Skip to main content

Shoulders of Giants brings mascot-era nostalgia to the roguelite genre

I often stop and wonder what the video game industry would look like if it hadn’t evolved past animal mascots. What if Naughty Dog had continued to pump out games like Crash Bandicoot instead of moving on to the cinematic world of Uncharted? What if Blinx the Timesweeper became Microsoft’s flagship hero instead of Master Chief? It’s a fun little thought experiment that leaves me picturing how franchises like Spyro the Dragon would have evolved to fit the industry’s ever-changing trends.

Shoulders of Giants - Gameplay Reveal Trailer

I get to see a little bit of that alternate history play out in Shoulders of Giants. The sophomore release from developer Moving Pictures Interactive immediately reads as a throwback to the golden age of mascots. It’s an action game that lets players control both a sword-wielding robot and a gun-toting frog that rides on its shoulders. Your brain might immediately go to Banjo-Kazooie or Ratchet and Clank when reading that premise, which very much feels like the intent. Its design philosophy is in conversation with iconic games like that, looking at them through modern gaming sensibilities.

Froggy roboto

Shoulders of Giants isn’t a standard 3D platformer, but rather a roguelite — emphasis on lite. The dynamic duo is tasked with cutting down aliens by jumping between planets, completing a few objectives on each, and facing off with an end boss. Successfully completing a planet (which act as bite-sized rogue runs) generates heat, creating the game’s overarching progression goal. Failing a planet will cause a loss of heat, giving the game a risk-reward flow as players choose which planet — all of which vary in difficulty — they want to tackle next. In-between runs, players bounce back to a hub where they can trade experience for permanent skills, craft weapons, and customize their loadout.

The basic flow can be repetitive, as most missions just have players tracking down a few alien structures in a small open-area and destroying them to bring a bit of life back to the land. However, its ultimate charm comes from its retro influences, as it sports a creative approach to two-character combat. When pressing the basic attack button, the camera centers on the robot in third-person as it slashes aliens. Press L2 on a controller, however, and the camera zooms over the frog’s shoulder as it fires its gun with R2. It’s a clever visual trick that’s executed as smoothly as it needs to be. So much of my satisfaction here comes from that juggling act, as I manage the enemies both close and at range with well-timed perspective swaps.

A frog shoots at enemies in Shoulders of Giants.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

That melding of ideas makes me feel like I’m playing a classic PlayStation game that’s been influenced by modern trends. It’s what I’d imagine it would look like if Sony took Jak and Daxter and translated their skillset to fit the roguelike wave. That approach isn’t new for Moving Pictures. Its debut game, Apple Arcade launch title Dodo Peak, played like a modern reimagining of Q*bert where players controlled a dodo collecting its eggs scattered around small, boxy levels. Its best mode would take its cube-hopping gameplay and recontextualize it by turning it into an endless runner. That fusion of old and new carries over to Shoulders of Giants, which brings delightful mascot gimmickry to the roguelite genre.

The one area where that dynamic feels most successful is its special abilities. Like most roguelikes, players can get upgrades during runs to create a “build.” In particular, abilities are scattered throughout levels, which are mapped to a controller’s face buttons and have short cooldowns. Most of these are playfully goofy, calling back to the creative gun designs of Ratchet and Clank. From a decoy frog that dances to distract enemies to a pack of garbage trucks that can plow through enemies, each power is a silly surprise that created some surprising combat depth once I began to mix and match them.

A robot attacks an alien in Shoulders of Giants.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The two-character control scheme allows players to get the most out of that idea too, as both the robot and frog can hold three abilities each (the latter’s are activated by pressing face buttons while holding L2). Those rogue sensibilities and mascot-era creativity come together to form a fun combat system for players who enjoy a little experimentation with their action.

Like a lot of the older games present in its DNA, Shoulders of Giants isn’t without some rough edges. Its UI feels like a first draft, there are some odd camera hitches here and there, and its selection of abilities feels a little thin at present. Though its not the deepest or most polished roguelite, its eccentric charm goes a long way here, making it feel like a long-forgotten PS1 franchise returning from a long hiatus (perhaps there’s some familial frog relationship to Jumping Flash! here). If you want to return to simpler times before the days of tortured protagonists or blockbuster ambition, Shoulders of Giants is a blast from the past that doesn’t sacrifice the present.

Shoulders of Giants is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Epic Games Store.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 is real and we’ll learn more about it soon
call of duty black ops 6 reveal key art

Activision finally confirmed that the new game it has been teasing is Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 and that we'll learn a lot more about it very soon.

Hype around the next Call of Duty game began to swell earlier this week when a site called thetruthlies.com was discovered by Call of Duty fans. After fans were able to deduce that this was a teaser for a new Call of Duty game, Activision released a teaser trailer combining all the clips from the site on the game's actual website. It was ultimately about a group of people vandalizing Mount Rushmore with the message "The Truth Lies."

Read more
Will Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 be on Xbox Game Pass?
Key art for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War season 2.

Activision Blizzard, which is now owned by Microsoft, has just confirmed that the next Call of Duty game is titled Call of Duty: Black Ops 6. There's been one major point of contention ahead of this year's Call of Duty: Will it be on Xbox Game Pass at launch? A new report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that is the case.

Historically, Microsoft has added all its first-party games from Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda to Game Pass the day they launched. That applies to big AAA releases like Starfield, as well as more experimental titles like 2022's Pentiment and Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, which came out this week. Microsoft's public messaging thus far has teased that Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 will come to the Xbox Game Pass. That said, Microsoft has not officially confirmed it, so there have been conflicting reports on this actually being the case.

Read more
Best gaming laptop deals: Alienware, Razer, Asus and more
An Alienware m16 gaming laptop in use on a desk, playing Baldur's Gate III.

If you've been following the gaming laptop space in the past few years, then you know that some of the best gaming laptops out there are surprisingly small an powerful, and some might even compete with the best gaming desktops. Even so, they can get quite expensive, especially if you want to get the highest-end GPU that will let you play the best PC games, all of which tend to need a beefy GPU to get the best graphical settings and refresh rate. To that end, we've gone out and collected some of our favorite deals across the biggest brands to save you a bit of cash, and that includes Lenovo laptop deals, Acer laptop deals, Dell laptop deals, and HP laptop deals. If you still can't find what you're looking for, then you can also check out our roundup of general laptop deals that may have something a bit more muted yet still excellent for gaming.
Acer Nitro 5 gaming laptop -- $751, was $950

The Acer Nitro 5 is a good gaming laptop to consider if you’re looking for some value. It has internal hardware that’s hard to find at such a great price, including a 12th-generation Intel processor with eight cores, 16GB of RAM, and an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3050 graphics card, which is an entry-level GPU. These work together to make your gaming experience immersive and smooth, and a 512GB solid-state drive makes for a lot of space to store your favorite PC games. You also get an impressive 17.3-inch screen that runs at FHD and a 144Hz refresh rate, although the RTX 3050 might struggle with that without graphical setting compromises.

Read more