Winter is firmly behind us and it’s just about time to break out the barbecues, sun hats and consider a long weekend in the New Forest. It’s also time to say goodbye to dreary depressing games and hello to something brighter and far far cuter. Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is an action RPG with more sunshine than Bognor beach on a lucky day. Still capturing the essence of what makes RPGs so enticing, Shiness’ bold and bright graphics allow this title to stand out and make a perfect summer RPG for the whole family.
After their flying ship crash lands on a world caught up in conflict, feisty Chado and his plump companion Poky are caught up in an epic fight against evil and the Dark Shi that is infecting the land. It’s standard story fare but it’s told very well using a mixture of visual novel style conversations and manga cartoon strips, a combination that turns out to be rather unusual and inspired. The art-style of the comic book sections are just gorgeous and if you’ve ever read comics on ComiXology’s app you’ll appreciation the “movement” of each panel.
As gorgeous as the story sections are they’ve got nothing on the environments. Shiness’ world is a knockout. While it does have a few rough corners, it’s still absolutely stunning and is the game’s strongest asset. Almost Nintendo-y in it’s cheerful cartoon luminosity, Shiness’ world is a pleasure to explore. While not quite an open world experience, the stages are big enough to get lost in if you’re crap with maps. And let’s not forget Chado and his friends. They look as though they’ve popped straight out of a manga – obscenely beautiful.
Of course all these pretty graphics would be pointless without the gameplay to back it up. Shiness has a clever combination of fighting, exploring and puzzling. Each character has a special talent, such as Chado’s ability to conjure what looks like a giant Cadbury’s Cream Egg which he can lob at enemies and use to weigh down platforms and levers. Poky has a special doobrie that allows him to connect lines of Shi. Using whichever characters you have in your party, you’ll need to use their talents to progress through many of the puzzles. These are nice foot-off-the-pedal moments where you can use your brain instead of your reflexes and they add a great deal of variety to the gameplay.
The combat, for me, is the most controversial aspect of the game. Enemies are scattered across the map in plain view. Some will attack when you get close, some will only fight if you punch them in the face, but as soon as combat is activated you are dropped into an arena battle. Sorry, no turn-based combat here. The fighting is more akin to a 3D fighting game. You can dodge, roll, parry, punch, kick and do combos. It’s a good job you’re in the Lightning Kingdom because you’ll need lightning fast reflexes. Unfortunately if an enemy gets in one punch they’ll follow it up with ten more. Striking back or getting away from them in order to heal can be difficult once they’ve got you. The close combat fighting was extremely frustrating and I’ll admit to a grumpy rage-quit or two. The better way to fight is with Shi – magic. Depending on what Shi element you have equipped you need to pay attention to the colour of the arena walls around you. From a distance you can fire off incredibly powerful balls of fire or water or even heal yourself, but you only have a limited amount of power that will need to be recharged when the arena walls change to the colour of the element your chosen character is using. This means getting some real distance from your opponent so you can recharge and then fire off the next volley of shots. By far this is the most effective way to fight and it’s a lot of fun and very challenging. It’s a real shame that the close combat options are so weak because they can and often do spoil what otherwise would have been a clever and top notch fighting system.
As many of you will know, here at Punk and Lizard we’re crazy about stats, numbers, upgrades, sparkling warrior belts and pot lid shields. Shiness’ levelling system has enough to appeal to RPG nerds like us, but it does feel overly fussy and the menu pages unintuitive. There’s a fair bit to be fuzzy about in the first few hours and the game doesn’t quite explain enough about the technical side of your Shi powers. As with many other offending RPGs, it will come down to trial and error. It’s far from being a deal-breaker, however. Of course you’ll level up by fighting (and winning!) but finding or buying (or bartering) accessories from traders can help enormously. You can also equip background abilities such as your comrades automatically healing you when your health drops too low. There’s plenty to learn and fiddle about with, which is quite unexpected considering what a hybrid game this is. Is it a 3D puzzle platformer? Is it a fighting game? It is an RPG? Well it’s all those things and, close combat aside, it does everything really rather well.
Shiness: The Lightning Kingdom is an entertaining and very pretty action RPG. While close combat is tricky, fighting with your Shi powers is inspired fun. The graphics are bright and beautiful and the platform-puzzling refreshing to see in an RPG. An enjoyable experience.
S J Hollis Rating – 7.5/10
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