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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Review: Shiftlings Enhanced Edition

Two yo-yo dieting intergalactic janitors star in this puzzle platformer from Rock Pocket Games.

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Shiftlings: Enhanced Edition
Rock Pocket Games | Nintendo Switch | Digital Only
1-2 Players (Local Only)
Reviewed by: Curtis Chapman | 1st February 2018

Developers Commentary by: Natascha Röösli - Rock Pocket Games

* Review Code Provided by: Rock Pocket Games *

Nintendo Play is joined by Natascha Röösli - Assistant Producer at Rock Pocket Games
for the included Developers Commentary.

A pair of bumbling janitors unknowingly take centre stage for an intergalactic reality TV show in the new Switch title, Shiftlings, hitting the eShop this week. Dubbed the “Enhanced Edition” of the initial 2015 release, have Rock Pocket Games delivered an updated version of a quality puzzle platformer for Nintendo’s newest console?

Double acts; whether it’s Laurel and Hardy or Abbot and Costello (or if you’d like a less classic reference from sometime in the last two decades, try Mitchell and Webb of Peep Show fame) there’s always been a perfect balance between slapstick and straight-laced that never fails to send the audience into hysterics. Regardless of what off-the-wall or precarious situation the comedic duos may find themselves in, they are fully aware that their sole purpose is to entertain and enthral the masses, all of whom are sitting and watching from behind a screen somewhere. But what if that wasn’t the case?

Well for the unlucky stars of Shiftlings it certainly isn’t. Presented by Zoodok, a wise cracking, smart talking purple presenter from a planet far away, the reality TV show (which shares the games title) Shiftlings follows the team of janitors around the galaxy as they attend to their seemingly perilous custodial duties, all the while clueless as to the millions of people tuning in to watch the pair fail to realise the connection between the orchestrated nature of the tasks they have to perform, the puzzles they have to solve and the pitfalls they have to navigate in the process.

Natascha: The initital game idea for the mechanics was actually done for a game jam here in Norway. We had one week to come up with a game idea that would fit "Size Matters". That is where the mechanics idea came from. We then also thought that it would be really fun to have a story to frame everything. Why is one of them big, what are they doing on those planets, what is their background? Obviously it's not a story driven game but we wanted for the characters to have a bit of background and incentive. So we came up with the Live Game Show which follows our two ignorant and unlikely heroes through their tasks :)

The main game is a well tuned, slow-paced puzzle platformer that requires the player to switch control between both janitors who are tethered together by an air hose. Due to some hijacks involving the universes fizziest cola, one of the suits is constantly filled with a gas which can be passed freely between the pair, inflating one as it deflates the other. In an inflated state, the character is heavy and can move large loads, while being deflated allows the character to jump higher and bounce atop of his rotund friend.

The goal is the same in each level; hunt for a control panel, activate it and then exit through the newly created portal to end the level. Both characters must be present at the panel to activate it, and then again at the exit to leave. Getting to the control panel is no easy task as you must constantly play to the advantages of being both little and large to activate the triggers, navigate tight spaces and avoid breaking the hose that bonds you together.

Natascha: The description is spot on, we love it :)

Hidden within each of the levels are three cola bottles collectibles; with the game requiring you to find a set amount to progress. This adds an element of replayability to a fairly linear title though sadly the game makes it all too easy to find these bottles, going as far as pointing them out whenever you bring up the map on each level. Although this can be turned off from the options menu the game never makes you aware of this fact.

Containing 55 levels split evenly across 5 worlds there is plenty to challenge you, with the game doing a good job of maintaining a constant and comfortable difficulty curve. While almost infinitesimally more fun with a partner by your side, the game is still both entertaining and engaging even if no one will play with you. Do note though that due to the constant switching and inflating of characters, coupled with the button placements, you may throw your controller (or Switch if playing Handheld) a few times out of frustration when you accidently inflate your character instead of switching, or vice-versa.

Natascha: We have actually tried a lot of different control schemes, including having one stick per character in single player mode. After a lot of testing and feedback we did settle in the one we have now, which we feel is the most convenient one. It might need a bit of getting used to but we feel that it becomes second nature quite quickly. :)

Being the Enhanced Edition, the Switch version touts an impressive list of updated features in comparison to the games original release, with the main draws being an updated level design to help with the games flow, HD Rumble and clearer help markers to indicate the locations of collectibles or interactive items. One of the most impressive additions, however, is something as mundane as an option in the games settings menu.

“Power Saver Mode” gives the player the option to choose between playing through Shiftlings in the full-fat 60fps or instead, allowing them to opt into playing to a reduced 30fps, with obvious gains to the battery life of the console when not in the dock. That kind of choice for those who prefer to play in handheld but are still close enough to be tethered to a power outlet while playing is a welcome addition and goes a long way in closing the massive divide in power between docked and handheld modes and the power vs. Battery life toggle is definitely an implementation that all developers should consider when developing their titles.

Natascha: There is not a huge impact on the battery performance when switching to 30fps. We added the feature as a simple way to gain some extra play time.

Shiftlings looks absolutely beautiful in both Docked and Handheld mode, with the game's cartoon-like graphical aesthetics perfectly suited for hiding a multitude of the rough edges often encountered when taking a more detailed approach to art on Nintendo’s hybrid. The games audio perfectly complements the overall look and feel. Each level contains wonderfully animated cut-scenes that go a long way in adding a layer of polish that help the game stand toe to toe with anything else on the system to date.

Multiplayer is a local only affair though it does allow the second player to Drop-in and out at any point during single player. While the game does support two full sized controllers the button layout is so simple that split Joy Con work feels just as comfortable. It’s a shame that online multiplayer wasn’t included in the title but in a game requiring so much in the way of player communication it may have stumbled and fell, due in full to Nintendo’s unfortunately dismal online network in regards to player communication.

Natascha: The game was originally designed as a couch co-op game and it does have online features on the older version on the other platforms. We knew from the get-go that we were going to skip the online feature this time around. We know from experience that the co-op is much better when played locally, even if Nintendo's online functionality were up to par (although having Splatoon-like preset phrases would have been cool to implement if we had the time). As mentioned in the article, communication is pretty important when playing with another person and it helps to be able to point out exactly what you are trying to accomplish when solving the game's puzzles.

Shiftlings is an enjoyable and, at times, frustratingly difficult platformer puzzler. With the level of high end finish that is extremely welcome to see in a lower priced release and contains more childish, comedic and slapstick charm than a bus of Rabbids. While it lasts it’s an absolutely fantastic experience.

Many thanks to Natascha Röösli her discussion during this review.


+ Beautiful, charming and well presented
+ Challenging puzzles
+ Drop-in/drop-out co-op
+ Amazing value

- No online multiplayer
- Single player controls are initially frustrating

Verdict: Almost There - Highly Recommended

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