Shiftlings on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC
Puzzle platformers are nothing new. They’ve been around since game developers have figured out you can build an entire game around making an onscreen character jump. But, it’s what every new game in the genre adds to it that makes it stand out. While everyone is vying for supremacy in the puzzle platformer scene, they all try to introduce some intriguing new mechanic, or some interesting story, or even some out of this world setting in order to stand head and shoulders above the rest. The folks at Rock Pocket Games decided to do all three when they created Shiftlings.
Shiftlings is a game show that puts two unknowing (and slightly dimwitted) janitors through a series of tests that consist entirely of environmental puzzles in space for the pair to navigate in order to complete their shift work. As the pair is about to begin their work, one of the two happens to stumble across a bottle of Black Hola Cola which just happens to be the fizziest drink in the universe. Naturally this bumbling little janitor decides to guzzle the entire bottle only to find out that it leaves anyone lucky enough to drink this delectable cola a bit… gassy. Like in all humorous things, getting gassy in a spacesuit leads to hilarious bloated hijinks, but what would happen if your gas didn’t only affect you? One thing we may have failed to mention is that the suits worn by the pair you’ll be controlling in Shiftlings are connected by an air tube.
That air tube happens to be the center of all your puzzle solving in Shiftlings. Since your less-than-wise partner decided to down that Black Hola Cola you now have the ability to manipulate that gas to your advantage. Alternating size, using your partner as a bouncing platform, becoming an anchor, a hold slew of options becomes available right from the outset and sets the stage for some interesting platform puzzles.
The puzzles start off simple enough in order to get you into the groove. Players will navigate simple structures as they learn the basics of controlling two tethered individuals with a bad case of the bubble guts. This will get you into the groove of handling the balancing act of constantly switching sizes and weight. Players can easily shift from one character to the next, and can also instantly shift the gas between the suits (provided there is room to expand). If need be, both characters can be moved simultaneously in order to quickly get from point A to point B. All of this is learned in the first few levels that require little more than figuring out how to get over a few blocks. It’s a slow start but Shiftlings manages to throw something new into the mix every few levels, though bigger changes are reserved for when you unlock one of the other four worlds.
Moving platforms, tractor beams reminiscent of those used in the Portal games, different environmental hazards, and other sorts of elements are thrown in to beef up the challenge. Although the game never gets too difficult, the slow and steady addition of new puzzle pieces helps to keep the game fresh throughout your entire playthrough. Just when you start to get the hang of, and eventually become bored of, any particular environmental thingamabob in Shiftlings the game does an amazing job of placing something new in your path. It may not seem like much, but it manages to keep you moving onward to the end.
The puzzles may not be the most intricate examples of mind challenges players will probably have seen in their gaming adventures, but Shiftlings has some superb level design. Each world feels unique and has its own vibrant flavor. For example; the second world you’ll get to play in, Hyperactivia, is riddled with huge candy canes, giant toy blocks, roller coasters, and other things one would expect a hyperactive child to enjoy. The attention to detail in order to provide varied, themed worlds is applaudable and adds a splash of fun to Shiftlings.
The game is also full of humor with jokes being cracked every time you make a mistake, or even when you finally figure out how to make that jump that’s had you stumped for the past two minutes. As is to be expected by a game that uses bodily gas as its primary mechanic, there are tons of fart jokes. It may be silly, but it’s the perfect level of lightheartedness for Shiftlings and it never feels out of place or annoying which is a pleasant surprise.
In fact the writing in Shiftlings is probably one of the best aspects of the game. The whole game show set up is nothing short of a genius way to present this collection of puzzles. Sure, it’s been done before, but the developers really went to town with this and included commercials during loading screens, as well as a host that will put any present day game show host to shame. He truly is a funny, charismatic being.
While the humor, as juvenile as it may seem at times, stands up, the gameplay sometimes suffers. Playing solo in Shiftlings can prove to be a bit of a hassle at times. It can become frustrating when you have to constantly switch to shift, and place your partner in the exact spot. It’s even worse when you need to rush right after having both janitors pretty far apart. You can only move both at the same time if you’re heading in the same direction, so that ability becomes pretty useless when you need it most.
You do have the ability to play multiplayer which is when everything finally comes together in one harmonious, fun, puzzle filled experience. Yes you still have the balancing act between two space faring janitors, but with two minds instead of one, managing them is much less of a chore which opens up Shiftlings for fun. It’s amazing how just the simple act of adding one other person, whether they be stranger or friend, really turns a game around.
When all is said and done, Shiftlings is a fun game. It’s rare when a game can nail fart humor and also have it be completely in context. The puzzles are fun, and there is really some fantastic level design that never gets in the way of the game. Unfortunately all of this may be hard to realize when all you can see is a sometimes frustrating single player experience.
For more information on Shiftlings be sure to check out the game’s website.