Shift Happens Review

By Kelly Packard, 8 months ago
Enigmatic duos are always a hit in co-op puzzlers. You've got Atlas and P-Body. The Shiftlings. Ilo and Milo. Ibb and Obb. Now we have Bismo and Plom, stars of Klonk Games' puzzler Shift Happens.

As the title indicates, the theme of the game is shifting. In single player, you'll have to control both of these characters. Along with shifting between the two blobs, you can also shift the shape of the characters between two forms with different functions. There's Plom, the tall one with a load of girth. He's strong and can lift crates or break through barriers, but he needs his little pal Bismo to sneak into small spaces or perform more agile platforming. In co-op, you and a friend will take the helm of each character, having individual control of their actions and both having control of the size shifting aspect.


While this is all hunky dory, you can see how easily problems can arise. Transform into the tall guy while you're in a tight space? Splat! Try to jump a wide crevasse with the chubby guy? Sayonara! "Accidentally" pick up your co-op buddy and throw them into an electric fence? Hope you like barbecue! Of course, that last one is purely hypothetical and I would never do such a thing, but you get the idea.

Even without griefing your co-op partner, there are a lot of mechanics at play here. One of Shift Happens' strengths is introducing them gradually and in a way you'll actually remember them. When you first start, both characters can be the same size, meaning you could have two Bismo-sized characters or two Plom-sized characters. After a few levels, that goes away, and the game starts to illustrate the situations in which you'd need either character. There also isn't a "tutorial," but rather separate test chambers, or levels, that help you get a grasp on new mechanics as you go along. Sometimes, mid-level, an illustration will appear in the background of the level, animating a maneuver which you can then imitate.

Pro tip: Do not trust your co-op partner. They will kill you and they'd do it again, too.Pro tip: Do not trust your co-op partner. They will kill you and they'd do it again, too.

Once you start to get a knack for this, the game becomes rewarding and fun. Being able to recognize what to do in each situation — say, using the big guy to throw the small guy onto a high ledge, shifting, catching the small guy with the big guy, then tossing the small guy and shifting into the big guy at the last second to create enough momentum to break through a glass wall — makes the player feel accomplished. It's exhilarating to finally complete a tough maneuver or solve a brain melting puzzle. These are really the two core types of difficulties in the game: one, when you know exactly what to do, it's just hard carry out. Then there's the second type, where you have no idea how to progress the level and are trying your best to figure it out.

While Shift Happens is rewarding, challenging and fun in single player, where it really shines is co-op mode. Since you don't have to control both characters at once, developer Klonk Games was able to take more liberties with the various puzzles. You'll be able to accomplish feats that would be impossible on your own and it's refreshing to not have to continuously switch between the two characters as you do in single player. There are four separate worlds, each with six to eight levels, and a handful of bonus levels in single player. All of these worlds and bonus levels are also available in cooperative play, but the levels have been completely redone for co-op mode and are different than those you'll play in single player. Co-op can be played both locally or online.

Hey Bismo, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"Hey Bismo, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"

There is also plenty to do on the side of completing levels. Each level has its own unique collectibles to find and secret areas to access. You can find 75 coins per level, which are often cleverly hidden, and there are special collectibles like chain coins to find. Time trials for each level become available once you beat them for the first time. An additional star can be earned for each level by completing it under the par time. Between single player and co-op, each with their own unique collectibles, time challenges and bonus levels, there is a ton to do and the game boasts hours and hours of content.

While co-op is the prize of Shift Happens, it did seem to be more prone to bugs than single player, where almost none were encountered. A few times, an object with which we could interact was visually glitching, rapidly flying around or moving in place, rendering us unable to interact with it. A quick level restart seemed to fix the issue every time it happened. The online co-op also seemed rather finicky about connections; while some lag is understandable if there is a poor connection between two players, it rendered the online co-op almost unplayable at points. Instead of just experiencing lag, my co-op partner and I were actually seeing different things on-screen. For example, on their screen, I was bouncing on a platform, but on my screen, I was standing still in place on a completely different platform. This made completing reaction-based, cooperative puzzles impossible. Here again, a quick restart of the game seemed to do the trick, but it is frustrating when this occurs.

Remember how I said never to trust your co-op buddy? Definitely never trust them around lasers.Remember how I said never to trust your co-op buddy? Definitely never trust them around lasers.

To earn every achievement in Shift Happens, you'll be tending to every minute detail of the game. Not only must all of the levels be completed in both single player and cooperative, but you will also have to find every coin, every collectible, and complete every time trial under par in both modes. All bonus levels, which have their own secrets and collectibles, must also be completed. There is also a small handful of miscellaneous achievements, most of them requiring cooperative play, like stealing a coin chain from your partner or squishing the big character with a small crate.

Summary

Shift Happens is a rewarding and challenging puzzler that is especially enjoyable in co-op. The gradual introduction of new and increasingly complex mechanics is done right and you'll feel on top of the world as you grow more adept at utilizing them. Between the single player and co-op modes, which each offer up their own batch of collectibles, time trials and bonus levels, Klonk Games is offering a Plom-sized amount of content in a Bismo-sized download. While there are some occasional bugs and hiccups in online co-op, a quick restart of the level usually fixes these issues and they're not enough to seriously hinder enjoyment of the game. After all, Shift Happens.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Rewarding and challenging puzzling
  • Tons to do between single player, co-op, collectibles, time trials and bonus levels
  • Gradual introduction of mechanics done well
  • A blast in co-op
Negatives
  • Some multiplayer syncing issues
  • Occasional bugs that require level restarts
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 19 hours with Bismo and Plom, shifting, jumping and bouncing her way through single player and co-op modes, time trials, and bonus levels. 16 of the game's 31 achievements were earned along the way. An Xbox One download code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
Kelly Packard
Written by Kelly Packard
In a few descriptors: college student, longtime gamer, writer and junk food enthusiast. I contribute to TrueAchievements as a news writer and reviewer. Usually, you can find me knee-deep in a multiplayer game while ignoring my growing backlog or on one forum or another discussing all things gaming.