Version Tested: Wii U
Available on: Wii U, PSN, Xbox One, and Steam
Developers: Rock Pocket Games
Official Site: https://www.sierra.com/shiftlings
Release Date: March 3rd, 2015
Where to Buy: Steam, Wii U, Xbox One, PSN, Local Retailers
I must admit, at first, glance I wasn’t impressed with the screenshots and trailer of Shiftlings. The title’s presentation set the mood as a kid’s game through cartoon graphics, a cheery announcer, and two underdog aliens who acted like a scene from Despicable Me. These certain details were a direct giveaway of what adults might not enjoy playing by themselves. You can’t judge a game by its cover though as Shiftlings caught me off guard; I was surprised how Shiftlings was approached by taking on what could have been a whimsical and childish puzzle game but instead became a tad more challenging.
The unappealing presentation was what I thought the overall experience of Shiftlings was about. The intro opened with a cartoon-like animation of a charismatic announcer. He was a newscaster alien who commentated the hit TV show broadcast around the galaxy called “Shiftlings”. Two unnamed alien janitors were the main stars of the show. After one of them drank the fizziest cola in the universe at a “We Planet” testing facility (Hola Coca-Cola Company), the alien passed gas in his spacesuit causing it to inflate – think of Violet from Willy Wonka. The gas effect caused both alien’s spacesuit to simultaneously alter the shape and size through the connection of their oxygen cord. Now the dynamic duo of misfit aliens must work as a team by going through a series of planets and levels to discover ways to fix other worlds – and possibly their own mishap. The plot seemed okay but I was a bit taken aback by how the cut-scenes were handled. Shiftlings emits a sort of a Rachet and Clank vibe through lively characters and oddly descriptive dialogue capped off with over the top jokes. The presentation was only setting the mood for how the rest of the game was going to be played.
I believed – from the introduction – I had the general idea of what the gameplay from Shiftlings had to offer. This was a kid’s game with child-like tones and silliness found on old 90’s CGI cartoons. I already had the mindset of beating the title in less than 3 hours. I was wrong. Shiftlings was tough and I don’t mean a level here or there. The very first level had myself staring blankly at the screen saying, “What am I suppose to do?” or “How do the developers expect kids to figure that out?” The gameplay mechanics are simple; two alien janitors, one bloated with gas and the other without, will be required to overcome certain obstacles by transferring one size to another. For instance, there may be a ledge too high that can’t be bypassed unless the player(s) must figure how to conquer the obstacle. Using the non-inflated alien character to jump on top of the partner (blown-up sized) could create a similar rendition of a trampoline and gain access to the ledge leading out. You’re not finished yet as your partner was still holding all the weight from the bottom. Weight was the issue and the only option would be to transfer the rest of the gas to your current player. This would make your character the heavier weight and your partner lighter, making him easier to pull up from the ledge and the rest of the way.
There were plenty more problems to solve and Shiftlings kept adding more details to the levels. I was introduced to gravity lifts, laser beams, electrical fields, moving platforms, and mechanical doors (ability to snap the alien’s oxygen cord if not too careful). Once I completed level after level, I wondered if these alien buddies were going to be cured of their gas issues at some point in the game. Maybe introduce a new ability found on different planets but sadly they don’t. I would have liked to see more variation rather than have the two characters constantly distributing air pockets from one to the other. Another error I ran into from the start was the controls. Shiftlings has co-op features; so having a partner assist through the puzzles would aid the fight in working as a team rather than by his/herself. Playing alone made shifting from one shape to another frustrating. The button layout created confusion as I would want to jump but instead hit the inflate button and fall to my impending doom. Buttons can’t be switched or altered and saving in between during a level was out of the question.
Found at the end of every world were a boss fight and a bonus stage. I was extraordinarily shocked to discover Shiftlings had boss battle stages. These stages were no walk in the park as they amounted to the ditto difficulty found in Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze boss fights. The Shiftlings boss levels were enticing and well-thought out by trial and error. The bonus stages can only be unlocked from collecting all the Hola Cola drinks (three of them) found from each level of that specific world.
The music selection was mediocre, at best, and didn’t really change the atmosphere or present a different perspective on how the game was played. The announcer was probably one of the most annoying characters. His snarky comments and sarcastic tones wanted me to slur back some nasty remarks. The graphics were PS2 quality and for the plethora of Nintendo titles released in the past was no excuse as to why this game should suffer more. I also found the graphics hard to wrap my head around when the loading screens would take forever. I haven’t seen a loading screen like this since the PS2’s version of Crash Bandicoot: The Wraith of Cortex.
Shiftlings isn’t a title to be taken lightly. While the quirky, puzzle platformer may portray a kiddish style of animation, sound effects, story, and humor; the difficult was far greater than what I had anticipated. Even though there are some issues with outrageously long loading screens, customization issues and annoying sound bits, Shiftlings might be a title worth checking out for an entertaining experience.
- Gameplay: Unexpectedly amusing through puzzle-solving and goofy cut-scenes.
- Graphics: Average quality textures.
- Sound: Voice actors did a strong job bringing characters to life but nothing really extravagant.
- Presentation: Young adult-like humor resembling something from an episode of a cartoon.
- Puzzle-solving can be pretty tough - even for kids.
- Collectibles found through 50 or so levels.
- Boss Fights!
- Portrayed as a child's video game but entertaining for everyone.
- Control Layout was confusing
- Loading screens
- Announcer was irritating
- Graphics are acceptable