Out of all the video game genres, the side-scrolling brawler seems to have stayed most staunchly opposed to evolving. Whether you’re playing NES-era classics like Double Dragon or modern throwbacks like River City Girls the core game system has remained largely unchanged. Even the recent Streets of Rage 4 from earlier this year really didn’t mess with the formula, with only the ability to juggle opponents and beautiful HD graphics setting to appear from its ancestors.
Castle Crashers is probably the biggest departure we’ve seen from the formula, and that was really only because it tacked on a few trappings from RPGs. And so we come to Shing!, whose claim to fame is not in changing how these games work, but in how they control.
From developers Mass Creation Shing! is an attempt to blend fighting game combat controls with brawler gameplay. The results are rather mixed, unfortunately. To begin with the good, the visuals in the game are crisp and run smoothly with only short load times between levels. The four playable characters are generic but entertaining. The voice actors contribute a lot to their personalities, and it makes the game enjoyable to experience. The story itself works as a solid enough framework to drive the action without being particularly deep or complex. Essentially, as far as brawlers go it has the things you’d want in it.
Where things change is with the controls. Rather than going with a traditional two or three-button control scheme like most brawlers Shing! opts for a dual-stick scheme. The left stick controls movement (except for jumping, which is a button press), and the right stick controls attacks. Each direction on the right stick correlates to a kind of attack, and a few fighting game standbys like the down-to-forward roll are present. It’s not a bad control scheme, but it comes with a learning curve and never quite reaches parity with traditional controls in regards to precision and timing. While I never felt like I was fighting against the controls, I also never reached a point where I wouldn’t have preferred regular buttons.
The game does suffer a bit in two other relatively minor areas. The few puzzles you come across really aren’t engaging, and the instructions are obtuse. Even the easiest ones I grew bored with quickly enough that I found myself just randomly hitting triggers until the right combination popped. The second issue is that the difficulty curve is more like an incline. The first levels are easy enough to get through — probably with the idea of acclimating you to the controls — but the number and type of enemies you’ll encounter spikes quickly. In a hectic fray involving several different enemy types, the lack of precision in the controls really becomes apparent. Additionally, the first time you encounter a Tengu is… enlightening.
Less minor is that the game does have some significant bugs within it. I had enemies get stuck in the environment (including one boss), one cutscene fail to trigger, and another cut-off halfway through for no reason. I also had the game crash once on me send me back to the PlayStation home menu. The developers have already released one patch and are active in forums, so I expect a lot of these will be fixed, but at launch, it’s not in the best shape.
Shing! Review Final Thoughts:
Shing! has plenty going for it and makes it easy to recommend, particularly if you can get a group together for some couch co-op action (online to be added in a patch). Its attempt at trying something new ultimately doesn’t succeed, but not in a way that makes the game unplayable. It is a control scheme with potential, and if tweaked over time it truly could have a lasting impact on the genre — but not yet. Occasional game-breaking bugs also hinder the experience at launch, which is truly regrettable. The game is carried by its stylish visuals and engaging characters, and those alone make it worth keeping an eye on for brawler fans. But it does feel like the game would have been well-served to at least give players the option of a traditional control scheme. Time will tell if Shing! leaves a mark on the brawler landscape, or if it gets held back by its controls.