In a world full of online play, Shift Happens from Klonk Games mixes things up by being a cooperative puzzle platformer. Both players will control the blobby duo of Bismo and Plom as they escape the factory where they were created. In that time, I had an experience full of laughs and frustration as we worked together and stabbed each other in the back. For all those fun moments, there was a slow revelation that there isn't much to this game other than its core concept. It's a great time for a few hours, but won't do much to hold your interest beyond that point.
Like many platformers focused on gameplay, there isn't much to Shift Happens. As a matter of fact, the game never clearly explains what's going on. You're simply treated to a cutscene in which Bismo and Plom are created in a factory and decide to leave. It's not going to turn any heads, but with a charming game like this, it doesn't need to have gripping dialogue or a dramatic narrative (it's not a Telltale game, so quit your whining). Everything we need to know is there and gives us enough reason to play the game. Platformers aren't exactly known for their stories anyway.
At its core, Shift Happens is a 2D cooperative puzzle platformer. You and your partner will be moving in a 2D space, overcoming obstacles and progressing in each level. Instead of jumping on enemies, you'll be more focused on solving problems in order to move forward.
It's clear that the game wants you to be able to play as soon as possible because there is no tutorial at the start. Instead, the little skills you need to know are split up in "blink and you'll miss it" trial rooms. You just do the action you need to learn about three times and you're immediately placed into the next level. It strikes a fine balance between educating players but not holding their hands.
Let's talk about the gimmick of the game. Because the platformer genre is massive, Shift Happens distinguishes itself from the competition by introducing a new mechanic. Each player is either big or small. You can switch between sizes at any time, but in order to do that, you have to trade off with your partner (if you become big, the other person becomes small and vice versa). This single mechanic will be the source of a lot of laughs. By enabling each player to control this, it's all too easy to screw over your partner when they're trying to make a jump or crawling through a small space.
Coupling this mechanic are different attributes for each size. When Bismo or Plom are big, they can pick up and throw objects (and the other player) but are slower and can't jump as far. When they're small, they are much faster, can get into small spaces, and jump farther. This variation makes players think about the best ways to go about each problem. What makes this mechanic more fleshed out is that the game is designed well enough so that players can't stay in the same form at all times. It forces you to think, and the puzzles are crafted so that you'll constantly be moving and changing form.
As far as the levels are concerned, they're largely what you'd expect from a puzzle game. There are all kinds of levers and switches that require you to work together in order to reach. Thankfully, equal emphasis is placed on both blobs, so no one feels left out of the action. The levels themselves are fairly short, but each tests your skills in new ways without ever telling you what to do. The game treats its players like intelligent people who can figure things out. It feels like Shovel Knight in that respect, and I appreciated it very much.
Each level also has a host of stars and cubes to collect. By collecting enough stars, you will be rewarded with a heart that will revive you if both players die. However, that wasn't enough incentive for me to go back through each level if I missed any, and I ended up ignoring most of them altogether. Collecting a certain amount of cubes (one is hidden in each stage) will reward you with bonus stages that will put your platforming skills to the test. I found those levels to be the highlight of Shift Happens. However, there were some framerate problems in those levels that were few and far between, yet intrusive enough that my friend and I both died a few times.
There are four different worlds in the game, and each is aesthetically different (more on that later). However, the structure remains largely the same throughout and doesn't do much to shake up the gameplay. You'll be doing many of the same things from start to finish. After a few hours of playtime, the levels started to become monotonous.
Because the game is so focused on co-op, you might be surprised to know that there is some single player content. You can play through the entire campaign by yourself. While it's a nice addition, it's evident that the game demands to be played with another person, much like this year's Snipperclips. When playing solo, you have to switch between the two blobs to control each one. It grinds the otherwise speedy gameplay to a painful crawl, and it's more strenuous than entertaining. I must note that the levels are not the same though. Each of them is tweaked to present different challenges with the single player mechanics (and some utilize the switching back and forth concept really well). In this way, the developers do their best to make the single-player rewarding and fun, but with a game like this, that's an uphill battle.
However, if you do find yourself alone, there is an option for online play, but make sure you do it with a mic and somebody you know. Again, this is a game designed for playing with friends, and doing it any other way will negatively alter your experience. Communication is always the core element in Shift Happens.
Graphics and Audio
Shift Happens isn't going to blow any minds, but in terms of graphics, it is quite charming, to say the least. While the first world is about as boring as it gets (it's pretty much a Portal knockoff), the visuals really pop in the latter three worlds. You'll be traversing forests and caves before long. The art style focuses on polygons, and while this might seem iffy on paper, the result is quite pleasing to the eye. Each world has its own distinct feel and vibe so that you'll never be blending them together. Despite its simplistic take, it never feels like the developers were being cheap or cutting corners. It all feels rhythmic and intentional.
In terms of the characters themselves, Bismo and Plom both contrast with the levels really well and are expertly designed. They're just simple enough to identify, yet detailed enough to fall in love with. They communicate with each other with little dances and grunts, which is a nice touch. The only thing to note about them is that the animations for their actions are a bit stiff and awkward at times, but that's hardly a complaint in the grand scheme of things.
The audio also compliments the style of the game. Every sound effect feels balanced and fits well with the world, right down to the footsteps of the titular characters. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the music. While the techno title theme and jazzy elevator tune are both highlights, the music that plays in the levels is neither memorable nor catchy. It was so toned down and bland that I didn't even notice that it was there many times.
In my playthrough of Shift Happens, I had a great time with it (so long as I was playing with a friend). The fairly lengthy campaign is met with some brilliant ideas in terms of gameplay. The bonus levels encouraged me to find more cubes, and that gave me more time out of the game. However, a lackluster single player campaign and a lack of variety throughout the memorable levels didn't hook me, leaving Shift Happens to be a "one and done" experience. That's not to say that it isn't a fun time, there just isn't much incentive to keep you coming back for more.
|+ Great co-op gameplay||– Lackluster single-player|
|+ Challenging bonus levels||– Somewhat repetitive|
|+ Intuitive mechanics||– Slight frame rate problems|