Title: Shift Happens
Available On: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Klonk Games
Publisher: Deck13 Interactive
Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
Official Site: http://www.shifthappensgame.com/
Release Date: July 2016
Where To Buy: Steam, Xbox Live, PSN Store
Ever since the introduction of Atlas and P-Body in Portal 2, eccentric duos are all the rage in the puzzle genre. Shift Happens’ attempt at co-op based puzzle platforming does a wonderful job on the multiplayer aspect of the game, but falls short when played solo.
Shift Happens has a simple premise. Two blob like characters, Bismo and Plom, have been forced to undergo a handful of tumultuous tests. Both blobs decide to use their knowledge of the tests to try to escape the facility. While the game’s premise is indeed simple, the main gameplay mechanic is rather clever. Both characters have the ability to shape shift into a big or a small version of themselves, with the only caveat being that their transformation changes the other character to the opposite size.
In doing this, players can access smaller areas that open up, then transform that character into the bigger blob to apply the necessary pressure to activate a button and open a blocked door. Alongside that, whoever is the larger character can also pick up the smaller one and throw them, allowing them to bridge gaps. As the game goes on, these type of puzzles intensify, adding obstacles, causing the characters to double back, and even using physic oriented gameplay like changing size in mid air to apply more weight and force to the object being hit.
These gameplay mechanics take getting used to, especially depending on your co-op partner, yet once players have gotten through the first area, things role more fluidly. Timing and communication are key for Shift Happens, which is why it makes sense that the game was developed with a Couch Co-op focus.
Unfortunately, that same focus and mindset in Shift Happens causes problems when playing the game alone. While its possible to solve the puzzles in a solo run, action key configuration and timing issues result in a lot of difficulty at certain areas. No matter how long I played the game by myself, I ran into issues of pressing the wrong key because of how they were mapped. At times I’d try to catch the smaller character while in deep water with the bigger character, but could never switch over in time or could never use the interact key at the precise moment. The biggest issue, yet most understandable, is that Bismo and Plom can only be moved one at a time in single player, where as co-op gives each player free reign.
In regards to Shift Happens story, its pretty simple, almost too simple. Outside of the initial screen showing off the facility, the only real narrative that take place in the game occur when the two blobs reach the end of the level. Even that is usually only trimmed down to them both dancing for having completed the level. Granted, this is a multiplayer focused game, but when compared to games like Portal 2 and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the characters and story are devoid of any personality.
With that being said, Shift Happens levels are brimming with personality. At first, level backgrounds are limited to a lab like coat of white paint. But as the game progresses, the backgrounds change to landscapes like forests, swamps, subterranean caves, and canyons, all with multiple uniquely carved sub-levels inside of them. Each one of these levels is finally crafted as well, with every nook, cranny, and object being placed in its spot for a particular reason.
The game is surprisingly long too, as it takes over around 10 hrs to complete every stage and level. This is great when playing with a friend, as it is easy to find yourself messing around, trying different things and wasting time. But again, the single player version of the game suffers as a result. Puzzles take long enough alone, and while they are all creative enough that they rarely repeat, many might find it hard to push through the time it takes to finish the game, especially considering there is no real payoff or replayability.
While it may not be the next big co-op platforming puzzle game to replace Portal 2’s co-op, Shift Happens is an amazing game to sit down and play with a friend. Before you know it, you’ll have wasted hours traversing the intimately crafted levels with your buddy, simultaneously screwing them over at points, while also working together to reach the end. You may want to avoid it if you’re playing alone though.
VERDICT: Shift Happens is another fine installment in the platforming puzzle genre. It’s finely tuned levels and precise timing are perfect with a buddy, but are not as intuitive if playing alone. Alongside that, the single player contains no real motivation to or payoff to complete the game, as most of the enjoyment comes from messing around with friends. If nothing else the game is a great time waster.
- Precisely crafted level design
- Fluid co-op
- Physics and timing oriented puzzles
- Single player controls are unintuitive
- Considerably long game
- Lacks personality