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Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Rock Pocket Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2 (Local and Online)
Genre: Platformer (2D)/ Puzzle/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

There's a good game at the heart of Shiftlings. The idea that lies at the very heart of this troubled puzzle platformer is a well-founded one, as well as a decent foundation for what could have been an instant classic. But charm and good intentions can only take a game so far, and what we're left with is a slow-paced, deeply frustrating one-trick pony.

Visually, Shiftlings gets the job done, though its goofy aesthetic has been done time and again. The two alien "techies" (read: janitors) are expressive and evoke The Three Stooges in their scowling jerk/grinning idiot routine, but that's really only true in the cutscenes; during gameplay, the two are pretty much the same character. Nothing in this game is evocative of what a "next-gen" game should look like; it could have been right at home on the Xbox 360, if not the original Xbox. But it is undoubtedly pleasing to the eye, from the wacky visuals, comedic details, and varied environments explored over the course of the story.

Much of the same can be said about Shiftlings's audio design. It's mostly made up of inoffensive synthesizer tracks that do their best to fit the current mood and environment. And it does an admirable job, though it won't be anything I'll be wanting to listen to when I'm not playing the game. Voice acting is decent fare that sounds like it's straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Host Zookod Neutrino is a smarmy jackass that isn't afraid to add some occasionally hostile color commentary to the proceedings.


Fault Shiftlings for everything it gets wrong, but it's got a lot of spirit to it. Its story doesn't really require a framing device, but what's here is decidedly Ratchet & Clank-esque, only not nearly as funny. Zookod Neutrino is the host of the eponymous reality television series, which follows around two dimwitted blobby-looking humanoids on their daily work. But when one of them gets a hold of a bottle of Black Hola Cola, the universe's fizziest drink, things literally go pear-shaped. Disregard the blatant violation of the laws of physics and simply accept that the little idiot is increased manifold in size and weight. Apparently in this world, gas equals weight and size. And what's even crazier is that the hose that tethers the two together allows them to shift the gas between themselves at will. Ew...

Shiftlings is a puzzle platformer that charges you with helping the two techies reach the exit of a series of elaborate mazes. All of these mazes are designed to make use of the size/weight shifting mechanic to somehow get the two to the end together. Platforming is turned on its head, much of the time, and you can't approach each situation like Rayman or Mario would. Remember, these two characters are physically linked together, and if that link is severed, the game is over. So with the knowledge that the larger of the two is always slower, heavier, and bouncier, it's up to you (and a friend if you want) to help them get the job done.


Shiftlings' controls and level design simultaneously make the game more difficult than it should be and bring it down as a whole. Each stage has a number of collectible soda bottles, which might lead one to think that the game encourages exploration. However, the level design often sabotages this by introducing a number of easily-triggered pitfalls that either force you to either forget about the collectibles entirely or repeat long stretches that you've already completed time and again. I can't even count the number of times this happened to me.

This wouldn't be much of a problem if Shiftlings' controls were precise enough to accommodate for the demands of the level design. But unfortunately, they aren't. Certain tricks are just plain difficult. For example, the larger of the characters is essentially a mobile trampoline, and some situations might require the two to move forward at the same speed while the smaller one continues to bounce around. This is mitigated ever so slightly in cooperative play, but the experience remains difficult from the beginning to the end.

Game Mechanics:

There's really only one mechanic of import in Shiftlings, and that's the shift. By pressing a button, the gas shifts from one of the aliens to the other. Whoever isn't burdened by the gas has a much greater range of motion. He can run faster and jump much higher. However, the larger one has his share of special passive abilities inherent to his size. He can serve as a trampoline with which the smaller one can reach higher places and he can also pull the smaller one around, provided there's enough room.

Levels are designed in such a manner that both of the aliens will need to shift multiple times to get past a particular set of obstacles. Solutions are not always readily apparent, so there's a lot of experimentation in Shiftlings. Not a bad thing to have in a puzzle game, but it does throw any previously-established sense of pacing completely out the window.

Shiftlings feels like a phone game that was developed for console, though it isn't. It's not a bad game, but it isn't a good one, either. Its got spunk and a decent amount of charm, but all of that hits a brick wall when gameplay is taken into account. If you want a great platformer for your Xbox One, pick up Rayman Legends (currently free if you have an Xbox Live Gold account) or the newly-released Ori and the Blind Forest, and skip Shiftlings.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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