The Shift series, a name you may be familiar with if you played Shifting World on the Nintendo 3DS, released back in 2012. A game that was apparently panned by fans as the low point for the series, but which I actually liked quite a lot. It goes further back than that though, as the series had its start back in 2008, as a free flash game made by Antony Lavelle, who then proceeded to make not one, not two, but three sequels, all for the low price of free.
In 2017, the two first games were collected in a neat little package called Shift DX and released on the 3DS eShop, accompanied by 100 new stages designed for this re-release. Why they didn’t just use that space on bundling all 4 original games together is beyond me, but it is still great mind bending value for the money.
The topic of today’s review though, is that of Shift Quantum, the newest game in the Shift series, released on all consoles known to man, including the Switch of course.
Shift Quantum is a puzzle platformer, but it bizarrely starts off presenting you a series of semi-personal questions. The Shift Quantum System, as it introduces itself, is made to ask people basic questions about their level of happiness and lifestyle, in order to then help them make their lives better and achieve true happiness.
This is completely inconsequential though as far as I can tell, as all sense of a narrative is dropped by the first stage, allowing you to have your shifting platformery to yourself. You soon run into a mysterious girl with a yellow scarf however, whom you will be chasing throughout the game. Who is she? What does she want? And why is she running away from you?
You will also notice on the stage select, that some of the dots representing each stage are white, while others are yellow like the mysterious girl’s scarf, and these will always feature a girl who helps you solve the puzzles from a distance. You can never actually get to her.
According to the narrated trailer, the puzzles are constructed in order to keep your mind occupied and stimulated, while the “process” is under way, and it also implies that it is the girl talking to you, guiding you through it all. With “Quantum” in its name, it is clear to me that the game is trying to go for a subtle psychological narrative. That the story, of what little there is, in large part is whatever you make it out to be. It doesn’t give you a clear answer, but leaves it all up to your interpretation.
Which is why, for this review’s score, I am not going to factor in the story. I am all for a plot that makes you think and doesn’t give you the answers, but rather has you analyse it and arrive at your own conclusion, but that is also why I don’t feel comfortable nailing down a definitive number. There are breadcrumbs of a story, if you want to read into it, but Shift Quantum undoubtedly sells itself for its gameplay first and foremost, so let’s get on with it.
Like I said, Shift Quantum is a puzzle platformer, but one with a unique twist, literally. With a push of the A button (or the shoulder buttons), you can invert the noir themed levels to their negative space, while flipping them upside down in the process to make previously inaccessible areas accessible. Is a wall too high to climb? Shift, and watch as the hill is now a pit you can let yourself fall down (there is no fall damage in this game), then shift again, and you are now magically on top of said wall. You jump with the B button, and if the entire stage is not visible on screen, you can use the right analogue stick to look around, giving you a better overview of the situation.
Naturally, the puzzles and level layouts get more and more challenging and complex as you go on, with new kinds of obstacles constantly being introduced to spice up the formular, like wind streams, switches that make certain surfaces materialize when held down, and switches that turn the stage 90 degrees. Even though some did tease my brain a bit, I think you’ll find that the puzzles are often pretty straight forward, and very logical. Sometimes you may stumble your toes for a few minutes, scratching your head, but will then soon bonk your head and say ”duh, of course!!”.
A dead end…or is it?
Because the stages are small, and all fairly quick to complete baring a few retries if you do get stuck, Shift Quantum is the kind of game that constantly leaves you wanting more. Every time you solve a stage, you juuust want to see what the next one looks like, and then you can’t help it but solve that one too. New to this game by the way, is that your character can now grab ledges, making him able to reach places that none of his previous incarnations could. That, and push boxes with the Y button… how far we have come in life.
One could argue that a game like this that has you constantly invert and flip the stage on its head could get confusing and disorienting, but I honestly don’t think so once you get used to this gimmick. I will admit however, that I do sometimes lolligag my way through a puzzle, just shifting randomly until I get an idea of what to do if it isn’t immediately obvious. But hey, that’s the fun with these kinds of games, right? Trial and error. Wouldn’t be fun if they were all too easy. On the contrary, one thing I could critizise, is that some levels can perhaps be a bit too straight forward.
There are certain textures you can’t shift on as well, and beware of spikes, they are instant kill.
Boxes can help you connect two black space
The soundtrack is another one of the game’s strong assets. A haunting futuristic electronic synth plays through the whole ordeal, and it fits the game perfectly.
Visuals & Performance
Like I believe I stated a couple times already, the game is entirely monochrome, contantly making you shift between the positive and negative space to solve a given puzzle. You do though, fairly early on, while you chase the mysterious aforementioned girl, find her yellow scarf that you then take with you. Gameplay wise, it doesn’t seem to do anything, but it does make your avatar stick out more against all of the monochrome.
Speaking of your avatar, I like how lively he is animated, how he stumbles when you move close to an edge, and how he looks ahead when you are trying to push a block that can’t be pushed any further. All of these subtle details, make him feel more alive. It is kind of like how, in any game I play where you can zoom up close your character’s face, I always check if they are blinking. To me, that is the bare minimum of trying to make your character feel alive, even if you are not going to look at their face during gameplay.
I really like this game’s art style, as I feel it has truly given it its own unique identity over the years. You see a monochrome puzzle game, and you immediately think Shift.
A funny detail, is that every time you shift, your unnamed coat wearing avatar punches the ground like a Dragon Ball Z character. Totally unnecessary, seeing as all previous installments had your character just faze into the ground, but I love the dramatic nature of it nonetheless. Haha.
I swear though, that the game on occassion skips a few frames when you shift… or maybe it’s just me.
Another thing I would like to note, is that the sometimes small boxes you are confined to makes the world feel small in scale. Shifting World on the 3DS may have been critizised for a lot of things, like the camera being too close to the character, but I honestly found that made the game seem bigger, like it was actually a world. That game’s stages were also bigger in general, definitely not beatable in 5 minutes, unlike Shift Quantum where the stage is often small enough to be shown on screen in its entirety. I get the feeling that the developer wanted to make the stages more bite sized, perfect for short bursts of on-the-go gameplay, which I suppose makes the game in general perfectly suited for the Switch.
I personally bought this game as soon as I saw it on the store, because I know of these games brain teasing quality, and although the stages themselves are fairly short, there are, as per Shift tradition, many of them that will keep you playing for hours. Once you are done with them all however, there is little reason to go back, unless you enjoy beating the same puzzles again.
The game does have a level editor though, where your can create your own brainy masterpieces and share them with the community, as well as play other people’s creations. There are some collectables too in the form of these blurry swirling orbs, one per stage, though they seemingly do nothing. You can go back and collect them if you are a completionist, but I usually just grab them on my way though on my first go. No reason not to.
For what you are getting, I think the asking price of $19.99, £15.99 is fair. Shift Quantum has over 100 bite sized puzzles to its name, so it is a perfect game to take with you on the go and pull out when you have a bit of down time. I would highly recommend this title, maybe wait for a little sale if you are not completely convinced, but when that happens then it’s a no brainer. If this review tickled your fancy, you could also go play the original 4 flash games to get a taste of what this game has on offer. A quick Google search will show you the way.
Gradually challenging puzzles
Great atmospheric soundtrack
A unique gimmick
Game doesn't save your best time, diminishing replay value