'Shuggy' needs a huggy

It happens every summer. Amid a glut of terrific downloadable games that fly off the virtual shelves under the generous promotional umbrella that is Microsoft's Summer of Arcade, there drifts a ridiculously unlucky game that, despite being good or even great, gets instantly and thoroughly buried simply for releasing shortly before or after the campaign runs its course.

This year's dishonoree, "The Adventures of Shuggy," is especially unfortunate, because despite an outer shell that would suggest otherwise, it arguably outclasses the entire 2011 Summer of Arcade crop.

If you're type of player to which "Shuggy" most explicitly caters, it may not even be close.

It certainly doesn't look that way. "Shuggy" tells a cute but simple story about a vampire named Shuggy and the haunted castle he inherited and must clean out. And while the cartoony graphics are pleasant and certainly sufficient, they won't drop jaws the way the likes of "Bastion" and "From Dust" can. Most of the game's levels span no larger than a single screen, and the overriding goal of each level — collect all the gems — isn't exactly groundbreaking.

But if you confuse the Flash-style graphics, bite-sized levels and older-than-Atari objective for a lack of ambition on "Shuggy's" part, you're letting vanity fool you. Simple and cute though the whole thing seems, the game is a beast in terms of physical and intellectual challenge.


Though the overriding gem-collecting objective holds steady, "Shuggy's" gameplay parameters rather drastically vary from level to level. Sometimes, its 2D platforming at its most classic — jumping across pits and dodging enemies to collect each gem in a single run. But sometimes those levels take place upside down, asking you to be just as spry while also demanding you push the control stick left when old habits want to push it right. Occasionally, you have to do it at a 90-degree angle.

Other times, "Shuggy" asks you to rotate the entire level so that Shuggy lands on platforms and not spikes once gravity kicks back in. Frequently, you'll have to time a jump while simultaneously rotating a level.

Yet other levels task you with manipulating multiple Shuggies, who must work in tandem to unlock some brilliantly devious cause-and-effect puzzles. They may or may not be observing the same laws of gravity while working together. Other times, when controlling one Shuggy, a crack in time will create ghost Shuggies, who both can help you or hurt you.

These variants represent a sample of the laws obeyed in "Shuggy's" 100-plus single-player levels, which liberally mix these and other parameters to create some absolutely maniacal challenges.

For the right crowd, though, the difficulty level is just right. "Shuggy" is a demanding endeavor, insofar that you have to collect every gem in one run without making any fatal mistakes. But the game takes a page from the similarly engrossing "Super Meat Boy" by providing unlimited lives and instantly restarting a level whenever you fail. The capacity for frustration is still there, but it's extremely short-lived when you immediately can pop back up and give it another shot.

For those who enjoy working together, "Shuggy" includes an additional 36 levels that require a second player to complete. The co-op levels are offline only, but "Shuggy" includes online support by way of leaderboards and a two-player competitive gem race (also available offline) that dials down the intellectual demands in favor of a mindless but enjoyably frantic scramble.

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