Even small robots can have big hearts, and Shiny has its sights set on making more than just a single connection between emotion and automaton. You play as Kramer 227, a small robot trying to save his robotic brethren from certain doom before their ship Aurora crashes into the sun. As Kramer 227 runs and jumps his way through one treacherous environment after another, so too must players overcome a series of design complications if they want to see what becomes of Kramer and his cronies. Unfortunately, I was not one of these players.
Shiny’s first impression is pretty electrifying. Starting the first level of the game enters players into a dramatically-lit, emotionally convincing atmosphere with the foreground of an animated diorama. Stiff, robotic animations teeter on the edge of unpolished execution, but every movement meshes well with the game’s futuristic, industrial themes.
It’s a really interesting perspective. Shiny is all about saving lives, not ending them. As you maneuver your way through the various environments of crumbling infrastructures made by both nature and man (read: robot), you’ll encounter numerous friends crippled by hazardous circumstance. Thoroughly traversing each stage will lead to the discovery and inevitable saving of your friends, but the path ahead is rife with fatal scenarios. To top it all off, Kramer’s power is constantly depleting. Your time away from the generators that recharge your power (checkpoints) is valuable — if you want to save your kind, you’ll have to selflessly put yourself in harm’s way as you race against time.
Shiny‘s narrative has the potential to be a gripping story with its humanizing of artificial intelligence, and the mechanics of the game aim to emphasize any emotional investment made. Unfortunately, the game poorly communicates information to the player and subsequently mars the experience with unintended confusion. Outside of the occasional deviation from the run-jump-dodge formula, each stage feels just a little less intriguing than the last. Without the constant blur of befuddlement, Shiny‘s good intentions would have continued to win me over.
The ship’s progress and battery level are displayed along with the number of saved workers at the end of each level, but I never quite figured out what any of it meant. Kramer’s actions and abilities are described in a flash upon their discovery, but the information is veiled in vagueness with no way to again access the description. If you’re not exactly sure about what something does, you’re on your own. The self-reliance this brews is bearable, but it detaches the player from the gravity of the situations laid before them.
Judging by my ship’s battery level from the last stage I completed, my time with the game came to a halt at a little over halfway through. Kramer 227 and I encountered a series of vertical jumps that looked entirely possible to overcome, but the placement of platforms would not cooperate with Kramer’s actions. Even though it looks like the jump at the top can be conquered, over thirty minutes of unsuccessful attempts lead me back to the main menu; and nothing I had previously experienced in the game convinced me that I had missed something that could change or alter my outlook. Spawn. Jump. Fall. Jump. Fall. Run out of power. Die. Spawn. Jump. Repeat.
Up until this point, I had still been clinging to my waning enthusiasm. I had jumped a few absurdly high hurdles to get here, but something had always kept me at my seat until I figured it out. I had previously discovered an ability to prevent Kramer from overheating from the stage’s molten surroundings, but it seemed to stop working a few levels after it was introduced. Once Kramer starts getting hot, his temperature will keep climbing until he dies. The action to cool Kramer wouldn’t trigger with its input, so it quickly became a race to get to the next checkpoint and activate it before I overheated and died. Each life spawned me before the very obstacles I had just somehow rushed through, but with a brimming irritation I continued and conquered. I knew it could be done. It had to be done. But at the point where I stopped playing, I just lost too much interest to keep up the fight.
The potential for greatness in Shiny is there. It’s an incredibly simple and endearing concept marred by a few unrefined design elements that distract too much from what it does well. If I missed some crucial aspect to this game that bruised my time spent with it, it wasn’t communicated well enough for me to figure out how to progress further. A few essential adjustments would compel me to return to see the story of Kramer 227 conclude, but as it stands I lack the wherewithal to dive back into the insanity of repetition without advancement.
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