Great things come from small packages!
- Developer: Mass Creation
- Publisher:Mass Creation
- Release date: PS5 18th March 2021
- Genre: Action adventure, Hack and Slash
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, Windows PC (Steam)
- Reviewed on: PS5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
One of life’s little pleasures is that satisfying feeling when you receive a high-level experience or service for a rock bottom price, and Shing! on the PS5 is the gaming equivalent. Shing! not only feels like a rock solid AAA experience you would expect from an industry renowned developer but it also “feels” like a really good next-gen PS5 game, too.
The PS4 version of the game has been on the market for over a year, but if you already own it, you get a free PS5 upgrade. If you don’t already own it, at just £15.99 it is still a steal! For that price you will get around a four-hour romp through a wonderful Japanese style mythical adventure, that is full of colour, action, excellent gameplay, and a wisecracking cast that even South Park fans would giggle at. It’s not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but the flaws certainly don’t outweigh the rollicking good time to be had here.
The star of the show
As a true hack and slash connoisseur, one of the most important aspects is the game’s ability to let the player express themselves with flowing movement and strikes so that you can seamlessly dance around the battlefield striking as you go. Not only does this little 2D side scroller let you do that, but it adds another superb layer of playability over the top, with its intuitive right stick swordplay. After a simple tutorial and the first few missions under my belt, I was beaming like a Cheshire cat that got not only the cream but the cow as well.
Shing! has arguably some of the best hack and slash mechanics ever: Moving the right stick upwards slashes the enemies in front of you into the air; At a 45-degree angle, it slashes at enemies heads; horizontally, strikes are directed at their midriff; and 45 degrees down, the slashes hit enemies kneecaps! Where the eyes go, the hands follow and it is instinctive, slashingly simple good fun. The brilliance of the game doesn’t end there, though, as you can choose to use buttons instead with one of the easiest button mapping mechanics I’ve ever used in the game. Simplistic beauty!
With four different characters to choose from, each with their own weapons, there was also a variety of play styles. Each character can unleash flashy moves by rotating the right stick or building up a meter to set forth a high damage attack. Throw in the ability to parry, dash and jump, and it won’t be long before you are a blur on the screen, laying waste to all around you.
Alongside the superb, simple but intuitive swordplay was the silky-smooth graphics and clear animations. Shing!’s art style is best described as a comic book meets a manga/Japanese anime mix, with bold, vibrant and varied backdrops alongside an interesting playing field. The areas are not devoid of interest or bland, as they have various amounts of detritus lying around to smash, and burning buildings or waving foliage in the background. The use of contrast in the lighting was also superb. For example, a flaming sword really stood out on the battlefield like a beacon, and when it was flailing away slaying enemies, the slash of a white-hot blade weaving amongst the fallen bodies was utterly compelling.
Although the game sells itself as a 2D sidescroller, it is as near as damn it a 3D game, as there is also a small, albeit limited, amount of depth to the playing field. Players sometimes have to navigate in and out of the environment to hit enemies, return fire or solve puzzles, so I feel the developers sell themselves short here.
Where the game falters
Normally I’d start a review with a brief synopsis of the story of the game and give an overview of the setup. However here I didn’t because frankly, it’s one of the worst aspects, if not THE worst aspect of the game. The story, if you can call it that, is that some bad types have stolen a star seed and you are part of a gang of 4 who have to slay hordes of enemies to get it back. That’s about it! This is somewhat alleviated by the fact that the wisecracking group you play as really do have some witty lines of narrative to deliver, and with the voice acting being so good it made their dialogue very enjoyable to listen to, even if the overarching storyline was bland. The humour can at times be a bit juvenile but it still made me chuckle and is serviceable throughout.
The other main issue the game has is balancing. I played the game with various difficulties, expecting things to get easier the lower I set the difficulty. When I did put the game’s setting down to easy, the only real change was that the damage I received was reduced and not that the enemies died quicker.
The problem with this was that even the most basic of grunts needed at least 8 or 9 hits before they died and because it took so long to down even the simplest of enemies, it was far too easy to be overwhelmed by even a small mob of monsters. Add to this, one of the best and rewarding mechanics is timing a parry. If you block an enemy’s attack at just the right point, you have a split second to then move the right stick in the direction of choice to unleash a one stab kill. However, the timing to do this excellent move was tenths of a second and even changing the difficulty to easy, it was far from achievable to do so. Surely the easy setting could have expanded the window of opportunity? (You’re getting old, Pete. Rusty reflexes 😉- Ed)
As the enemies get tougher and require more thought in the way to kill them, it becomes tougher and tougher to complete simply due to being overwhelmed, not outmatched (for example, some wear protective armour that means only hits from certain elements or direction of your weapon will hurt them). Dancing around the battlefield whittling down the numbers is easy to do, but it would have been better to have had fewer enemies but making them harder to kill. In fact, the area where the combat shined the most was the one on one boss fights.
When it comes together
Once you really start to get to grips with Shing!’s systems and the variety of enemies they throw at you, it becomes a merry dance around the screen. Juggling enemies in the air, building high combos, swapping out the player you are using and finding items to use against the enemies makes for satisfying gameplay. There isn’t really any reward for getting more and more proficient at the game as there isn’t a skill tree or upgrade system to use with your weapons or characters, you simply try to get high combos for the sheer fun of it.
The other gameplay aspect apart from the slicing and dicing is the occasional puzzle. Unfortunately, they weren’t the best or interesting puzzles, more of a bump in the road until the next bit of hack and slash. Puzzles consisted of nothing more taxing than blocking a bit of light into a receiver or pulling levers in the right order etc. The trouble with them was, unlike most other games, there isn’t an on-screen hint (that is helpful anyway) to give you an idea of what you needed to do. I’m ashamed to admit, the first few puzzles I came across I needed to use a YouTube guide to solve, simply because I couldn’t really figure out what I was supposed to be doing to solve the puzzles anyway. When you then understand how the first few puzzles work, it then makes more sense for the subsequent puzzles.
Last, and by no means least, is the game’s outstanding audio. There could be some who would argue that this is indeed the best aspect of the game!
The audio effects of the swordplay, and indeed the titular “shing” when you parry, is fantastic, and very very addictive to listen to. Slashing through enemies, the “pit-pat” of footfalls and the excellent voice acting really drive home how good the in-game effects are. However, the synth pumping, hard rock mix using not only modern techniques but also traditional Japanese musical instruments in the backing tracks was outstanding.
Shing! is an outstanding product the development team at Mass Creation should be proud of. It is a shining example of a talent-laden indie developer begging to be paired up with a bigger budget to produce something even better. Shing! has some outstanding gameplay mechanics, superb audio and fantastic artwork. Apart from minor balancing issues with overwhelming numbers of enemies that take too many strikes to kill, and a forgettable storyline, there really isn’t much wrong with this rollickingly good fun and tight gaming experience.
At an accessible price point, it is also currently one of the best hack and slash games PS5 owners can enjoy, too. For a new IP from an Indie developer, this is a big-hitting experience punching far above its weight.