The Lazy Teenager In High School
Developed by Rock Pocket Games and published by Sierra, Shiftlings is another addition to the Puzzle-Platformer genre. While on a routine mission trying to clean up the universe, a couple of aliens known as Zorks comes across a bottle of Black Hola Cola, “the fizziest drink in the galaxy”. When one of the aliens decides to guzzle down the sugary beverage, gassy chaos and hilarity ensue.
In sealed suits and connected to each other by an air tube, the Zorks can now inflate or deflate in order to change their size. The smaller alien is the most agile one, able to perform high jumps, pull levers, walk through small openings and corridors, and be dragged along by his bigger companion who, thanks to the air in his suit, can no longer jump, but can move heavy objects, act as a counterweight or be used as a bouncing trampoline. This is Shiftlings‘ main mechanic. By using it, players have to complete each level by first repairing a space console and then reaching a teleportation device. Checkpoints along the way will make failing less frustrating. Shiftlings is presented as a TV show, which sees the Zorks as the protagonists. Just like in any contest, a narrator will comment on the duo’s performance, give advice, snarky comments and commendations based on how the players go through the levels.
Shiftlings‘ is all but a complex game; the air-shifting mechanic being the only way players can interact with the world — beside levers and buttons — and the stages being short while still offering a moderate challenge, the title tends to wear out pretty easily, which is why it is best played in short bursts. Players can decide to spend some additional time on each level trying to collect Cola bottles, although the game puts no effort in encouraging so, as this has no immediate effect on the characters beside a small boost in score and the possibility to hear one of the few jokes the narrator will throw at them. The PC version of Shiftlings supports both keyboard and Xbox controllers, the latter being highly recommended, since moving both characters using the keyboard’s default settings can get a bit confusing. There is a total of five worlds in Shiftlings, all based on a different theme and featuring their own art style and narration.
The Multiplayer component is the mode where the game manages to show off its best side. As two Zorks are needed to complete the puzzles, having two brains working on them instead of one drastically increases the gaming experience and can make it easier for less-skilled players to go through some of the most challenging stages. With great (brain) power comes great responsibility though, and the game just fails to give players the ability to intuitively communicate while solving the puzzles, a must-have feature when it comes to cooperative gameplay. Players can join an existing game, but accepting a friend into your match will result in the level being reset, as Shiftlings lacks a hop-in feature. The inability to create proper “rooms” or to play a world from start to finish makes the Multiplayer a bit cranky, especially when accepting a random player into your match, as they will need to rejoin each time a stage is cleared. Another obstacle to an enjoyable Multiplayer experience is the fact that, in order to play a specific level, players have to unlock it first by clearing it in the solo campaign.
The main redeeming factor for this title is surely its design. The stages look nothing short of beautiful and feature a colorful animated background, which will, at times, have players taking a break from the puzzle solving action just to stare at it in awe. The comical, cartoonish art style shows the effort and time the developers put into creating a cute yet functional world where objectives and paths are clearly highlighted, and everything works together to provide an immersive experience while telling more about the crazy environment the two Zorks are working in. The narration is solid and features some references to other games, to what happens in the background and popular media, and the jokes, although being mostly based off childish topics such as farts, will most of the time put a smile on even the grumpiest of players. These pieces of narration tend to grow old pretty quickly though, especially when triggered by a specific action that the characters will perform such as bouncing off each other or meet their untimely demise.
While featuring great design and narration, Shiftlings still doesn’t manage to provide an immersive and enjoyable experience, and comes off as the lazy teenager in high school who has the knowledge and skills to achieve great things, but prefers to stick to the easy path and accept the average grades. The game simply doesn’t introduce anything innovative and, while being fun at stages, the recurring jokes and somewhat frustrating controls result in most of the playthroughs coming to an abrupt ending less than an hour into the session. It’s a game that is best played in bursts and, due to its design, would have been more appropriate for mobile devices, which is Rock Pocket Games’ preferred platform. Furthermore, the 14.99 $ price tag that the title comes with seems to be exaggerated for the content Shiftlings has to offer, and gamers can find similar yet more complex games to spend their money on. For anyone who is interested in playing this title, the best suggestion would be to wait for it to be on sale.