Demos can be a mixed blessing. They allow players to experience something they may not have even considered before, but they can also put people off too.

Salaryman Shi had a game demo available well before the game’s release, and my time with it was rather mixed. It had some good elements and ideas, but it felt rather unbalanced and ended up being more frustrating than fun.

With the full release now available, I approached it with caution; I knew the game had changes made based on the feedback from the demo, but I wasn’t sure exactly how much.

Thankfully, Cliax Games pulled through (for the most part) and ended up releasing a charming little platformer for a very budget price. Platforming fans, read on…

COMMUTER SAYS NO
Takeshi Shi has a pretty challenging commute to work. Not only is the bus-stop pretty far, but the route there is full of hazards and obstacles to overcome. Luckily he has his trusty briefcase to hand, along with some coffees to keep his energy levels high, so he’s ready to face anything in his path to get to work on time and earn his paycheck. It’s a simple story, for sure, but as a 16 bit throwback it’s serviceable for setting up the general gameplay loop.

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WHEN THE SHI HITS THE FAN
What the game lacks in story, it more than makes up for with its gameplay. On the surface, the game plays out akin to Super Mario World (heck, even the visuals are more then reminiscent of Nintendo’s classic platformer) with each world – in this case ‘days’ – being represented on a simple world map, and Shi must play each of the levels contained within until he reaches the final stage and takes down the boss. In Mario’s outing, this final gauntlet is typically a castle stage; however, in Salaryman Shi each day ends in his workplace and he needs to reach the elevator up to his office. It’s a neat setup, and each world contains different level themes leading up to his office to stop things from feeling stale. The bosses at the end are all pretty fun to fight and offer some really interesting challenges, even if a couple of them seem a little bit too¬†hard to avoid at times.

Where the game truly comes into its own is with the game’s unique platforming gimmick: Shi’s briefcase. Shi can pick up one of two briefcases to aid his platforming. The black case bounces diagonally forward and will rebound against any surface it touches, as well as acting like a trampoline that you can bounce on for extra height or navigate treacherous pathways; the brown case, on the other hand, launches horizontally in front for a short distance, and then back behind Shi even further – this proves handy for riding on and clearing longer gaps. Both have quite complex mechanics behind them and can be used to pull off some really crazy stuff once you get used to how they work.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t really do a particularly good job at training you at briefcase parkour. Earlier on, case platforming is largely optional and many obstacles can be overcome by simply using enemies or boxes to traverse the environments. But then moments will come where you need to use the case under pressure, such as one early moment where Shi is navigating falling platforms and the final jump requires you to throw and bounce on the case to reach the end. Not only does it appear unexpectedly, but I felt completely unprepared for dealing with it and lost numerous lives trying to figure out how to do it. These moments aren’t particularly frequent in the initial half of the game, but the second half contains some pretty tough challenges that you need to work out how to do by trial and error. Considering lives are a limited resource, it’s handy that the game features an assist mode for these moments.

On the normal difficulty you have a limited number of lives and losing one will send you back to the last checkpoint you reached; lose all of them, and you need to restart the stage. It’s a small and fair price to pay early on, but as checkpoints get scarcer and the levels get more challenging, you’ll soon end up activating assist mode for the extra health and unlimited lives it offers. The game has some fun platforming, but the difficulty really spikes up halfway through the third world and is becomes pretty jarring.

Despite the difficulty though, the game is still pretty fun. The artstyle and humour is pretty cute and feels really polished, and when things work well the gameplay is extremely satisfying. The visual presentation isn’t quite perfect, however, as Shi doesn’t really react in any way after getting hit. No knock back, no groans, just a momentary and missable flash that often resulted in me getting hit and not even noticing. This especially became noticeable during some of the boss fights where I’d be too busy paying attention to the attack patterns and not realise I was down to my last health point. It’s a bit of a minor gripe, and something the devs are looking to address in a future patch.

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Salaryman Shi is a fun little game that hides a real challenge behind its charming exterior. The difficulty spikes may be off-putting to those looking for a more casual experience, but anyone looking for a tough platformer should have a blast with this budget gem.