Shiftlings Review – Pass the Gas (PS4)
The main gameplay mechanic of Shiftlings relies on a fart. Yup, a cloned space janitor linked to another by an air hose ingests some bubbly space cola and passes gas, inflating his airtight suit. This scene now allows for the swapping of gas between their space suits for the remainder of the game to inflate one or the other and work your way through the puzzles on the 50+ levels in the game. It’s an oddly disconnected premise that seems to be only there to give the game its central mechanic, as the games levels consist of this bumbling duo attempting to complete their janitorial work across the galaxy while unknowingly taking part in a reality TV show.
Shiftlings’ visuals and quirky attitude remind largely of a certain Lombax/robot duo, and the game feels like it could have come right out of that universe. The reality show commentator that is constantly a presence, while annoying at times, has some humorous and idiosyncratic lines as he narrates the entire game. He presents you with a story that seems innocent enough at first, but bodes a deeper conspiracy than just two maladroit space janitors on a reality show while they try to tackle the tasks they are called to complete.
Vibrant and Colorful Worlds
The details of each world are meticulously crafted and quite interesting, with bright colors everywhere and an incredible amount of detail throughout both the sections you play on as well as the backgrounds. The developers could have easily chosen a cheap route, but they went all out with creating living and breathing levels that feel like they are just a piece of a larger insane galaxy. Sometimes the visuals were a little bit too overwhelming, with so much “stuff” thrown in that it was difficult to get my bearings and figure out where to go or what to do next, particularly as the levels got bigger and the puzzles more complex.
The puzzles involve players shifting the gas back and forth between the aliens’ space suits in order to complete tasks, but there is a catch. The two are connected by an air hose that acts as a tether and can get in the way of basic tasks. They puzzles start out simply enough, such as deflating one to get through a small opening, then swap the gas to allow the second one to walk through, but quickly begin to require some thought on getting through the levels, especially when new mechanics are introduced to the worlds like switches, tractor beams, and cannons.
The one part of the gameplay that I constantly found it difficult to wrap my head around was the fact that the inflated janitor is somehow the heavier and stronger janitor, allowing him (or her. I missed a few days in Alien Biology 101) to anchor or pull around the deflated one. While it makes sense from the standpoint of that character being bigger, the whole “gaseous” aspect of the equation doesn’t fully add up to me. Then again, the gas is a contrived plot point in order to allow the mechanic to make some sort of sense in context, so I just went with it, because I found that I was thinking too much about the science behind an alien fart and how it pertained to video game physics.
One Man Co-Op
Shiftlings can be played solo or cooperatively, and either online or locally. The solo mode has you taking control of one Shiftling at a time, swapping between them with the circle button, and then swapping air with triangle. You can also control both of them at one by holding R1. It was easy enough to control in the first few puzzles, but quickly reached frustrating levels of difficulty, especially in puzzles that required timing to complete. Mashing triangle when you meant to hit circle or vice-versa can mean the difference between completing a level or dying a terrible death by electrocution, burning alive, or getting that lifeline between the two Shiftlings cut. This is about the time that I called in my wife for help.
Local co-op is a quick and easy button press away after turning on a second controller. With each player controlling one of the extraterrestrial custodians, communication is key. Both players can swap the gas by pressing triangle, and there were times we would both press it at once and just continually inflate and deflate each other. Online co-op works just as well as local, though playing with random people can get a little tough if you aren’t chatting with each other. Fortunately the checkpoints are quite generous throughout each level, so death doesn’t have the agonizing consequence of making you complete massive sections of the level over again.
Enough Gas for Decent Mileage
For replayability, Shiftlings features time trials for each level after you complete all 10 on a planet, as well as three collectible cola bottles that require additional cognitive processing to figure out how to obtain. Collecting certain amounts of these cola bottles unlocks an 11th ‘boss’ level on each of the five planets. There really is a lot of content to be had here, though after 50+ levels, the game can start feeling quite repetitive, regardless of the small changes in mechanics that each planet brings with it.
While it doesn’t do anything vastly new for the genre and treads the ground of repetition that puzzle games like to, Shiftlings is a solid puzzle based platformer for both solo and co-op players. Combine that with the detailed and colorful visual aesthetic, and the fairly unique main mechanic of swapping gas between the conjoined janitors, and you’ll find a game that is interesting to play and fun to look at, at least until you find it getting tedious. Just don’t let yourself get too carried away with the contrived plot point to get gas into their suits, or how the physics of an alien fart would actually work.
Shiftlings review copy was provided by the developer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.