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…
Minecraft Legends Deluxe Edition for Nintendo Switch is 50% off today
Minecraft Legends artwork featuring dozens of characters on a blue and red background.

Whether you've just purchased the Nintendo Switch or you've had it since day one, you should always be on the lookout for video game deals that will expand your collection of titles for the console. Here's an offer from Amazon's Woot that you should consider -- Minecraft Legends Deluxe Edition at half-price, following a $25 discount on its original price of $50. You'll have to hurry if you want to get this game for just $25 though, as there's a chance that it gets sold out sooner than you think.

Why you should buy Minecraft Legends Deluxe Edition for Nintendo Switch
Minecraft, one of the bestselling video games of all time, is an action-adventure sandbox game where players can explore a limitless world and build to their heart's content. Minecraft Legends is a spinoff real-time strategy game where you'll command minions to attack the outposts of Piglins, which invaded the Overworld, and create defenses to protect villages. You'll have to gather resources from the game's procedurally generated open world in order to build structures and make upgrades, and you'll need to recruit Minecraft favorites like Golems, Skeletons, Creepers, and Zombies to help in your fight to save the Overworld from the invaders. You can also play the multiplayer modes of Minecraft Legends with your friends if you want a faster version of the campaign mode, though it's recommended that you master the mechanics first before jumping into them.

Read more
WarioWare: Move It! let me control Mario 3’s Tanooki suit with my butt
Wario and his friends appear in WarioWare: Move It! key art.

When I first saw WarioWare: Move It! On a Nintendo Direct, I almost forgot it wasn’t the series’ first entry on Nintendo Switch. Just two years ago, WarioWare: Get It Together! brought the eclectic microgame collection back from obscurity, but it didn’t leave too much of an imprint. In my review at the time, I chalked that up to the entry’s lack of a good central gimmick. The series’ best entries, like the Nintendo Wii’s standout Smooth Moves, have always been tied to some sort of tech twist that makes for wildly creative, goofy experiences. Get It Together simply didn’t have that spark.

WarioWare: Move It! - Nintendo Direct 6.21.2023

Read more
This Alienware gaming PC with an RTX 4090, 32GB of RAM is $800 off
Alienware Aurora R15 placed at an angle on a table.

If you want the absolute best that you can get from the gaming PC deals that are available online, you should take a look at Dell's offer for the Alienware Aurora R15 gaming PC. From its original price of $3,800, the powerful machine is available with an $800 discount so you'll only have to pay $3,000. It's still not cheap, but it's worth every single penny because of its topnotch performance. You'll need to hurry with your purchase if you want to pocket the savings though, as time may already be running out for the bargain.

Why you should buy the Alienware Aurora R15 gaming PC
If you want to play the best PC games at their highest settings, the Alienware Aurora R15 gaming PC has your back. Inside its stylish chassis are the 13th-generation Intel Core i9 processor and the Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card, plus 32GB of RAM that will give you room to run streaming apps and other software while you're playing video games, according to our guide on how much RAM do you need. With these specifications, you'll be ready to run the best upcoming PC games without the need for further upgrades.

Read more