While doing some research for my review of Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition from Dumativa Game Studio, I discovered that current thinking is that Shieldmaidens, warriors from the Viking culture, did actually exist after all. Believe me, it’s all very fascinating, and may have led me down a number of Wikipedia rabbit holes.
It doesn’t however tell us anything about the game which is up for consideration, at least not beyond the fact that the heroine has a shield. I’m not going to speculate on whether she is a maiden!
But let’s go to the future, to a destroyed world no less – why is the future never nice, with free lollipops and stuff?
Looking at the presentation of Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition first, and a dreaded phrase is making its way towards my fingertips again – this is a retro-styled platformer. Now, even though I’m at risk of wearing out those particular keys on my keyboard, what Shieldmaiden brings is a new feel to the genre, as although it is done in a pixel art style, it also has a kind of neon Cyberpunk-fuelled vibe to the game. The action is viewed from a side-on perspective and while the end of the world has been grim, there is still a robot dog to pat, so I’m pretty happy.
The graphics on offer are pretty nice, with a real cool vibe going on, helped by the synthwave soundtrack that fits in with the action perfectly. The hero is well animated, the robots are a varied bunch, and the bosses are perfect examples of retro game design. I’ve been mighty impressed by the sound too, except for one thing – the narrative is presented in text boxes but the heroine, Asta, or the people she is talking to, will sometimes make sounds, like a laugh or so on. When you skip the text scenes, Asta can end up sounding like Beavis and Butthead – “Huh, huh, huh,” over and over again. I don’t need to tell you how annoying that can get. Other than that, the Tron-like world looks and sounds good.
For many it’ll be the story of a game that is always important, and luckily Shieldmaiden has one.
Asta, the heroine we play as, has a sister who was lost when the world ended. Luckily, she also has a friendly AI that can track traces of her sister through the various worlds, and so the scene is set for Asta to go on an epic journey to try and find the only family she has left. In the way are a bunch of haywire robots, some tricky platforming sections and a few bosses, and all she has to help her is a trusty shield that magically appears from a bracelet that her sister gave her. Can you make it through the mean streets of Modigard to find your sister, or will you be stomped flat by a big robot? It’s in your hands!
Now, it could be said that the very best games from this genre come have two strings to their bows – the combat section, be that against small foes or bigger bosses; and the exploration and traversal part of the game. We will start off with the way that Asta gets around, as this is not without its problems. Of course, the combat isn’t perfect either, but one thing at a time.
The way Asta gets around is pretty standard fare, to be honest. She can jump, and if you press the button for longer, she jumps higher. She also has a dash move that she can use in the air, so clearing large gaps is a breeze. Further is a handy line in wall jumping, and it is here that the controls are a bit, well, odd. For the sections where Asta has to jump up between two vertical walls, it works okay, but there are sections where there is just one slightly too high wall in the way. It’s left to Asta to jump as high as she can, bounce off the wall, and then dash back the other way to land on top of the obstacle. It is really hard to do this, and to make sure it wasn’t my tired old fingers letting me down, I got my son to try, and he said the same – the controls don’t “feel” right. Feel is a hard thing to quantify, but you know when something is right, and this facet of the exploration isn’t.
Luckily, combat is a lot simpler – get up next to the enemy and press X to hit them with a shield. What could be easier? Well, Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition does go a little deeper than that, as the shield can also double up as a surfboard. You’ll need it to be too as at certain points in the game, there are electrified floors, and Asta can use the shield to bounce across them without dying.
She can also use the shield in its traditional role; blocking damage from hitting. In this mode, the shield can be charged with energy, and then this energy can be released as a special attack that deals heavy damage – mostly to bosses. Indeed, certain bosses need you to use this attack to make them vulnerable, so blocking everything you can is a good idea. Other than that, the combat is pretty straightforward and easy to master.
Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition is not a long game, and you will have pretty much seen everything within a couple of hours. The game seems to recognise that this is an issue, however, adding in collectibles to find by exploring the levels beyond the beaten path. Yet what Shieldmaiden gives with one hand, it takes away with the other, as there are some baffling design choices on display here.
The pits that lead to your doom are not marked in any way, and so you never know if falling down will lead you to a new area, or to the last checkpoint you passed. Dying to a boss can be annoying too, as the nearest checkpoint is often a few screens away, leading to you getting to the boss fight with reduced health. But, to be fair, these are niggles and the basic structure is pretty solid.
Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition isn’t going to set the world on fire, but there are worse ways to spend your gaming time.
Shieldmaiden: Remix Edition is on the Xbox Store