Shio is a challenging platformer set in modern day China where you play as a nameless warrior who finds himself in a dream realm full of nightmarish obstacles. With your trusty candle-lit lantern you’re able to propel yourself through the world, so off you go to discover who you are, where you are, and to find out who the little girl in your recurring dream is.
Much like Super Meat Boy or Celeste, Shio presents you with numerous levels full of hazards to overcome and asks you to get from one side to the other without getting yourself killed. The way you traverse Shio’s artistic landscapes is by chaining jumps. You do this by striking a paper lantern which launches you into the air, and from here you need to reach and strike another lantern until you find a suitable place to land. If you land on anything orange, spiky or made of fire you will be sent back to the beginning of the stage to try again. Shio does an amazing job of doing this as restarting stages is so quick you will not be sitting around twiddling your thumbs; you’ll be back in the action before you can blink.
There’s a little bit of replayability with two difficulty settings and a time trials mode that’s built within each stage. Once you have cleared a stage you can use your mask to hop to any stage of your choosing and try to complete it quicker than before. I found the time trials mode really fun and I found myself focusing on a particular stage for 10 minutes, replaying it until I beat the AI’s record. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much incentive to master every stage so it was something I eventually gave up on. I gave the harder difficulty a quick spin but it wasn’t particularly hard. However, as I found the later chapters agonising to finish on normal difficulty I’m sure they can only intensify on hard mode. It’s definitely worth trying the harder difficulty if you’ve become too comfortable with the gameplay mechanics.
One glaring problem with games that have you dying and respawning for what feels like eternity is their potential to frustrate its audience and Shio masterfully circumvents this dilemma with its soothing soundtrack. You will find yourself in a meditative state, caught in the cycle of “just one more attempt”, and you won’t feel any temptation to throw your controller through your TV thanks to its music.
Shio’s animations are fluid and the controls are as responsive as you would hope for in a fast-paced death-defying platformer. The character you play as never feels too floaty to control and during my playthrough I can’t remember a time where collision detection was an issue. It’s a testament to Coconut Island of what they have achieved in this department.
You are also tasked with finding collectables that you will want to read as they help contextualise the world of Shio, and they also help establish who you are and what has happened to the people you encounter. If you choose to ignore the collectables you will certainly miss out on the dramatic plot as the action-packed levels and eerie dialogue do little to build a story that makes sense. I was unable to find all the collectables so I found the story quite difficult to piece together and for this reason I’m still not sure if you’re living in a dream, experiencing drunken hallucinations, trapped in purgatory or if you’re literally stuck in a maze. It would have been nice if the final chapter conveniently wrapped things up for players like me who were unable to uncover enough clues – especially when those clues are optional to uncover.
Should you play it? Yes
Why? Shio is a beautifully illustrated and challenging platformer which successfully detours you around frustration when you fail.
But… Although there are 4 distinct chapters the environmental obstacles and levels don’t vary as much as they do in other games of its ilk. If you’re looking for variety Shio won’t scratch that itch.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Review code supplied by Coconut Island.