until you figure out the perfect pattern and timing to get by them doesn’t work. Many enemies have very long patterns (or, seemingly, no pattern at all); too long, if you ask me, for the kind of game The Adventures of Shuggy is. Standing still for minutes at a time may work in a big budget stealth game, but not in a casual game fit for short bursts of play. That, already serious issue, is further complicated by the typically slippery controls that seem to be standard in downloadable platformers. Over- and under-correcting is far too easy; and that, in turn, made death far too common. Most of the time, when I did finally complete a level, I felt like it was in spite of the controls rather than because of them. That is never a good feeling.
The rest of the game, while competent, doesn’t leave much of an impression. The graphics are acceptable I guess, and technically, the game works fine. I wasn’t impressed with the game’s aesthetic one bit, however. It’s cartoony and childish, even though the game is probably too difficult for anyone old enough to appreciate rats in newsboy caps and boilers with monster faces. Sound-wise the game fares a little better. The music ranges from innocuous to catchy, but I doubt you’ll be wishing you could download any of the tracks when you’re done.
Please don’t let that little bit of praise fool you, though. I did not have fun with The Adventures of Shuggy. It was like work to me, or Sudoku. I’m not adverse to simple casual games, but this one just offered me nothing but a lot of frustration. Never once, did I get the sense that I was learning from each death. The strategy for clearing a level was pretty easy to ascertain. Executing that strategy, however, could seem downright impossible. That’s backwards if you ask me. The execution should be the easy part, while figuring out strategies is where the difficulty lies. Also, as much fun as the puzzle mechanics could be, the game is a bit draconian in offering players a chance to see something new. Plan on spending a significant amount of time limited to one or two types of puzzles before you unlock access to new ones. I was anxious to see them, but the game seemed more concerned with making me clear an inordinate amount of levels first. No game should try to hide its best features from the player. That, combined with the designed-to-trip-you-up controls, and disproportionably high difficulty made The Adventures of Shaggy a decidedly unpleasant experience. Tack on the ridiculous $10.00 price tag, and you have a “must miss” game if there ever was one.