If you don’t like fart humour, then you may be put off Shiftlings from the very start, because that is the central concept of the game, as you use farts to help a bumbling duo of aliens through 50+ levels in the puzzle platformer from RockPocket Games.
The first thing that struck me about Shiftlings was how nice it was to look at. I must admit I was expecting something a little rough around the edges, but visually it is really well crafted, with some lovely animation in the characters and main level elements, backed up by attention to detail in the background areas. It brings each and every level to life.
It is the gameplay that has me torn though, because at the start it works really well, each of the two aliens you control has an airtight spacesuit on and one of them has got some serious gas, so when he farts, his suit blows up into a balloon. Imagine that scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and you are pretty much there.
To overcome a puzzle, you essentially need to work with both characters, farting to switch the gas between suits, which are connected via a pipe. With me so far? This pipe works as a tether, which means you need to think about how you approach each new problem, knowing they can never be too far away from each other, but there is some leeway still.
Now as I said, this all works well at the start and you plod along happily going through levels, solving problems and moving on. It is very competent in that respect. The main issue comes later, when it becomes clear that this is designed to be a co-op game and therein lays the problem.
It is a game that is perfectly playable in the most part in single player and if anything early levels are setup for that, you switch characters with a touch of a button and what you are doing and with whom make perfect sense, but later on this becomes frustrating to do on your own and it is at this point where it seems like a shift was made in the design process to focus on the co-op side. This can be done locally or online which is a nice touch.
I grabbed a partner and sure enough the later levels lost their frustrations and the enjoyment factor crept back in, but we also went and tried the earlier levels in co-op and they became tedious, to the point where you felt one of you was more of a hindrance than a help.
It is a shame, because had this been separate entities that focused one mode to the single player and another toward co-op, I’d likely be shouting from the rooftops about how you must have this game. Sure it would need a few more levels created for each mode, but it would have been a game that came out of nowhere and really impressed.
As it is though, I can’t find an angle in which to really sell it to you. It’s not one I can say to get if you love co-op, because early levels don’t fit properly and I can’t recommend it for single player as you will hit a point where it becomes frustrating…So!
If you are the sort of person who has the time to play two fifths of a game in single player, but can then get someone else to jump in for the remaining levels, then Shiftlings is right up your street!
I feel bad saying it like that, because it is a fantastic puzzle platformer, and individually I really did enjoy the levels, especially as I got to play them in the right environment.
Unfortunately this is the equivalent of getting all six numbers on the lottery, but on two separate tickets. You win a bit of money, but you were so close to the jackpot!