Arc System Works as a lot of cool characters spread out across its many games. It’s a sort of thing where you want to explore and enjoy what the company has to offer. In fact, it seems a prime candidate for crossovers like BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle. In theory, Code Shifter should be a similarly fun romp, considering it also brings in series like Kunio-kun, Double Dragon, and even Of Mice and Sand.
The thing with Code Shifter is that the fun and joy of it comes from getting to see cool 2D character art of famous characters. We have people from BlazBlue, like Ragna the Bloodedge, Jin Kisaragi, Noel Vermillion, Rachel, Hazama, Taokaka, and Kokonoe Mercury. From Guilty Gear, we have characters like Sol Badguy, Ky Kiske, Dizzy, Elphelt Valentine, Faust, and Jam. Kunio-kun characters like Kunio, Riki, Kobayashi, Mizoguchi, and the River City Girls show up, and Double Dragon characters appear. These are only the playable characters, by the way, and more characters like Jack-O appear as assists. Basically, it is a party, and it is great to see how their personalities are depicted with reduced color palettes and sprite limitations.
The problem is the hoops you have to jump through to get all of these characters. You have to play through the campaign to earn some. You have to complete Extra Stages to acquire others. Once they are unlocked, you can head into the Colorful Fighters Super Smash Bros.-like mode to engage in 2D fights with up to four people. Playing Colorful Fighters is simple, but quite fun! Especially as you grab assists that bring other characters to the ring.
Going through the campaign, unfortunately, is not fun. The story segments have terrible, Animal Crossing and The Sims jibberish that is annoying, rather than whimsical. There is no d-pad support for the game, which can make moving, playing, and even getting combos together difficult. The enemies and environments tend to look rather generic. It doesn’t have a satisfying feedback loop, since you have no control over guest characters you can use in levels. You rely on the playable and assist characters doled out to you.
What’s especially disheartening is that in the campaign, it can sometimes feel like Sera is your best option. Other characters can have specific movesets or the inability to do things like double jump. You might not be as sure of their range until you have acquired them and have them on-hand, while you’re generally assured that default protagonist Sera can, well, handle everything.
Considering her animations look very cheap and choppy, like some 2D flash animation game, compared to the pixelated characters… Let’s say it isn’t a great feeling to go into a crossover game excited about being all of these Arc System Works characters, then forced to be a generic-looking protagonist. Especially considering you have to be her and go
Code Shifter feels like a game that could have had potential. 2D versions of famous characters people love! They can all fight together in a Super Smash Bros.-ish game! But the execution is all off. Parts of it look and feel cheap, such as some character designs or control decisions. Unlocking the playable crossover characters isn’t fun. It’s the sort of thing where I wonder if a patch could even set things right.
Code Shifter is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.