Neon Deity Games’ Shutshimi is one of those things you really shouldn’t touch before having to do something important. Like review it. I sat down to write the review, but couldn’t remember how many lives I started with on normal mode, so I booted the game up to find out. It should have taken all of five seconds to figure it out, but I figured I’d play a round since I’d started it up. Then I thought it couldn’t hurt to get a little refresher on what I liked about the game, so I played another round. Then I played a couple dozen more rounds over the next hour, and practically had to pry myself off of it because I was running out of time to write the review. This has been my life since Shutshimi entered it: a series of missed commitments so I can spend time with a fish with burly human arms.
The game is simple, if strange. You’re a fish with a gun, working your way through a hostile ocean filled with angry squids, sharks with laser beams, and other irate aquatic life. It makes for an cool framework for a weird sidescrolling shooter, but the most interesting aspect is that each stage only lasts ten seconds. Being a goldfish, you don’t have the best memory, so you can’t keep track of things for more than ten seconds at a time. This means that no matter how bad things are, you typically don’t have to stay alive for long. The rough part is that this means things get hairy within seconds in every single stage.
Unlike most sidescrolling shooters, there are no power-ups during the stages. Instead, you get to pick one of three power-ups in between levels. When you beat an area, you’re taken to a screen with three large pictures of items and a written description of what they do. Ignore the pictures, as they’re completely meaningless and meant to throw off inattentive players. The written description tells you what the item does, and you’d better read them carefully because there are power-downs as well as power-ups. If you don’t pay attention, you may find the controls reversed, your gun firing slowly, or your character constantly plummeting toward the ground.
Ok, read the descriptions. Gotcha. Well, it’s not that easy, either. Your fish still has that short memory span, so you only have ten seconds to pick out a power-up. Not only that, but most of the descriptions are complete nonsense written to waste your time. You’re only looking for key phrases in most of these write-ups, which are kindly written in bold for the first few levels. After the fifth, they keys words are written just like all the others, and you’re expected to gloss over each description and look for the key phrases that actually tell you what the power-up does. There’s typically only one really good one during each of these moments, so you have to be able to find those phrases fast. I loved these little sections, as they act as breaks from the action, but they still kept me in this high-speed, twitchy mode. Instead of using my reflexes to dodge enemies, though, I was using my mind and reading comprehension as fast as I could. It keeps the game’s frantic pace up even when you’re just picking a power-up, so things never feel like they’re slowing down at all.
The power-ups were fun as well. There are several different guns you can get such as lasers, canonballs, shotguns, and machine guns. Beyond new weapons, you can also increase the size of your shots, gain rapid fire, or grow two new arms so you can fire more shots. You can also give yourself a little fishbowl so you can take more hits, and you need to jump on that the second you see it. You only have two lives in this game, gaining a new one every five thousand points, and it takes no time to whittle through both of those lives. You’re not invincible for long after a death, so one mistake can cost you both lives if you’re not paying attention. You can get one of the other power-ups as they’re all fun to use, but I’m just saying you’re gonna die without that fishbowl.
Now, you have to pick at least one of these items at the end of each level, so no matter what, something is going to be changing. Maybe you like the laser gun you picked up, but the only good power-up at the end of the stage changes your gun. Do you choose to have your controls reversed or to have the next stage flooded with enemies just to keep it? Somehow, in the ten seconds that are barely enough to even know what the power-ups are, you have to make the call on which one you actually want. I’d argue that choosing the power-up is more fast-paced than the shooting sections.
The only time that isn’t the case is with the hats. You always want a hat, because the hats look silly on your goldfish and sometimes have weird effects that make the game harder. They’re the fun collectible in the game, but the added effects make taking one a bit of a gamble. The pirate hat comes with an eye patch that blocks out a third of the screen and the party hat puts you in the constant nightmare that is Party Mode (Flashing, trippy effects cover the screen while the words PARTY MODE flit all over the place), but others are just for show. Come to think of it, maybe I’m dumb and shouldn’t want a hat.
The random effects of the hats make a crazy game that much more insane, though, so I enjoy picking them up. Most of them don’t cause that much harm, and others will change the music or have other pointless effects (Guile’s hair makes his theme from Street Fighter II play, for example). They add another layer of challenge onto the gameplay, especially considering the likelihood you’ll pick a power-down by accident while rushing through the menus.
The actual gameplay sections are pretty straightforward, tasking you with killing a couple of basic enemy types until the timer runs out. Squids swim in a wave motion toward you, sharks fire beams directly above or below them, and other simple enemy types just float along, hoping to catch you in their path. It takes quite a few waves before you hit enemies like the pelicans who fling eggs and cats in submarines who launch torpedoes at you, but even the basic enemies can cause trouble for crummy players. Only being able to take two hits on top of the potential to completely screw yourself with a bad power-down makes the game hard. The devs don’t make surviving those ten seconds easy.
Every couple of rounds, you also hit a boss to make your life more of a challenge. They thankfully don’t fall into bullet hell patterns, but you do need to keep moving. Every time I got a little careless and stopped to hit a weak spot, I got nailed. Also, you still only have your ten seconds, so if you don’t actually kill the boss, it runs away and you have to fight it again the next time. It remains at its current health level, so it’s not bad, and there didn’t appear to be any specific reward for killing bosses, so there was no reason to want to actually kill them. Killing a boss just means that you’ll be fighting a harder one the next time you hit a boss stage, so why not just leave the softball ones alive so you last longer? Still, I find it hard too play a sidescrolling shooter and not constantly kill everything in front of me, so I never wanted to leave an easy boss alive just to save myself some challenge later. You didn’t come to this game not to shoot things, did you?
It’s worth killing the bosses to see some of the later ones that appear in the game. The basic enemies all look kind of goofy, as do the bosses, but some of the later bosses look absolutely incredible for being created with pixel art. The third boss is some sort of squid demon thing that covered the top and bottom of the screen with tentacles, lashing out at all angles. It demolished me the first time I fought it, but it also looked really good, almost seeming a little too sinister for how silly the game had been so far. I still loved its design, though, given how much more detailed it had been compared to the enemies so far. The same goes for its title screens and more serious representations of your character during the story at the beginning. This game may have a simple appearance during many of its stages, but when the devs want something to look really good, you’ll notice.
The music, having been limited to ten second bursts, probably should have gotten annoying. The tracks are painfully short, but there is a large variety of them so I often heard a bunch of tunes during each run. They’re fun and upbeat chiptune tracks, and for all their brevity, I still enjoyed a lot of them. They’re catchy, and the sort of thing you might find yourself humming when you’re done playing. It’s a feat to create a song I like when you only have ten seconds of music, but the devs pulled it off.
With everything chopped into ten second segments, Shutshimi is always putting players through the wringer. You have to play well during short gauntlets, choose your weapons quickly and properly, and then deal with the consequences of your choice for the next ten seconds, repeating this as long as you can without losing your two lives (Unless you play on Heartless difficulty where you only have one). These short bursts of alternating content left me twitching, hurrying through everything as best I could. The pace alone kept me playing it, and being able to just slam on the start button and be three levels in within one minute makes it an awesome game to just pick up and play.
Talking about the game this much has me itching to play it again. It’s simple, but with the need for quick decisions while choosing power-ups and the ten second gauntlets of enemies challenging me, it kept my mind on task. There is no wasted time with this game, as every second requires your complete attention if you don’t want to screw yourself. It might be a little silly a lot of the time, but it never screws around with gameplay and fun. There is no way you can tell me that you could have more fun with one dollar than by spending it on Shutshimi. Go buy it right now.
Shutshimi is available for $1 on Steam.