Co-op platformers? Do you remember those? The games in which we’d often sit down with family or friends and dive in to an afternoon of arguments, shouting and the shifting of blame as to who didn’t press jump at the right time. Unfortunately, after the arrival of the Xbox 360 and the PS3, we saw much less of these quirky little adventures, with what was then the new systems at the time looking to show off their power in an array of graphical action masterpieces.
Since then, times have shifted you might say – and the rise of the indie gaming market has seen a welcome return, bringing with it a plethora of smashing little platformers for us to cast those nostalgic childhood memories towards once more. The latest title to bring that nostalgic feeling back to players is Shift Happens, but can it rekindle that enjoyment once more, or is it just another title basking in the resurrection of the platforming genre?
Shift Happens is a bit of a simple one really, there’s no massively deep story to worry about, and instead the focus is on two cutesy little fellas called Bizmo and Plom – two drones formerly known as Rob and Bot – who are the end result of an accident in which two cans of paint end up landing in their test tubes to create a mass of gooey minions. For Bizmo and Plom however, things are a little different from that of the other drones around the factory facility, and after finding themselves tethered together via electroshocks, they head off on their quest to escape the unnamed laboratory testing facility.
There are several vastly distinct areas in the testing facility that players are required to guide Bizmo and Plom through, from the noticeable indoor Portal-style testing rooms to the wild-looking Forest rooms, through the Canyon entries and into the Grotto.
Each of the different rooms come with separate variations for both the solo and the multiplayer side of things, so those looking to get the most out of the game will certainly want to head on in with a friend in tow after finishing up with the solo offering. Unlike most co-op games that you’ll come across, Shift Happens comes complete with full online functionality for those with a friends list full of willing souls ready to lend a hand through the various puzzles on offer. That said, those without perfect communication will quickly find themselves struggling to progress as each of the levels require a perfect understanding of the game’s awkwardly intricate controls, which can prove difficult for newcomers to the genre.
Due to this awkwardness in the controls, things become more annoying than anything else, as most of the puzzles found throughout the game are hardly challenging. In fact, large amounts of them consist of nothing more than pulling various levers to move platforms or open other areas, with the only difficulty coming from just how you’re going to get the little gooey guys to each area – all whilst avoiding the various hazards such as water, electrics and the various other opportunities to marmalise your partner that are strewn throughout the environment. Of course, the game does have a few challenging levels thrown in for good measure, but those who frequent online co-op together shouldn’t really find much to be challenged by.
Solo mode on the other hand is entirely different. The idea of the puzzles is of course the same as multiplayer, but due to the need to swap between both characters at such a quick pace and with a prior knowledge to what you need to do next – often whilst your character is hurtling through the air – things can become a bit too much for those whose reactions aren’t at their peak. This is something that really put a dampener on the game for me as the multiplayer side of things – again with good communication – can, for the most part, be hugely enjoyable.
Another reason I struggled to get on with Shift Happens, is because of the uncanny resemblance to another game from a few years back – Shiftlings. Those that have played Shiftlings will appreciate the unique nature of the game and will immediately know what to expect when I say Shift Happens is almost a spiritual successor, except it’s quite simply not as good, and that’s what I really had my mind stuck on whilst playing. The shifting of characters to change one from big to small and vice versa to complete various puzzle based levels has been done previously, rather successfully too, and if you’re going to bring something to the table that bears such a close resemblance, you really need to be doing something more than what’s already been achieved before it. Unfortunately, Shift Happens fails to do this.
Of course, there are other things to focus on in each of the levels, such as collecting all 75 coins, finding the hidden cube in each level, or even beating the record times for each stage. But when you need to focus on such simple things like standing in the right place to avoid exploding when you switch sizes, the collectibles and such feel like nothing more than a chore, especially with the searching that’s required to find some of the harder to reach coins.
Shift Happens isn’t exactly a bad co-op game, but it does suffer from some rather noticeable irritations and when joining a genre of successfully established titles, there really needs to be more on offer than that included. Of course, those new to the genre will certainly find plenty to encourage them to delve deeper into the co-op genre, and the inclusion of online multiplayer is something that I cannot praise enough, but the awkward controls that ruin the solo experience, and the lack of any real story, sums up the experience of what is essentially a rather mediocre title.