Shu doesn't reflect many modern 2D platformer trends. It's far too old school for that. Rather perversely, it's this traditional approach that makes the game feel rather fresh. We're not dealing with an explorative Metroidvania here, nor is Shu a roguelike with randomised levels and permadeath. It's just a plain old fashioned side-scroller, with a set series of (mostly) linear levels. These are filled with butterfly-shaped knick-knacks to collect, which helpfully form together in lines to produce path guides - as well as hinting at where each level's bonus items might be.
That's not to say that Shu is devoid of fresh ideas though. Its soft-hued visuals and charming pastoral fantasy world instantly set it apart from the garish palettes and noisy level design of other retro platformers, as do the abilities of Shu's protagonist. Our poncho-wearing hero has but one consistent skill to call upon: the unlimited capacity to glide by holding the ZR button. This extends your jump range and enables you to scoot along thermal drafts in a way that's strangely reminiscent of Sonic. It also enables you to cut out swathes of boots-on-the-ground platforming action if you're so inclined, and indeed there's a time trial option once you complete each level to encourage such shortcutting.
Besides gliding, Shu provides you with a constantly shifting suite of secondary abilities from the strange creatures you meet. What's neat is that these abilities change from world to world rather than steadily stacking, which makes each change of scenery feel like an almost completely fresh start. In the first world, for example, you get the ability to pound through weak platforms and open flowers to act as platforms. These are air-lifted away (quite literally) in world two for the ability to walk on water and wall-jump, while world three gives you a double jump and control over moving platforms.
Some of these abilities quickly become ingrained in your muscle memory, leaving you pressing a button in the next world in expectation of a response that never comes. Generally, though, Shu's use-and-discard approach to abilities is refreshing, and even a little Nintendo-like in its casual ingenuity. The lack of enemies and combat in the game is another surprisingly fresh touch. It's just you against a bunch of jumping challenges - though instant death is just a spiky obstacle away, and the game's limited lives system feels somewhat archaic.
Given Shu's generally gentle difficulty level, and the fact that your lives reset at each checkpoint, this system only really bites when it comes to Shu's periodic chase sequences. From time to time you'll be instructed to run - and you'd better ruddy well do so. Otherwise you'll be gobbled up by a slathering storm demon. These sections are easily Shu's weakest. They're effectively tuned to be 'one slip and you're done' affairs, which can be rather frustrating. When you stir in the fact that one or more of the level's bonus bird collectibles (referred to as 'Babbies') is inevitably stashed along a tricky alternative path here, they soon become a bit of a chore.
Fortunately, these intense sections only turn up once or twice per world. The rest of Shu is classic platforming, livened up by some ingenious mechanics and level themes that steer well clear of cliche. World two's stormy forest and world three's tottering, windswept platforms spring to mind.
Shu's fresh approach to the classic 2D platformer template means it occupies a particular niche in the Switch eShop, right alongside Rayman Legends: Definitive Edition and Sonic Mania. It doesn't have the boundless energy or sheer bombardment of expertly executed ideas of either game, but Shu has a unique elegance and poise of its own.
Shu is an elegant, attractive and thoughtful 2D platformer that strips away a lot of the excess of its genre rivals. It's still not ripping up any rulebooks or reinventing the wheel, and it's far from the best platformer on the eShop. If you're after a more sedate alternative to Sonic Mania and company, however, it's an enjoyable way to spend a few hours.