Armor Games’ Shift series has developed quite a following online since the free flash games started showing up back in 2008. It did so well that it not only received iOS ports, but Fishing Cactus picked it up to bring it to actual consoles. Now, Fishing Cactus has taken another step with Shifting World, which takes the Shift series from 2D to 3D on the 3DS.
Shifting World stars a rather dapper young man. He receives a strange letter from the Duke of Shadows, inviting him to an unsuspecting location.
The second our hero opens the door, he finds himself in a whole other dimension. A nameless butler introduces himself as the Duke’s servant, and our hero learns he’s there pretty much as amusement. The Duke gets his jollies out of luring people into this dimension and watching them struggle to find a way to get out. It’s up to you to ruin his fun by actually finding a way to survive and escape by successfully navigating the eight different worlds. Don’t worry though, as the Duke isn’t omnipotent and there might be a way to outwit him.
Now that you’re in this other dimension, you have to know how colors work. When you’re in the “black” world, all black areas are solid platforms and you move through the white space. When you shift, the world reverses. The “white” world has solid white areas and you move through the black space. You have to keep shifting back and forth to pass obstacles, collect keys and eventually make your way to a door so you can move worldward to the next level, in the hopes that eventually you’ll find the Duke and make your way to freedom. So it’s a puzzle platformer. Initially, it’s fairly linear and has a 2.5D presentation, but after a few worlds you can shift into 3D as well, offering a whole new dimension to explore in order to find your way through to the exit. You have to keep track of where you’re going, where you’ve been and where you want to go in order to reach that door.
I’m gonna get right to the point. I didn’t feel smart while playing Shifting World. What I love most about puzzle games is that rush you get when you solve a particularly challenging puzzle, because it feels like you accomplished something. You feel brilliant. That didn’t happen at any point in Shifting World. The main reason is because there are arrows appearing pretty frequently in levels telling you which direction to go. Having arrows telling you to stand in X corner defeats the whole purpose. Surprisingly enough, these arrows don’t just show up in the first few “tutorial” levels or even just the first world. You see them in pretty much every level.
Another reason Shifting World denied me some satisfaction is due to bad overall presentation. Now, Shifting World does look really good. It’s stylish and bold, and I dig the art style that’s kinda nouveau and reminiscent of pop art. The problem is, neither screen provides you enough information to really feel like you’re making big, strategic plans to reach the exit. In each level, I was basically finding my way through by following arrows with a dash of trial-and-error thrown in on the rare occasional when arrow-following got me nowhere. The touch screen always has a map displayed, but it’s really too small to be of any help and there’s no way to enlarge it to make it more useful. The top screen presentation looks good and presents no problems initially, but after about World 3 you start wishing you could zoom out so you could have a better idea of what’s around your character instead of having him practically blindly jumping off of platforms and hoping for the best.
Speaking of blind jumps, sometimes they can instantly kill you. Not because our snazzy hero has a life bar or anything, but because there might just be a bed of spikes waiting for him at the bottom. Yes, Shifting World has spikes. Normally I’m cool with that. I like an element of danger in my puzzle games, as long as they aren’t rushing me so I make rash decisions. The problem is that spikes in Shifting World were far more dangerous than they appeared because the my character didn’t jump like he was supposed to. I’d press the B button, telling him to jump. Sometimes he’d do it immediately. Occasionally he wouldn’t. Now, when this would happen when I was jumping from platform to platform I’d let out a grunt of disgust and do what I had to in order to get back to my starting point. When this happened after I’d spent eight minutes on a level and slipped onto spikes because the jump failed, I had to step away from the system. It’s not fun and it’s not fair.
As you can probably tell, all of the above points make the Time Attack mode a nightmare, especially since Time Attack doesn’t give you an option to just see how quickly you can get through a level. No, you have a time limit. If you don’t beat that time limit, then you’re rewarded with insta-death.
This happened to me twice on the very first Time Attack level, which was one of the super-easy World 1 levels. This is a shame, because in theory Shifting World is really pretty awesome outside of those three issues.
You have to keep pressing the L/R/Y buttons to shift between the black and white worlds, not to mention to different layers, to make it to the door. It sounds cool and fits perfectly on the 3DS. It even feels classy when you’re playing, with some subtle and non-distracting, jazzy riffs playing as you run through each area. It just doesn’t do a perfect job of honoring the Armor Games original Shift games it was based upon. It’s hard to feel like you’re making huge or important decisions by shifting because you can’t get a big or clear enough view of the entire area to navigate your way through.
I suppose the key is to be patient. If you take your time with Shifting World and accept that you’re basically running your suited man through a maze, going where the nice arrows lead you, you’ll be fine. I’d even suggest replaying earlier worlds to get accustomed to the finicky jump button. Because though it was a bit frustrating, I really did enjoy myself while I was playing and it really picks up once you can shift into 3D. At the very least, Shifting World is an interesting experiment and helps you marvel at how a change in perspective can provide a whole new path to explore.
Food for Thought
1. You do get over 60 levels to play through, so at least you get plenty of content for your money.
2. There isn’t a demo available, but playing through the original Shift flash game gives a pretty good idea of what you can expect.
3. People who enjoyed VVVVVV might want to investigate Shift and Shifting World since it also deals with perspective shifting and some of the later levels involve quite a bit of spike avoidance.