Side-scrolling co-op beat ‘em up games have been around for decades, and it’s hard to inject something new into the genre. That’s exactly what Shing! attempted though, with a control scheme that replicates some of the feel of playing at an arcade with a joystick and a couple buttons while using a standard controller.
Shing! is in so many ways a callback to classics like The Simpsons, X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time that you can still find at arcades today. But the old-school aspects of Shing! aren’t always a good thing. Modern design, technology and even storytelling and characters have improved on some of the things that made beat ‘em up games what they were in the early 90s.
Shing! suffers from things that have always annoyed me with this type of game, but at times it really nails the power fantasy that is essential in a beat ‘em up. When you get some momentum and get in the zone, this game feels really good. When you struggle, its imprecision holds it back.
What separates Shing! is that your sword-based attacks are mapped to the right analog stick instead of buttons. The direction you move the stick is the direction of your attack. You can even block by pushing the right stick straight down. The shoulder buttons have the rest of the controls (jump, dash, kick or block if you prefer that way to using the stick) so you don’t have to move your right thumb off the right stick. In some ways mimics the feel of a joystick.
It gives Shing! a way to stand out in a well-explored genre, but it lacks the tactile satisfaction of pressing a button to attack. It’s also difficult to be precise at speed with an analog stick. It reminded me of trying to pull off dribbling skill moves with the right stick in FIFA. Doing one move when you have control of when to use it (or not use it) is one thing, but facing several enemies and needing a specific direction attack in rapid succession can be tricky.
The gameplay also had a difficulty curve that meant beating my head against a wall a few times. The game isn’t especially hard, but it does take some getting used to. It’s hard to learn what is asked of you and how to time certain moves when you’re dealing with multiple tough enemies at once as early as the second level. Once you get an idea of what you’re doing and learn strengths and weaknesses of different enemy types, you can get into a nice flow. That’s where Shing! shines. However, when you are overwhelmed, the imprecise control of the right stick can be annoying. I wanted you to attack the character on the ground, not block!
There’s also the depth problem that persists within this genre. It’s a side-scroller, but like the classic games it is emulating, there is some depth to the fighting area. Sometimes I would whiff on attacks because I wasn’t lined up with the enemy, which is tough to see against a flat background. That’s mostly minor, but it was a frequent problem.
Less minor were the multiple crashes and glitches I ran into. The hardest section for me glitched multiple times. The last enemy got stuck in the environment as I was finally about to beat it. I failed a few more times, then cleared it only to have the ensuing cut scene never start. Fail a few more times before beating it a third time only for the same thing to happen. I had to restart the level, which took about a half hour, to get back to that section and then clear it. Crucially, the game runs smoothly from a framerate perspective, but I did suffer a few crashes on PlayStation 4.
The story is basically just taking out the bad guys to save the day. Nothing special there. That said, the characters, despite their stereotypical look and style, are endearing. The men are dumb bimbos and the women are boobalicious to a comical level. Think Heavy Metal, or almost South Park making fun of Heavy Metal.
Exaggerated appearance aside, the four characters really grew on me. They had some funny interactions. The voice acting was good and the dialogue made for some amusing bits.
From a gameplay perspective I wanted the characters to have more unique traits. Their differences are mostly subtle.
I also couldn’t tell if the game was meant to be played single-player, where you can swap out characters almost at will and use each of them as a way to have four lives, or co-op. It’s local co-op only for now, but I do think the overwhelming moments would be less so if you could split up to take on difficult enemies individually instead of having to deal with all of them yourself. Online co-op is planned as an update, but the game doesn’t have it yet. That would have been a big boost.
Shing! gets bonus points for having a really good final boss fight. It was a test of what you’ve learned throughout the game. If you figured out enough enemy attack patterns it won’t be that tough. It required concentration, but did not throw a ton of enemies or new game mechanics at you.
Overall, Shing! was a mixed experience. Mowing through enemies or pulling off a good combo was exhilarating. There were also plenty of frustrating moments throughout my six or so hours with it. This isn’t a top of the class beat ‘em up, but if you like the genre, you will find some enjoyment in this.
Shing! is out now on Steam, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
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