Sunday, October 14

Review: Shift Happens [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ever since the terrific Portal 2 introduced me to the furthest reaches of what was possible in coop puzzle games I’ve been a fan. When presented with situations that can only be solved through some mental savvy, a degree of precision in execution, and often a heap of patience on the part of both participants there’s definitely consistent fun to be had. In the case of Shift Happens I’m pleased to report that if you have someone of comparable smarts and skill to play with it’s terrific, but if you’d have to play solo it probably will tip too heavily on the aggravating side.


In the game you play as Bismo and Plom, two lab experiments who’re trying to work their way through a gauntlet of challenges by helping one another out. Mechanically there’s not much to learn in terms of strict controls, you’ll be able to jump, move items, and pick up and throw your partner if you’re the “big one”. Where the strategy comes in is that you’re able to shift your mass between them, so one is always big and the other is small. Of course being small you’ll be more nimble, able to make longer and higher jumps, but your survivability in things like deeper water will be lacking. This means you’ll need to be clever and almost constantly shift mass between each other as the situation dictates.


Where it gets tricky is that though the game does a pretty good job of throwing you an instructional bone when it’s time to learn new concepts once you’re given the basics to work with you’ll be expected to apply them yourself. For two reasons this is why it’s best to play with a friend. First, with two of you the odds of figuring out what to do improve as you can collaborate. Perhaps more critically second some of the things you’ll need to do to progress require careful control and having your teammate catch you will be easier than trying to execute a jump with one character and then time the catch with the other on your own. That’s not to say it isn’t doable, but it can be challenging and even aggravating, especially since it gets easy to confuse who you’re controlling and what you’re trying to do. I almost think in situations like these for single-player there should be a catch assist of sorts so you could more easily pull it off rather than requiring precision, but if you’re up for a challenge it will certainly provide one.


Across the game’s 40 base levels in 4 different environments you’ll be challenged to get to the exit but the real fun and difficulty comes in with hidden areas and extra items that will pose additional tests to your brains and teamwork. If you want to unlock the 8 bonus levels you’ll need to work diligently to get everything you can, just expect to test your patience to get them all as even coordinating some sequences with 2 people will take some repetition and aggravation. While there have been a number of cooperative puzzlers to arrive on the system Switch Happens stands among the better ones.

Score: 8

Pros:
  • A smart mix of creative puzzle designs and action platforming
  • Simply completing the levels tends not to be too hard but to get everything you’ll need to put in some work
  • The single-player and co-op levels each have their own variances and exclusive bonus levels

Cons:
  • The game can be minimally instructive in places and will expect you to apply your learned skills and smarts in new ways with some regularity
  • Single-player can be a bit too cumbersome and aggravating as you try to manage both characters in some crucial exchanges
  • In general the mechanics of the grab are too picky and can make for needless aggravation when you’re well aware of what you’re trying to do and stumble with execution