Xbox Live Indie Games was an interesting experiment for those who knew about it during the 360’s lifespan. There were many games there that never would have seen the light of day in any other marketplace, interactive fever dreams that make Steam Greenlight’s output look like AAA blockbusters. It was a true rarity to find a game that was playable, much less one that you enjoyed unironically. Shutshimi was one of the few, a stylish shoot ’em up with a sense of humor trapped alongside the work of Silver Dollar Games and questionable guides to history. Fast forward a bit and Choice Provisions have picked the game up via their new publishing initiative and worked with Neon Deity Games to release it onto Steam, PS4, and PlayStation Vita. While there are certainly some upgrades from the original XBLIG release, this is still very much the same tale of a fish with buff arms and a shotgun that charmed me all those years ago.
Shutshimi is a fast paced shooter, insofar as each level lasts about ten seconds. While playing, you’ll go up against sharks wearing sunglasses, scuba diving bears, and cat submarines. After you finish, you have less than ten seconds to pick a power-up for the next round, which could do anything from bestow your fish with a new gun to start up a rave in the background of the stage. Bosses work in a similar fashion to normal stages, although if you can’t beat them in one stage you’ll have to go back to normal play for a few rounds and earn the right to chip away at their health bar once more.
The rapid fire weirdness on display is one of the game’s biggest strengths, and you will be smiling every time you get a hat you haven’t seen before or struggle to adjust to reversed controls due to a bad item pick. The hats each have a power that range about as wildly as the item pickups, with some giving you an extra special ability like projectile blocking or confusing enemies. Those are permanent until you pick up another one, and even the worst ones aren’t really detrimental. In addition, the items you choose rarely last more than a single round, so it’s all in good fun and you can’t really destroy a run just by picking something awful and having to adjust.
The gameplay is easy to pick up, more than most games of the genre that you might see on Steam. It actually might be a bit too easy for some, as the slow difficulty ramp is easily outmatched by a focused player and the power-ups they gather after every round. I’m certainly no master at these types of shooters, and I easily defeated the game’s first three bosses on normal within my first few runs of the game. There is a harder difficulty—confusingly hidden behind a pacifism achievement—and I didn’t get quite as far there, but I still felt like I was too good for what was being presented. Players need to climb a slow ramp of difficulty in every playthrough, making long term play frustrating as you build up to something that could be considered challenging.
This also isn’t helped by the fact that the random power-ups aren’t as numerous as they first appear. Each are assigned a random icon, but it’s the same icon every time, and there are maybe twenty five of them in total. While the behaviors of these items are obfuscated by ponderous store descriptions, you’ll eventually learn which ones are good and bad, making an already easy game even easier. Especially when a few of those items give you extra hit points that allow you to sloppily stumble towards the next extra life. It’s debilitating for a game with procedural elements to begin to repeat content, and the items and the somewhat limited pool of enemies the game has to draw from makes the initially engaging chaos slow down far quicker than you’d like.
All this is frustrating when the rest of the game feels so polished. There are little touches that let you know that the game has been a labor of love for years, like layers of jokes in the store descriptions and the taunts you can perform with certain hats. This is a game where you can get a British gentleman’s top hat and then suddenly all the other enemies are wearing similar hats and the lines of squid turn into floating teacups. That’s incredible, and I really wanted a bit more surprise to make the gameplay last. As it stands, I feel as if I’ve squeezed almost everything out of it and I’ve only seen one of the alternate tougher bosses you get for beating the game once. Having to start all the way at the beginning after reaching that mountaintop, while knowing all the jokes ahead of time, is an unappealing proposition.
Having said that, my time with the game had me grinning from ear to ear. The tone is certainly random, but it doesn’t devolve into meme humor. Instead, it pulls from absurdist qualities and balances minimal references with unique jokes that makes everything flow beautifully. There is also support for up to four players in the main mode, and it’s a game that would be great to spring on unassuming friends in-between other local co-op games. It also features a boss rush mode to complement the main shooting action, although you have to first meet the bosses in regular play before you can run through them in their own mode.
I’ve followed Shutshimi since its first releases, and the game as it stands now certainly looks better than its initial appearance. However, the amount of content still feels restrained in scope, never really leaping to match the rest of the game’s full release ambitions. This limits the long term playability of the title for everyone but the most high score obsessed among us. Rougelike games are a dime a dozen nowadays, and there are plenty that take a hundred hours to get to the breaking point. Shutshimi just takes a few, but that brief weekend fling is probably still fun enough to be worth the asking price.
Shutshimi was reviewed on Steam with a key provided by the publisher.
Shutshimi fails somewhat to swim against the current of other procedural games, but its unique charms are hard to argue with and its gameplay is solid and enjoyable.