Shift Happens is a puzzle platformer with a clever title that is firmly focused on a cooperative multiplayer experience. It’s out now on Xbox One and PC (through Steam), and will come to PS4 a little later.
When I first saw Shift Happens, it reminded me of the early access title Gang Beasts by Double Fine – at least visually. Both games feature colorful, jelly-like main characters in a cartoon-like environment, and of course it doesn’t come as a surprise that humor plays a role in both games as well. They are very different games once you start playing though, as Gang Beasts is a multiplayer party game whereas Shift Happens is a puzzle platformer.
Shift Happens has two main characters you can control: Bismo and Plom, and they have to work together if they want to progress past the game’s many and diverse challenges. The shifting dynamic that the title refers to relates to the fact that when one of the characters is big, the other will be small – and they can shift between body sizes at almost any time. When working directly together, this translates into things like using one character to throw his smaller friend toward hard to reach places, or into a jumping dynamic where standing on top of one another while jumping and shifting will allow you to get to higher places.
There are tons of ‘standard’ puzzle platformer skills to use as well, including pushing and pulling obstacles, picking up items, flipping levers and activating pressure pads. And as long as one character stays alive, he can revive his fallen comrade as long as he is able to reach him. Cooperation is key here, and with all your abilities and frequent changes in scenery there is plenty of diversity on offer here – even though the campaign is relatively short. Once you complete it, you can play through a few unlockable challenge stages or you can try to collect every coin in every level if that kind of achievement hunting appeals to you.
The game can also be played as a single player adventure, but it does take a good amount of the fun out of the game. Where games like The Lost Vikings were designed to be played by a single player – with the different viking moving in turn – Shift Happens is far more enjoyable when two characters can explore a level and possible solutions in tandem.
What holds Shift Happens back a little are its somewhat unforgiving controls – perhaps it’s due to the fact that so many control mechanics come together in this game, but frustrating moments due to unintended missteps occurred more than once during the campaign. Still, the overall feeling – at least when playing cooperatively with another player – is a positive one. Despite a few complex puzzle solutions and a wide array of moves, this is an accessible and fun little puzzle platformer.