Shing! by the Warsaw-based Mass Creation received our Settled-Down statue at Digital Dragons 2019 for a very specific, rare trait: confidence. This trait popped up in particular when contrasted with other participants in this year’s Indie Showcase. Games like Down to Hell or Project Downfall. Those titles do not hide their inspirations – in fact, they advertise with them.
Digital Dragons 2019 in short
The protagonist of that first one, a 2D Soulslike, looks like Guts from Berserk, probably From Software’s favorite manga. The latter game openly quotes the neon, surreal aesthetic of Hotline Miami and John Wick. And yet, this referentiality seems to come from a place of anxiety. As if the authors didn’t fully believe that without constants winks and nudges, their game will be sufficiently attractive. They definitely didn’t wow with their gameplay, which trailed far back behind the theoretically sublime, but actually rote visuals. That’s not to say that Digital Dragons lacked original or unobvious works.
There was the awesome-looking Inkulinati which tries to figure out how to transfer the 2D combat of Darkest Dungeon into a purely tactical setting. The showcase featured the ambitious Wanderlust, which was sort of a mirror image of Where the Water Tastes Like Wine – a game where you don’t listen to stories of the world, but create them. There was also my second favorite game of the event, the genre-bending Flippin Kaktus, which reminded me of Wario Land and showed that you can make a stealth game with typical platformer trappings. Sadly, there was a bunch of insecure games, like I said previously, or ones such as Devil’s Hunt: a quite archaic, clunky „character action,” which doesn’t really have any place for itself in the age of Devil May Cry 5.
Then, Shing! comes out, all neony
From the very beginning, Shing! made the impression of a game made by folks who know exactly what they want to make. The 2.5D beat ’em up takes its heroes – a group of vaguely Asian-inspired fighters – through colorful stages lit up with neons. They beat up various zombies and other, stylized monsters. The aesthetics of the levels – the entire game, really – isn’t exactly anything new.
It’s pretty obvious that the game is aiming to hit that longing for the times when games featured cities, jungles, icecaps and volcanos… because they did. But I didn’t feel that someone is furiously elbowing me in the ribs, asking if I get the reference. This alone put me at ease: I played way too many beat ’em ups that really wanted me to get the reference.
Mass Creation do not intend to revolutionize the genre and they’re not coy about it. Talking to me, the studio’s designers built a convincing argument that perhaps you can’t turn beat ’em ups upside down. Therefore, they don’t try, instead iterating in those places where it’s possible without messing with foundations. It’s another sign that the game’s creators know their stuff and have given the genre much thought. Thus, the combat system in Shing! doesn’t utilize the typical set of square-triangle (or its corrensponding buttons on other gamepads).
You input combos and attacks with the right analog sticks. The characters perform analogues (heh) to your gestures on the pad – a half-circle is a launcher, a full one’s a sword whirl, while rapid movements from left to right translate to cuts in a given direction, etc. It’s a great idea – „getting” the controls is trivial. Both „casuals” and more experienced players will quickly understand what and how to do it. „Swinging” the stick is intuitive and many of the potentials moves come to mind automatically with just a few moments of experimentation.
It’s not Die by the Sword or Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, though. You can forget about full, 1:1 control, but the system still demands focus and self-control. You can’t chaotically input combos, since it’s easy to perform a different move than intended. Your attacks have to be measured. This discipline should both teach a newbie something else than just mashing a button – while a more seasoned player, like me, will perhaps entice to spend a bit more time with the game after finishing it. Privately, I’m already done with most „classic” beat ’em ups after one playthrough; but I can see myself losing a weekend in Shing! after I finish, even without co-op to keep me around.
Right, co-op! There are already plans for online cooperation alongside local play! For this fact alone, I want to give Mass Creation all the accolades- so many ambitious co-op games failed to grab me, just because they demanded a massive screen and four pads at the ready.
See you next time, Shing!
The game posseses a certain esoteric „feeling”. Something that sparks joy and makes me think that the people behind it really know what they’re doing. It’s easiest to describe by explaining one of the core mechanics. You can switch your character on the fly – if only to play as someone with a full health bar. Changes can be done even in the middle of a combo, which I pleasantly discovered myself when playing the demo at DD.
It gave me this peculiar feeling, the same one you get when you do something „illegal”, yet very useful while playing. When you discover that the melee attack steals a second from the reloading animation. Or when you cancel a move and input another one, or discover that you jump higher if you crouch in mid-air and thus can reach a weird spot.
Shing! evidently brings up that feeling deliberately. There are few authors to „get” these particular gaming pleasures. Sometimes, it’s not about complicated, fancy gameplay – often, it’s about that esoteric, intangible feeling, a certain savvy experienced and expressed by the player. Shing! already showcases that in its short demo.
Which is why it scored the Settled-Down award at Digital Dragons 2019 and why it’s definitely going to feature here again. Not only from the journalistic duty of checking out what’s up with our winners. I just wanna play the damn game.