SHIFT Extended is an easy game to like. Its minimalistic art style reminds me of Exit and the challenges faced by the Subject might have been conceived by GladOS herself. You’ll be dodging spikes and taking leaps of faith while making your way to the exit in each of 120 rooms.
What sets SHIFT apart from other puzzle games is the core mechanic of inversion. The monochrome visuals are absolutely critical to the execution of the gameplay. Pressing the bumpers reverses gravity and the Subject’s alignment with the world around him. By shifting from black to white, pits become platforms and previously unreachable objects (which are unaffected by gravity) are suddenly within reach.
Items come in three flavors: key orbs unlock areas, while sometimes creating new alignment-neutral platforms; light bulb orbs remove checkerboard areas that the Subject cannot walk or shift through; and the half-and-half orbs shift some of the room itself creating new passages.
The hallmark of a good puzzle game is the way a player is trained to understand the rules of the world so innately that the challenge is about solving the puzzle, not remembering how to interact with the environment. The rapid changes in alignment were disorienting to me at first but, a few rooms in, the core concepts of the game became second nature. In this regard, SHIFT is masterful. Often while playing, I found myself coming back to the same word: clever.
Each room takes up the entire screen and no more. This was an extremely good decision. The world changes with orb collection and not being able to see everything at once would create unneeded confusion. The music, like the visuals, is minimalistic. The same bit of music plays throughout each level, which leads to a riff that sounds upon successfully reaching the exit door. There is only one sound effect: the splat of the Subject meeting his untimely demise. You won’t here this too often until you reach the last third of the game.
Unfortunately, the control scheme follows the minimalist theme: left and right on the D-Pad move horizontally (no thumbstick option), X jumps, and the bumpers shift. The platforming elements of the game are extremely floating, making rooms requiring timed jumps or leaps into narrow passages extremely frustrating. SHIFT shines when tapping into your intellect, but stumbles severely when asking the player to maneuver quickly.
Each room seemed to have only one correct solution. This makes the score awarded at the completion of each room inconsequential. There is little incentive in returning to previously completed levels as the only possible improvement is speed.
I completed SHIFT Extended’s 120 levels in a few hours, with a disproportionate amount of time invested in the last 30 rooms (where the platforming becomes more prominent). I finished the first 70 or so rooms in about an hour. The asking price of $3.99 seems a bit steep for about three hours of game time, considering many of the levels are available online in the original flash game.
SHIFT is an interesting game featuring a bit of humor and crafty puzzles using a single, inventive mechanic. It isn’t without its flaws, but if the $3.99 price tag for only a few hours of play doesn’t scare you off, I’d definitely recommend checking it out.
Review copy provided by publisher.