It is always a bit galling when a scrumptious looking gaming morsel turns out to be rotten inside. You savour the pleasing aroma, delicately nibble through the outer veneer, only to be boshed in the face by the distinctly unsavoury innards. Shiftlings lures you in with such a facetious tactic.
A co-op puzzle platformer you say? With cute, huggable little aliens running around at your bidding? How enchanting! Game mechanics based on fart humour? Graphics so adorable you could rub your face in them? Oh how ripping! Thus with a sneaky smile and a cunning wink, Shiftlings entices you in. But much like a polished turd, the content falls far below expectations.
A puzzle platformer lives or dies based on the quality of its puzzles. Sadly, in Shiftlings they are just hideous, and tedious to the extreme. The mission premise barely varies, and I honestly cannot recall a single level where I truly felt any kind of satisfaction from completing a puzzle. I cannot even remember what the levels were like, they were all so mind-numbingly samey.
To add a subtle air of innovation, there is a game mechanic based on an unfortunate gaseous connection between your 2 little aliens. This provides entertainment for at least 15 minutes, as you wander around trying to annihilate your little aliens in the funniest ways. And in fairness, there are plenty of entertaining ways to die. But as soon as that is over, the game mechanic does little to drive flair or imagination. It just feels cumbersome, limited and overly restrictive. Not only that, but the controls never feel fluid or precise. You tend to flail haphazardly through the levels rather than zip skilfully. The later levels demand greater precision in movement, which makes levels a restart-fest until you happen to get the movements just right.
Some may point to the drop-in co-op option as a redeeming feature of this game. I disagree. Whilst it is certainly a tad more fun than running around by yourself, co-op is still frustrating because your partner will invariably be trying to complete the level using a slightly different tactic to you. And certain movements, such as bouncing on your buddy’s head whilst moving sideways through the level can be an absolute nightmare of co-ordination, even when both players are on the same wavelength. So a co-op buddy is generally more of a hindrance than a help.
To add even more vexation, the commentator is as much fun as a nosebleed. From your ears. He is always jibing your inadequacy at every step, which is fine until he starts repeating himself for the 50th time, at which point you really start to develop a deep hatred for him. He has such a phony enthusiasm to every comment. I just wonder if he would be so chirpy if I squished him under the same giant crate that just landed on my head. I really want to find out.
The initial premise and graphical execution were so promising that I was really expecting great things from Shiftlings. But as is the case so often, first glances are very misleading. There is simply not enough real gaming content here to satisfy any discerning gamer. Families may have a brief bit of fun messing around with the co-op, but later levels require quite a high level of co-operation, which would soon render the game pointless to casual gamers. So ultimately there doesn’t seem to be a market for Shiftlings. It has no redeeming feature or novelty factor that can give lasting satisfaction to any gaming demographic.
Thus it is with a bitter heart and deep regret that I must relegate Shiftlings to the gargantuan rubbish pile of gaming mediocrity. Rest in peace.
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