It’s always worth keeping an eye on the ideas coming out of DigiPen. Heck, that’s why we have Portal and Distance. Normally, the games that get noticed in each year’s release of student projects are those that boast some impressive twist of technology, like Perspective or Metamorphos. But the reason Shiner stands out is thanks to just a really solid idea, that allows a fresh approach to Paper Mario-style turn-based combat.
It’s fair to say that Shiner is not the most technologically advanced of games. In fact, despite being extremely cute, it’s downright primitive. It’s a game about being a bunny-like creature who must learn to defeat the local creatures in skill-based battles, and that’s all presented in loveable cartoons and a clumsy, boxy UI. However, what makes this so interesting, beyond the sweet writing, is that you can only gain new skills for your battles by beating an opponent who uses them.
In your first fight, you just stand there and get punched. Thanks to the generosity of that first opponent, they let you have the punch skill despite your losing, but that’s the last time. So what you need to do is find an opponent who can be beaten with this ability alone. Gettem, and you score their attacks, and can now return to other opponents with your new-found talents.
You can only have four attacks equipped at any one time, and over the course of the game you gather an awful lot of them. 24, in fact. The core of the game is selecting from these to find the ideal four for taking on each specific opponent, and working out who you’ll need to take down first before using their unique ability to take on another.
Which is brilliant! What a brilliant idea! Losing a battle has no consequences whatsoever, with the “YOU LOSE” screen closed by clicking “COOL!” That’s amazing messaging, really emphasising how this is intended to be experimental, especially given you don’t have information about an enemy’s attacks until after the first time they’ve used them against you. You fight, lose, learn, and try again with a new combination of abilities.
And those abilities get abstract. Take, for instance, Interpretation. “Gives you the Interpretation buff, which causes each of your damage-dealing attacks to deal additional damage equal to the number of vowels in its name.” That straight away gives Heavy Punch an extra three attack points. Combine that with Li’l Sip which restores 5 points of health, and the somewhat self-explanatory Your Opponent Loses Half Of Their Current Health, and you could be onto a winner.
Shiner is primarily this concept, the surrounding story rather slim (although kudos for the ranch dressing-based religion), and it would be lovely to see such a mechanic built into a larger, more established RPG. Of course, this is a student thesis project, and as such is an excellent proof-of-concept for an idea that merits further realisation. Also, it’s free, so if it sounds interesting you’d be a right berk not to check it out.
- Team Shiner / DigiPen