While vampires get a lot of attention in Hollywood, the video game universe continues to be enthralled with its usual go-to groups: ninjas, Nazis, and zombies, with pirates and monkeys waiting in the wings like understudies. The title character in The Adventures of Shuggy is a vampire, but we never see him going through bloodlust or courting high school girls or whatever it is that the contemporary undead occupy themselves with. Controlling Shuggy, you don't get to turn into a wolf or petrify townsfolk with fear, and to tell you the truth, besides being able to fall long distances, he's a pretty squishy guy - killed by spiders, bees, and wasps more often than not.
Even though you'd expect a vampire's castle to be a weird place, it's evidently gotten too creepy and crowded for our hero, so you get to take him through 116 stages collecting gems that will allow him to access four boss battles and rid his home of its bad vibe.
The Adventures of Shuggy excels at giving you something to do and keeping you interested.
The appeal of the game isn't its cute factor - though the style is fine and the graphics are fairly sharp, the art doesn't distinguish The Adventures of Shuggy from any of a number of other puzzle games. The characters (if you can call mindless insects and arachnids "characters") are necesarily small and the playing field is composed mostly of flat surfaces and right angles. The action doesn't fill the screen, displaying instead vertical letterboxing of the type you see when watching a standard-definition program on a high-definition television. There is some variety and animation in the "dead space" to each side, but they are still non-playable areas.
What the game does excel at is giving you something to do and keeping you interested. There are several gameplay mechanics to utilize in your quest and they are introduced gradually enough that the pace of the game is just right. You only get to use one ability per level. These vary from being able to rotate the screen to being able to pick up and stack blocks to adjusting your height to controlling multiple Shuggys simultaneously to others that I don't want to spoil for you.
The most interesting effect is related to time. You are placed in a situation that you can't pass conventionally, but every time the clock reaches a certain point, a ghost Shuggy is created that will take the same exact actions you did. The problem is, if you run into the ghost, you lose, so you have to plan ahead and . . . uh, plan behind? Get to a safe spot, wait out the clock (which you can speed up by holding the right trigger), then execute your next action carefully, taking into account the paths of all the other Shuggys that may be around. The time levels require you to have a good strategy for not only where you stand, but for how long you stand there. It's not enough to hit a switch; you have to figure out an appropriate length of time to activate it so that one of your ghosts will hold the door for you long enough for you to get through while avoiding another ghost.
Including the hub, there are five areas, each with about twenty rooms. You have a good deal of latitude when deciding where to go next. Beating a room may open up a couple of others, until finally the boss room of each area is unlocked. Similarly, beating a boss opens a new area, with new doors and new challenges, up until the final boss. The biggest disappointment is that all the bosses are on pretty much the same level - that is, there is not really a grand finale with an enemy that makes the others pale in comparison.
Playing through Shuggy, I thought to myself what a great game this would be to introduce gaming skills and maybe transition someone from casual motion games to more conventional titles played with a controller. I can even see a parent assigning one or two levels to a kid as a kind of gaming exercise to build analytical thinking and patience. But speaking of kids and patience, maybe this isn't the best game to play in front of your kids. I know that there were more than a couple of times when I set up what I thought was a winning situation only to fall into lava or run into an enemy, undoing all my work. And that, my friends, elicited some very inappropriate language.
It doesn't take long to play through most rooms - usually a few minutes at the most, but the game keeps track of your time in each room, so you can go back and compete against your best times and climb the leaderboards. It took me about seven hours to beat the game, with only some replays and leaving some rooms untouched. Multiplayer options in The Adventures of Shuggy include cooperative play (in about thirty-six rooms), a winner-take-all battle, and a kind of Reversi board game where the player that wins the challenge gets a space on the board and it takes a chain of spaces to win overall.
The Adventures of Shuggy is a title you can play for a couple of hours straight, for just a few minutes, alone, with a friend, locally, or online. It's a good game to have around because it is so approachable and engaging. If you fondly remember simpler times when head shots and bleeding-out weren't part of the proceedings, you will be overjoyed playing Shuggy. If you are a fully modern player, with custom controllers and a vast collection of virtual heads, you owe it to yourself to play and visit a world of stripped-down fun.