Shio is a 2D action-platformer that isn’t terribly original, yet still manages to lure you into a false sense of calm and hyper-focused activity during its manic gameplay. You play as a man suffering from amnesia, tasked with traveling through surreal Asian-inspired dreamscapes to recover his lost memories and discover who he is. This odd character doesn’t understand where he is and unlocking new memories is the only way to do so.
The only thing Shio can do is jump, which can be extended by hitting lanterns as he bounces from one platform to the next. This simplicity makes it easy to catch on and with only a few buttons to press, how could I not succeed? Just like in life though nothing truly comes easily and I found myself dying over and over trying to progress. If this sounds at all like Super Meat Boy, you’d be correct!
Each level has its own challenges and obstacles to overcome and they change up the further you go so you’re never left with a dull moment. The first chapter has you jumping over saw blades and traversing floors that heat up within seconds of touching them. You have to jump to reset the floors, but mind the swinging saws as they’re coming at your face. Another level has you being pushed up by the wind and the higher you jump the longer you’ll fall before being pushed back up. You have to use this to get through tight spaces brimming with spikes and hope you don’t smack one on your way back up.
You can expect to die over and over, but it never feels like you’ve been short-changed by your death. Checkpoints abound and the moment you die you reset back to your previous point and can immediately try to master that complicated jump, jump, jump, swing right, jump, swing left maneuver for the umpteenth time. If you wanna go back to a previous checkpoint you can don a mask that allows you to go to an earlier stage in the level where you can re-do that section to beat your time. There’s no extra lives to keep count of or coins to collect – you just respawn and go.
Every movement is precise and well-timed, and it’s easy to get caught up respawning and trying to get through one of the more difficult sections. At the end of the first level there was a nightmare sequence where you have to rapidly jump from lantern to lantern while avoid being incinerated by a beam coming down from above. You’re also keeping track of fireballs being shot through your path that have to be avoided. It’s a one shot path from the bottom up, so you better be prepared to master your reflexes in order to get through it alive. Or die and have to try it again. I spent nearly half-hour trying to get through it the first time, but when I did I cheered.
Shio is immensely satisfying, a difficult platformer with just the right amount of challenge that never makes it feel like finishing a level is impossible. If anything, at the end you’ll feel as if you’ve failed by either not timing a jump right or dodging a fireball when it blasts across the screen. The mystery behind this man’s identity and his existence as he treads throughout these dream worlds makes for a strong motivator. From the music to the visuals, it’s a treat for the eyes that challenges you to try just one more time to get to the next checkpoint. Good luck!