I do enjoy a good puzzle; whether it be on a computer or something like a Sudoku, they’re great for picking up in the spare of the moment to help pass time or to indulge yourself in over a longer period. So when I saw a new puzzle platformer coming to the Xbox One from Norwegian indie game studio Rock Pocket Games, I have to admit I let a little squeal of joy out. I did think though that it was possibly released at a poor time on the Xbox One. Why is this? Because for those who have Xbox Live Gold memberships, Rayman Legends (possibly the best puzzle platformer I have played in years) was being given away for free in Games With Gold last month. Therefore if you have a choice between the two; are you going to take the free title that has been highly praised, or pay for a game from an Indie Dev that many people will not have heard of? I know which one I’d go for. But a review isn’t really about release dates unless it affects the gameplay by coming out too early like Assassins Creed: Unity, it is more about looking at the game itself without taking in external factors into account and giving it credit for its merits and offering constructive criticism for where the game can improve.
Therefore, onto the discussion about the game we go. Now before we go further it’s probably important to set the mood of the game; Shiftlings is a universally watched reality TV Show about two cute but dopey looking aliens who are joined by an unbreakable bond, and no this isn’t metaphorical for friendship or love they are literally connected by an unbreakable cable. What is the premise of the show I hear you say? Well audiences watch as these two aliens are sent across the known universe to help repair the galaxy, getting themselves into all sorts of mayhem whilst they make their way through the 50+ levels that the game tests you with. Now it doesn’t sound as exciting as I’m a Celebrity but some of the situations you find these two getting themselves into are quite funny and it seems audiences enjoy watching them avoiding traps and solving puzzles. Unfortunately though the story isn’t anything other than this, it’s literally just a TV Show with no real purpose or reason given to what you are doing which is a bit of a let down.
The puzzles though do make up for what it lacks in a real storyline as they are quite varied between and provide numerous challenges, you may often find you’ll even have various ways to complete the same task. What should make it more fun as well is that you can play both single player and in co-op, which trust me is a bad idea if you’re playing with your 10 year old brother who can’t follow simple instructions. I’ve never been more stressed and angry, but I suppose we were all that age at one point in time and I’m guessing I was no angel either. However if you play with someone who you can rely on to move at the right time and walk in the right direction, you’ll probably have a little fun playing with a partner. Alternatively if you prefer playing by yourself it’ll give you a different approach to the game as you have to control both aliens yourself instead of working with someone else to help you out in tricky situations.
I guess right now you’re thinking what sets this apart from other puzzle platformers. Well the magic to this game which separates it from its competitors is the gameplay. As part of the intro to the game and our heroes, you have a cutscene where one of the aliens drinks some Black Hola Cola, the fizziest drink known to aliens. As a consequence of this it causes the alien to expand into a huge balloon full of gas, a tool you’ll have to use to help navigate your way through the universe. At the touch of a button you can release the gas from one alien down the cable to the other (I really don’t want to know where the gas is released from and how it enters the other body). You’ll have to use this special ability to help both characters to navigate through small holes, bounce across high up platforms by using one as a cushion and to act as a pulley system to help you climb the heights of the maps. I found it much easier to accomplish these tasks with a second person especially when you’re trying to bounce the smaller one off the top of the bigger one to get to the next platform along, even if my brother didn’t listen 90% of the time.
As for the graphics and sounds of the game, it all works well together with everything tying in to the whole space theme. It’s a side scrolling platformer with a 3D animated sci-fi art style that has well designed characters and levels, and sees some lovely backdrops of planets, satellites and stars dotted around the universe while you progress on your journey. The different planets all have their own uniqueness too with each one offering different challenges, such as one planet where there seems to be electrical charges everywhere, forcing you into timing your movements so you don’t die. The soundtrack isn’t really anything outstanding however, but it does work in tandem with the game and is much better than some of the jokes in the narration which for me didn’t come across as funny at all. But I guess being a game aimed at younger children, they’d probably be in hysterics (I really hope this isn’t a sign of me growing up).
Now as much fun as I had playing the game it wasn’t one such as Rayman Legends that would have me going back for more. In fairness though Rayman Legends does offer new daily and weekly challenges to do against friends. The only real reasons you have to replay this game is to complete it in both single player mode and in co-op, then to pick up all the collectibles in the game which are three bottles of the fizzy cola that got you into this situation in the first place found on each level. Some of these can be tricky to reach and so may take some precision timing and movement to manage to get to, but often you will find yourself getting bored if you spend too long trying to get them. What is a nice feature though is that you can zoom out to view the entire level, which I used as an opportunity to seek out the collectibles and plan on how I’d get them before starting each level.
Overall it is a fun little game to play by yourself or with friends that offers a unique take on puzzle platformers. It has some lovely artwork that really does credit to the guys that worked on Shiftlings and the characters have been designed brilliantly too. But the narration and some of the jokes are something that could have done with a little work, much like the story writing for the game. Replayability isn’t that high either but for the price you pay compared to some games today, it is a mere fraction of the cost, and for the storage it takes up on your HDD (a tiny 2.3GB) which is becoming a growing issue on my console it is much less than the 50GB some games take up so well worth it for what you get. Like I say it has probably picked a poor time to come out with last month’s Games With Gold choices, but it is worth noticing if you’re looking for some fun puzzles to play.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.