Platform puzzlers go back a long way in the gaming world. For me, the first game I played in this genre was Chip’s Challenge on Windows 95 (Chips Challenge 2 is currently on Steam by the way, finally released after many many years of copyright limbo), for some more youthful gamers it will be the series Portal (Portal 3 is currently on St… oh who am I kidding, Gabe hates the number three!). Both of these games are tried, tested and successful examples of a genre usually based inside a laboratory and/or test chamber style environment. Shift Happens is no different. But does the latest in the genre prove that there is no need for a “Shift” in direction, or that as a genre it is starting to age quite “Shiftly”… I’m here all week folks.
The storyline is very simple, we play two jelly like characters named Bismo and Plom. As they are created via an error in a factory, their aim is to work together and escape the complex that is trapping them. Through four chambers of increasing difficulty, you must help them on their quest to find the exit to the factory. Their friendship and origins are very similar to that of the co-op chambers of Portal 2, whether this was intentional or not I don’t know. The difference with Bismo and Plom though is that due to their less robotic and more gelatine like state, they can “shift” in size (and therefore weight) depending on what rooms require of them.
At first, the game is very very easy. Finding all 75 gems and completing the time trails for diamonds can be done in one attempt for each mode. But as more complex elements such as weight, timing and distance are introduced in later chambers, more than one attempt to 100% each room becomes more likely. In some stages, controlling both Bismo and Plom simultaneously from the same controller becomes a necessity, and is the gaming equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your tummy. Despite elements like these or being unable to find all 75 gems in a single run, unlike Portal 2 and its sciency difficulty with repulsion and attract gels, I still didn’t find the game became frustrating. Something that will make it more appealing to younger gamers (and their parents) alike.
Only playing the game in single player, I did feel like I was missing out on something by not having someone there to bring multiplayer aspects to the game. I can imagine several moments in the chambers could have along the way made a duo playing it laugh and be entertained in ways that playing alone didn’t have the same impact with. Perhaps if like Portal 2, stages had been separated into single and multiplayer chambers, it wouldn’t have at times felt like playing solo was making me lose out.
Bonus chambers can be unlocked along the way by finding hidden boxes in levels that can be opened as additional puzzles. This gives the game some replayability that other puzzle platformers have lacked. Other unlockables which are quite quirky are costumes for your two characters to wear as they plod through the stages. Another fun element to the game I’d like to highlight is the soundtrack. Whilst pretty MIDI, and not at the complex levels of the electronic synth Portal 2 has, it is still very catchy. Its theme tune could get stuck in your head for several hours after you stop playing.
Perhaps the one thing I would criticise about Shift Happens is the game’s length. Just as you’re getting into the swing of the game, and understanding more complex rooms, it’s over. Yes, the handful of hidden stages are a nice reward, but I do feel like there is more the factory could have achieved and given for its price. Whether these are being held back for DLC or a sequel depending on the game’s success, I don’t know. Hopefully, one of the two options will be explored however. The characters are cute and comical, and could easily if given a bigger and longer title have chance to flourish in ways that Portal 2’s robo-duo didn’t manage. As I say, hopefully something will utilise them in the future.
Overall Shift Happens is a laid back, comical return to the puzzler platform genre. With enough puzzle and complexity to get your teeth into without throwing your joy-con’s at the wall. If only the game had more legs and took longer to complete. The single player is enjoyable enough, but I can tell that having a second person there to join in would have made the experience richer. Hopefully this is something, along with the game’s length, that can be worked on in future iterations of Bismo and Plom’s adventures.
Beard Score: 7/10
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 10/10/2018
No. of Players: 1-2
Category: Action, Puzzle, Platformer
Publisher: Daedalic GmbH