Shift Happens (Xbox One Review)
Every few years, something special happens. A diamond in the rough comes along and reinvigorates a fatigued genre. A golden piece of software enters the arena and grabs gamers by the eyeballs, forcing them to take note of its sheer brilliance. Unfortunately, Shift Happens isn’t one of those things.
This is a low-key entry into a video game genre almost as old as video games themselves–a platformer for the modern age. But there’s no such thing as a “dead” genre, and platformers can thrive with today’s audiences given a high enough level of quality, or a solid twist on traditional gameplay. Shift Happens doesn’t possess either of these qualities.
This is a game where you play as a couple of lab experiments gone wrong, in their attempts to escape from a facility. Along the way, you’ll alternate between the two godless entities to solve puzzles and progress through obstacles. Your greatest tool is the one gimmick this game has going for it: being able to exchange mass between the two… things, so that they change in size and weight relative to each other. You push a button and one gets bigger and heavier while the other becomes smaller and lighter.
The more rotund of the two can weigh down switches that require more weight, or they can throw the smaller companion across gaps and onto ledges. The petite monstrosity, in turn, can fit into smaller spaces, jump higher and run faster.
With their powers combined, they can make their way through strangely designed environments, moving later into forests, mountains and various other environments, all while gaining mastery of new techniques along the way. These are less learned abilities and more gameplay-oriented, like the techniques you learn in Catherine. They’re things you could always do, the game just likes to make sure you’re aware of all the tools you have at your disposal.
So far, so pedestrian, right? Sadly that’s how you’ll feel for the majority of your trip through Shift Happens. It’s a game where not very much happens. You’re not exactly going to sit down to play it and suddenly realise it’s 4am and your coffee and pizza are both stone cold. It’s a game that more feels like you’ve been playing for hours when you’ve only just gotten past the title screen.
“Johnny, mate” I hear you muttering. “Are ye saying it’s shit and I should avoid it?”
That depends on what you’d buy it for, honestly. While playing Shift Happens on my own I was bored out of my tiny mind, but when I sat down with my 5 year old son it took a completely different feel. Shift Happens was pretty much designed with co-op play in mind, and that’s probably why it’s such a chore to play on your lonesome. Sat down with my boy, it quickly changed from boring slog to quite an entertaining slog. As we made our way through the puzzles using teamwork (and only occasionally throwing each other into drowning-height water, it became clear that I’d been playing it wrong. A little bit, at least.
In trying to batter through this as a one-man video game wrecking ball, I’d totally missed the point, and the entire aim of the game as a product. Shift Happens is it at its very worst with a lone adult making their way through, but at its very best when that adult has a small human to make the journey with. It’s the very opposite of a long car journey.It’s still not a particularly great game. The movement is a bit awkward, the visuals are simplistic and there can be a feeling of “was I meant to do that?” to some of the puzzles.
But there is a place for Shift Happens. A very specific place. So if you think you fancy a bit of a go on Shift Happens, I hope you had the foresight to procreate. If not, maybe leave it. The game that is. Procreate away.