by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
At this point, in a late 2016 that’s well past the novelty of the retro-styled indie surge, it’s easy to doubt that there’s a ton left for simple side scrolling platformers to do what hasn’t been done before, and probably done better. It’s a fair thought, and while it’s one that Shiny doesn't completely refute, it’s one that Garage 227’s heart-driven jumper will at least make you second guess.
The Little Robot that Could
In what’s become a rarity among its kin, Shiny isn’t a game about death or destruction. Instead, it’s about the universal drive to survive. In the distant future, humanity decides that it’s time to leave one of its occupied planets. In doing so, we leave behind a swathe of robotic workers, most of whom are powered down when the human ship uses up the area’s power supply to fly off. This brings us to our protagonist, Kramer 227, who takes it upon himself to collect as much power as he can to save his friends before the planet crashes into a nearby star. It’s really kind of silly, but, much like Pixar’s Wall-E, proves effective in making the player empathize with the plight of the characters at hand.
This simple goal- powering up the left behind robots- fuels the entire game, as well as its gameplay objectives. Instead of trying to shoot enemies, all Kramer wants to do is find power terminals, store some energy in his body, then use it to charge the robots laying around each level. It turns into a race against the clock as Kramer’s own power supply is constantly depleting, only filled by power cells around the map (think coins in most platformers) or power stations (checkpoint markers). It keeps you moving at a solid pace, and was surprisingly effective at hitting me with some pathos. I felt really happy when I saw a lifeless bot jump for joy after getting some electricity. I felt really bad when I ran out of juice a few feet before a checkpoint and watched Kramer lay down and shut off.
It’s the Simple Things
Shiny’s biggest strength lies in its simplicity. It eschews the addition of complicated new game dynamics in favor of small additions to the simple formula of running and jumping. Running forward at full speed and jumping comprises a pretty solid percentage of what you’re going to be doing, but it feels solid enough that that’s not really a bad thing. The only issue I’d say I have with the way the game controls is that short jumps can sometimes feel a little floaty and imprecise. Full jumps are great, but it took me quite some time to get the hang of little hops, which was strange. Also, on the topic of issues, I would occasionally encounter issues with the game switching between gamepad and mouse and keyboard control. It only happened in the pause menu, but once in a while, while playing with my gamepad, the game would switch over to my mouse. Not a huge deal, but one that was a bit annoying on occasion.
Of course, there are some additional mechanics that get added from time to time, and they do a great job of adding some complications that don’t completely steal the spotlight. These mostly come in the form of extra abilities Kramer gains, such as a heat sink and a shield. These extra abilities are all mapped to the same button, and must be toggled through to use. It adds some situational depth, and also some challenge of dexterity when different abilities must be used in quick succession. They also severely burn Kramer’s limited power supply, so using them when not necessary is a gamble. I like these abilities because, like I said, they’re almost always ancillary to good platforming and don’t overshadow the rest of the game.
It’s a short game, one that you can work through in just a few hours, but at the end of my play time I felt satisfied. If it had gone on longer I think it may have overstayed its welcome, but as it sits, it’s a perfect way to spend an afternoon or evening- running around saving your little mechanical friends. The game doesn’t have much replay value after full completion, but I often replayed individual levels to find all of the robots to save. It didn’t since rescuing all of the robots or missing a few really doesn’t have an impact on the game, it’s nice that I found myself replaying missions (which are normally only a few minutes each) because I legitimately felt bad about leaving one of my little metal buddies behind. I personally think that’s a much more effective reason to get players to keep playing.
I’ve reviewed a pretty staggering number of side scrolling platformers over the last few years, and a disheartening number of them have fallen to mediocrity due to one of two reasons- they either don’t bring anything fresh to the table, or they try to shake things up too much and don’t put enough attention into the actual platforming that forms the core of the genre. Shiny isn’t going to melt your face with novelty or depth, but it is an example of the kind of platformer I’d like to see more of. One that doesn’t run any longer than it needs to, asks a price to match, brings enough ingenuity to keep things engaging, but never pushes so far that it loses sight of the foundation that makes it great.
Emotionally investing story, balanced abilities and upgrades, solid platforming
Short jumps don’t always feel as tight as they should, sometimes mouse/gamepad input detection gets a little wonky.