Shifting World review
I have to be honest. Though Shifting World features eight total worlds with over sixty levels between them, I only made it about 18% of the way through the game before giving up. Unfortunately, it wasn't because I was stuck on some particularly clever puzzle, but because I was simply shocked into submission by the game's obvious design flaws, forced to put it down after enduring a mixture of emotions ranging from eye-rolling frustration to outright boredom.
The game's story is more an afterthough than anything else...
Shifting World is based on the game Shift by Armor Games, a popular series of black & white flash puzzlers which features the rather intriguing mechanic of having players "shift" which color is solid. A simple button press inverts the world's rules, changing negative space into tangible platforms, and vice versa. At the same time the world is turned upside down, so when an exit is several stories up in the black world, it's a simple matter of switching polarity and jumping down to it in the white dimension.
This concept is cool, and in the Flash games it actually works rather well. However, this is largely because the flash games fit the entire play area onto the screen, letting players plan out how to best use their shift abilities. Unfortunately, Shifting World features levels far too expansive for such treatment. As a result the game is impossibly claustrophobic, keeping the camera firmly zoomed in on the main character, revealing only the immediate surrounding area. Though the bottom screen features a map of the level, this poses the exact opposite problem, much too small to provide anything more than a generic idea of where keys and other items are scatted about the level.
Hidden keys open the lock shaped blocks scattered around levels.
This makes navigating the game's levels seem like an entirely blind affair, forcing players to stumble along the monochrome corridors hoping they're heading in the right direction. The game's developers seem to be well aware of this disorientation, but their fixes are simply to make the levels largely linear in design, while also covering every surface in arrows nudging you in the right direction. Again though, this is supposed to be a puzzle game, and the constant hand holding means there's a rather diminished sense of accomplishment when you do finally arrive at the end door.
The game's monochrome visuals are cool, but don't really "pop" noticably.
However my biggest problem with the game is one which I think serves as an excellent example of when developers implement features without ever really asking "why?" Here I refer to the game's deadly spike traps, a design feature faithful to the original games, which like in many other 2D platformers will kill your character dead the second you touch them. The problem is that this isn't an action game, it's a puzzle game, and taking a step back from Shifting World makes you realize just how useless these spikes are. If there was a legitimate action component to the game, fine, but this action-puzzler features such stiff controls that dying to a mis-timed jump is a major annoyance, especially since the lengthy puzzles feature no checkpoints whatsoever.
Oh boy spikes!
Normally, these spikes would be a simple annoyance, though the game's most obvious flaw makes them a nightmare. No two bones about it, the jump button is broken. Most of the time it works, sometimes it doesn't. I've had trouble nailing down exactly what it is that causes the jump to misfire, but on countless occasions I've pressed that 'B' button, heard the little air-whooshy sound effect that signifies your character should be bounding through the air, and watched my black-suited avatar run off a platform into a bed of spikes. After a while I got filled with such tremendous anxiety when facing even the simplest spike obstacle, knowing that my knack for pressing the 'B' button wrong was sure to send me back to the start and undo five minutes of progress.
Love those spikes man.
Special block types can often impede progress.
There are plenty of other oddities abound as well. Though the visuals are interesting, the game's brightness level seem to abruptly change at random points throughout the level, often looking washed out and dull. I also hope you enjoy elevator music, because the same jazzy noir theme plays throughout each level. And as always, the Nintendo 3DS's depth effect is still wildly unimpressive, so even that novelty falls flat.
The moment which caused me to quit playing involved a blind drop onto a pit of these despised spikes, the game's shallow depth of field making it possible for me to leap to my doom almost completely unawares. I'm not sure what the game's developers thought of that particular obstacle, if they truly expected me to be memorizing the position of every spike (despite the majority of them being singular obstacles) or whether I was supposed to be solving these puzzles through a sort of brute-force approach, learning where each unfair death is located and circumventing it on my next run through the maze. Point is, neither approach is rather fun, especially with a broken jump button.
So close, yet so far away.
In short, Shifting World is a very interesting mix of ideas which could've amounted to an incredible puzzle game. Instead we're left with a title that really needed nothing more than a reliable jump button and a better camera. Such flaws might sound small, but honestly they ruined this experience for me. Maybe the game excels beyond World 3, when some of the cooler features make themselves known (turning the world from 3D to 2D sounded fun). Unfortunately, I'm in no mood to find out.