Platforms: Vita (Reviewed), PS4, PC

Shutshimi: Seriously Swole is a different kind of pixelated shoot 'em up. Developed by Neon Deity Games and published by Choice Provisions (the quirky folks behind the Bit.Trip series), it got its start as a 24-hour jam project for Ludum Dare 27, where the theme was “10 seconds.” It was then enhanced to deliver a rich experience with a sort of mini-game mentality that's inviting and fun and keeps you coming back for more. It's tailor-made for the Vita and great on the go, but it's so mesmerizing and rewarding that it's difficult to step away from for long.

All out of bubble gum

Shutshimi manages to do a whole lot with very little. Graphically, the game boasts nice pixel art. Because every stage takes place on a single screen, the game very well could've fallen victim to dull visual design. Thankfully that's not the case, and what you're instead left with is a simple art style that successfully gives you something a little different as you continue playing.

Just like Shutshimi is a visual throwback to an older era of video games, it's a stylistic throwback to '80s and '90s camp. You play as a cigar-smoking, gun-toting fish with muscular arms. It's completely absurd, but it relishes that absurdity. It's almost as if Duke Nukem were transformed into a fish, which is weird and dumb but cool and funny (and not exactly outside the realm of possibility) all at the same time.

Survive for 10 seconds — not as easy as it sounds

Every level in Shutshimi takes place on a 2D screen and lasts exactly 10 seconds (on account of the game's story being told by a goldfish, with its infamous short-term memory). In this time the screen is bombarded with baddies that swim from right to left. You don't need to kill them, but doing so is great for increasing your score and inevitably earning extra lives.

The game starts out simply enough, with weaker enemies slowly appearing before giving way to the tougher enemies after a few levels. Eventually you're not just dodging and shooting at other characters but avoiding projectiles that litter the screen in a manner similar to that of a bullet-hell shooter.

Boss battles also utilize the 10-second rule, tasking you with dishing out as much damage as you can before time runs out. If you fail to kill a boss in 10 seconds, you'll return to the encounter after a few levels. Bosses retain previously dealt damage, so there's a definite sense of progression that makes every hit mean something.

The whole 10-second thing creates a hybrid experience that you can enjoy either on-the-go or from the comfort of your couch. I played the entire game on my Vita, but rather than playing over several short sessions, I got through it all in two sittings. That's just how inviting and enticing the game is to play.

Which upgrade do I get? So much beautiful nonsense!

After every level you visit a shop where you can select one power-up from a group of three randomized upgrades. Once again, you've got 10 seconds to make up your mind. On the plus side, the upgrades all have detailed descriptions. In a hilarious twist, however, because you've only got 10 seconds to choose, you don't have time to read the thorough descriptions. As if that wasn't overwhelming enough, the descriptions all consist of nonsensical gibberish, rendering the decision-making process even more insane.

It's not all nonsense, though. Placed ever so cleverly within the long-winded upgrade descriptions are key words that give an idea of what each upgrade does. For example, if you pick an upgrade that mentions having "less friends," that means the next level you play will throw fewer enemies your way. Or if you see the term "pew-pew" and go with that upgrade, you'll equip a machine gun that shoots at a rapid rate.

It's worth mentioning that the more you play and familiarize yourself with the terminology, the better-suited you'll be at selecting power-ups. Not every item is a winner, as you'll see, and interspersed amongst the good upgrades are items that can make progression more difficult than it needs to be.

Shutshimi is challenging enough as it is, but when you mistakenly pick an item that blocks part of the screen or adds a filter to it, you're then forced to deal with an in-game handicap. This makes things more frustrating than fun, and when you're low on lives it could create a stressful ordeal, as running out of lives means starting over. The game ends when you've bested six bosses, but mastering the hectic mechanics and figuring out the lingo in the shop means you could be playing upward of five hours before you reach the end.

Underwater bears and bouncy houses

Shutshimi offers up loads of crazy antics within its 10-second stages. The enemies are a riot to behold, and include acrobatic bears, sunglasses-wearing sharks, and cats manning armored submarines. Because everything happens so fast, you may not notice a lot at first, but as you continue playing, you become aware of all the aquatic madness that's going on before your very eyes.

Certain power-ups contribute to all of the wacky chicanery, ramping up the craziness of the levels. It's not uncommon to come across an upgrade that turns a level into a bouncy house where you accrue points by simply bouncing all over the place. Because this upgrade makes touching enemies harmless, it becomes one of your best friends later on when things get really brutal.

For as brutal as Shutshimi can get — and incredibly brutal it does get — it's great at always giving you a glimmer of hope. It's very much beatable, and no matter how hard the going gets, you're always having a blast. This is a game that's not so much forgiving as it is encouraging. Getting to the end will take a good deal of effort, but the constantly silly and evolving arsenal of weapons, gimmicks, and obstacles creates a scenario that's ultimately loads of action-packed fun.