Code Shifter review (Switch)

Today we take a look at Code Shifter from Arc System Works, famous for their work on the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear franchises. With Granblue Fantasy Versus on the horizon, we were curious what Code Shifter would bring. It’s out for PC, PS4 and Xbox One as well, but we played the Nintendo Switch version.

In a bit of a meta kind of premise, Code Shifter is about a game developer called Stella. You have to finish a game just before its scheduled launch, and suddenly you’re faced with numerous bugs in the code. No, this isn’t a game coding simulator. Stella writes up a debugging tool which enables her to enter the game code as “Sera” to crush the anomalies from within the game itself – bridging the gap to something we’re more familiar with when it comes to an Arc System Works game.

Sera can assume the form of a large number of Arc System Works characters brought together in a massive roster based on some of the studio’s most iconic franchises. Expect not just BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, but also classic arcade names like Double Dragon and more obscure titles including Birthdays the Beginning. No matter which character you play as, the gameplay is a mix of platforming and beat ’em up action – somewhat reminiscent of Smash Brothers in how special moves and combos play a role in what is otherwise mostly a standard 2D scrolling platformer.

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Different characters have different moves, and shifting into a particular one means gaining access to abilities that might better suit your preferred playstyle or the specific challenges that a level offers. This can include something simple like the ability to smash open a crate, or it can allow you to get to certain spots because of your temporary ability to float on air currents. This creates a nice sense of diversity when it comes to the gameplay, and this is echoed by the soundtrack, which changes in subtle ways to mix in some of the ditties from original games that had the characters in them. Similarly, characters also reflect the 8-bit era, making for most nostalgia-fueled fun.

What’s a shame, however, is that the actual gameplay never feels quite as polished as you’d expect. The platforming is rather generic and the controls feel a tad floaty – reminding me of how Mighty No 9 also wasn’t exactly what people were hoping for. The combat is better, but also pales in comparison to other Arc System Works titles. From BlazBlue to the Kunio-Kun games, amazing combat’s always been a staple for Arc System Works, and things just don’t feel as refined in Code Shifter. The hit detection feels off, and more often than not I just resorted to button mashing instead.

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The levels themselves feel well-designed though, with plenty of diversity in terms of routes to take and puzzles to tackle. The ability to select different characters with different abilities also helps the replay value here. There’s a lot of filler content outside of these levels though, with lengthy conversations between the programming team that break the flow of the game because the narrative isn’t that exciting.

My earlier Smash Brothers reference holds true even more when you engage with Code Shifter’s additional mode Colorful Fighters, which is an arena-type fighting game you can play with up to four players. It’s not Smash Brothers and we’d love to see a fully fledged arena fighter with Arc’s roster, but it’s a fun diversion that does add some lasting appeal to Code Shifter. It’s one of Arc’s more forgettable games in the long run, but while it lasts it’s fun to see they’re open to this kind of crossover product.

Score: 6.5/10

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