The constant development and evolution of gaming tech can sometimes drown out the joy and nostalgia of classic titles. MMOs, first-person-shooters and battle royales seem to dominate the market and the media. Even indie games are pushing boundaries and striking new ground with varying success. It’s not often developers take us back to their roots. To a time before console wars, when multiplayer was only achievable when a friend was a meter away. Mass Creation have done just that with Shing!.
“I guess some of us miss the old school games that cared if you were having fun, games that gave you a challenge to overcome with your own skill – instead of pitting you against other players, or tempting you into making another microtransaction with an endless grind” game director Greg Kurek says. “For me it was always a personal dream to make a co-op beat’em-up. Back in the 90’s, I used to spend hours in the arcades, playing games like that with my dad, my brother and all my friends.”
The jaw-dropping backdrop on this level shows exactly how far classic genre’s have come.
From left to right we see the games protagonists: Bichiko, Wilhelm, Aiko and Tetsuo
With the experience gained from the development of 2016’s Draw Slasher, a similar arcade-style beat’em-up, Mass Creation are updating a classic style with modern features and capabilities. The combination of side-scrolling level design with high-quality graphics and frame rate is a good example of Mass Creation’s fusion of old and new. The intensity of button-mashing against insurmountable numbers of enemies has been recaptured by Shing!’s developers, a quality that is a staple of the beat’em-up genre.
Shing! incorporates co-operation and competition into the whole game, so you can drop in and drop out of your friend’s games whenever. You’re never too far away to obliterate some demons.
Mass Creation have incorporated analog sticks in controlling all attacks from your character. The direction the stick is pushed is mimicked by your character onscreen, so a nudge to the right results in a slash to the right. This complexity extends to rotating swings and more complicated attacks. The system is a massive step up from the two button controllers of old, and is similar to Dead Island‘s combat concepts but in a different genre.
“To be honest, initially we had no idea if players would enjoy it. But we showed it to hundreds of people over multiple events now, and the story is always the same – it starts with a few seconds of shock and confusion, but after a few flicks of the stick people get hooked and start pulling off insane combos in minutes” Greg says.
Aiko shows off an aerial strike and a follow-up combo to finish off another demon. Glowing slashes and blood splatter seem to be Shing!’s calling card.
Each of the four playable characters has a unique weapon and fighting style, which is reflected by the different motions used to input attacks with the analog stick. In another development from arcade conventions, swapping between these four characters replaces the traditional mechanic of ‘lives’ used by most side-scrolling games. It’s a refreshing system but can be jarring if you’re more proficient with a certain characters playstyle. Greg says he is proud of the complex combat system, saying “it’s deep, it’s challenging and it doesn’t waste your time.”
Some of Shing!’s features you may recall from older games, like powerups dropped by enemies that grant you special effects. These effects vary greatly, but include flaming weapons, increased endurance and the ability to shoot lightning.
Waves of different types of enemy grunts and elites means players have to constantly adapt to each situation. Some demons require their attacks to be parried or their shields to be lowered before you can deal any serious damage. This challenge is easily familiar to old-school players, but attempts to be more advanced and refined than its predecessors, like Final Fight.
The style and setting of Shing! is heavily influenced by Eastern culture, staying true to retro gaming’s Asian origins. This results in a world that is very familiar and easily understood, despite the introduction of brand-new locations and characters.
“We love anime, ninjas, katanas and aesthetics associated with them. It felt like the right choice to preserve the vibe of old school arcade beat’em-ups” says Greg Kurek. This art style translates well into the modern arcade-like Shing!, with bright sword slashes and gravity-defying aerial attacks aplenty.
However, with the recent revival of classic arcade beat-em-up Streets of Rage, Shing! will have some stiff competition in this rather niche corner of the gaming industry. Maybe Mass Creation can outshine a franchise that has inspired them, and capitalise on the renewed interest in the arcade genre. Or, older gamers will fall back on a series they remember from their youth.