Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Who knew that a team like Rock Pocket Games could build a concept around aliens that burp and fart? Granted, Toejam & Earl were getting it done long before Shiftlings, but the developer managed to still pull off an interesting concept, without going overboard on the grossness.
This side-scrolling platformer, published through reborn Activision subsidiary Sierra, follows two alien janitors as they attempt to clean up on levels, activating valves and getting to a nearby exit. There's a catch, though – they're stuck with an ability to inflate and deflate, and one must be a gigantic Jell-o ball, while the other remains regular size. Fortunately, you can shift back and forth between the two, getting around until you finally reach the exit. So how's this fare? Well, it's not bad, but there are problems to overcome.
Silent But Deadly
The core concept of having aliens change size throughout a level is interesting, and does allow for some brain-stinging puzzles to be solved, like how to get the two of them on a single platform when there isn't room to fit, or activating a switch that's just outside of reach. At the beginning of the game, it's a cinch to figure out these levels, but as Shiftlings goes along, it becomes dynamically hard, to the point that you may feel like giving up.
That's not to say that the game is completely impossible, but some tips from the developer would've been useful, especially after one scenario ended up running us back to the same checkpoint more than seven times. Talk about anger inducing.
On top of running through levels, there's an additional challenge of picking up collectibles in each stage. Most of them require some savvy teamwork to get to, but they do provide some bonus goodies that make them worth collecting – that is, if the main levels haven't driven you up the wall already.
A Funny Presentation…To A Point
The presentation in Shiftlings is somewhat flawed, but still charming in its own way, thanks to the unique alien design and the silliness that usually occurs with the game's narrator. See, the game is presented like a reality show, and the comments can't help but roll as your characters screw up or get stuck on a puzzle. At first, it's a neat idea, and there are some great ad-libs here and there that are worth checking out. However, as time goes on, the commentary and jokes become tired, as they tend to repeat a lot sooner than expected. You're best just hearing what this guy has the first time around, then shutting him off in favor of some galactic theme music.
Also, the music is annoying. It tends to repeat these loopy space themes that will no doubt leave you reaching for the volume button even quicker. On the bright side, the visuals are colorful, though hardly next-gen material. The level design is also quite good, although, again, some later ones will leave you wondering just how to get past them.
Bring A Friend For Farting Madness
Shiftlings supports either local or online co-op, and it's recommended, mainly because of the comical results that come from making a mistake. Each of you controls a partner within the game, and, as you might guess, both of you have the ability to either inflate or deflate at any time. This, of course, leads to a mess-up in strategy if you're not on the same page.
Still, the unpredictable nature of co-op makes Shiftlings worth a try, if only to get the sheer satisfaction of solving a level together – or, at the very least, inflating yourself, jumping off a ledge, and taking your friend with you. You jerk.
These are the criteria I consider most important for reviewing Shiftlings.
Hardly next-gen material, but there's an adorable art style here, and good level design.
The narrator wears out his welcome too quickly, and the music annoys too much to be worth a listen.
A great concept here, although some of the later levels may leave you furious.
One of the bigger saving graces of Shiftlings, as it's hilarious to work alongside a buddy in local or online co-op.
Shiftings would have benefitted from some sort of level guide to help players out should they be stuck too long. A more refined art style – and way better sound – would've been great too. That said, there's some enjoyment in the gameplay here, especially if you bring a friend along with you. Then you can burp and fart together, like the freaks that you are.
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