Review by SneakTheSnake
"Itís really in kind of a grey area."
It should be a fairly standard rule, particularly right when a new system comes out, that the games on the new system should take advantage of the exclusive features on it. Graphics, then, should be up to snuff. Gameplay should be refined. And, in the case of systems with gimmicks or super-nice features like the Wii, the 3DS and the Vita (because, clearly, a system needs to be more than just an advancement of the brand-name; there needs to be a hook! A gimmick!).
Shifting World accomplishes none of these. The game could have been done on a DS; this was simply a matter of timing that it's released here on the 3DS. The 3D capabilities are used, yes, but they don't contribute a great deal to the experience, as the game is played on a 2D plane. Shifting World, then, is by no means a technically impressive game, and it's a game whose gimmick might wear thin too early on.
Shifting World (which, as I learned when I bought the game, is part of a series) is a 2D puzzle game for the 3DS. The goal in each puzzling level is to make it to the exit by running, jumping and shifting through corridors and obstacles. The gimmick is that your character actually exists in two planes of reality at once, and you must shift between the two realities to make it through the levels. In fact, the word shift has a double meaning, at least in the PC version; it is with the SHIFT key that you switch between the two planes.
There's a story here in Shifting World, and it plays a bigger role than one might originally imagine in a puzzle game. You play as an unnamed protagonist who inadvertently finds himself in an alternate dimension guarded by a mysterious, malicious figure. It's up to you to find out how to get the heck out of there. There are a few others trapped in this dimension as well, but they might not be as helpful as you might think...
Think about the gameplay as such: in order to make it to each level's exit, you, with the press of a button, shift platforms' floors, ceilings and vice-versa. You, in effect, are always standing on a ceiling when you're on any given floor. And, when you shift, black becomes white and white becomes black. You shift from a light world to a photo-negative world, in which you shift between these planes of existence. Say you're standing on a black square. When you shift, you reappear inside the square, in an entirely white surface, to indicate these planes have been reversed.
Early levels in Shifting World task the player with shifting consistently between floors and ceilings in order to navigate the maze-like levels to the exit. If you're ever stuck at a dead-end, simply shift planes and your dead-end will become the photo-negative corridor; you're walking on the opposite side of the dead-end. It really can be quite novel at times to figure out the solutions to these puzzling levels - at times.
The game begins throwing other curveballs at the player throughout the course of the campaign. Portals along the walls and floors, for example, reverse the planes without needing to shift, thus effectively changing planes mid-fall or mid-jump. Arrow markers force players to rotate the world 90 degrees at a time simply by their touch, and briefcase icons smash the entire level together on a 2D plane, thus flattening the entire level. Keys unlock certain parts of the level, and circles containing numbers in them turn on and turn off platforms in the level. Watch out for spikes, though; one fall will send players to the beginning of the level.
It's a lot more complicated to explain Shifting World than it is to actually play it. You will soon get a grasp of how Shifting World wants you to think after a few levels. Despite the complicated premise, gameplay becomes rote and mechanical; if you reach a dead-end, simply shift. If you're still lost, the solution is usually to find the lowest point from where you're standing and either shift, walk through the nearest portal or continue to follow the arrows on the ground which point you to important spots in the maze.
Shifting World is one of those games without any specific stand-out levels, intriguing level-exclusive gameplay nuances or anything that really sets it apart from being a stage-based puzzle platformer. It becomes kind of monotonous to play Shifting World, and levels can become either entirely too simple or entirely too complicated to be enriching, rewarding or fun. The gameplay falls victim to its own design.
And this is in no small part thanks to the camera and control. The map in Shifting World, which occupies the entire bottom screen, serves little purpose. You're rotating and shifting so much that the map, also rotating and shifting, can't really help much. There's no way to zoom or scroll through a level at any time, and the camera is pulled in enough on the character so as to not allow careful scanning of a level. The game will surprise you with death traps, and you'll fall too quickly to catch a ledge and prevent death. Levels with oodles of portals, arrows and other such nonsense in close quarters become an exercise in tedium. And the jumping; oh, the jumping! It's unfortunate and surprising that Super Mario Bros., a game released more than twenty years ago, has better jumping mechanics than a game released in this day and age. The jumping will be the cause of many missed opportunities and quick deaths, and the punishment of being sent to the very beginning of a level every time, after five, ten minutes of progress, can be very hard to bear.
I have to think about it from an economical point of view; the original Shift, a Flash game from 2008, contains about the same content, but in smaller, easier-to-manage levels. The game provides a nice tutorial, and the gameplay features the very same gameplay which, while being a fine and serviceable gimmick on its own, is marred on the 3DS by controls and game design choices too obvious to miss. The music in the Flash rendition is far catchier, the levels are easier to read and the game even contains the same sardonic humor. Best of all: the Flash version is free, while this version will cost about 30 dollars. It's not an economically sound decision to purchase Shifting World considering the bevy of technical shortcomings; save for a few Time Attack levels unlocke as you progress, there's little extra in Shifting World.
Kudos, though, to the graphics; the entire game is rendered in black and white, and this is a pleasing and intriguing aesthetic choice. The consistent shift between all-black background and all-white background might be jarring to some, but I thoroughly enjoyed the cutscenes, interface and aesthetic overall in Shifting World precisely because of its monochrome make-up. It is not technically impressive, really, but I can appreciate the game's aesthetic enough to let that first part slide a bit.
The music is monotonous and unpleasant. I wish there were more tunes to accompany one's adventures in the black-and-white labyrinths of Shifting World, but most of the game is accompanied by a swingy piece of music with a lot of metallic-sounding, clanky sound effects. There aren't many sound effects to speak of beyond the ones in the main music loop, save for a clink' noise when you unlock a door or something of that sort. No voice acting, either.
If you're desperate for a puzzle experience for your 3DS, I could recommend Crush3D a litle higher than Shifting World. Beyond that, Tetris would be your best bet. Heck, one can easily take the time to lap up the various cheaper, more intriguing titles on the original DS and enjoy them now because of the 3D's backwards compatability. Shifting World is intriguing to a fault and might be worth a purchase when the price comes down, but it's pompous for developers or Nintendo to think this game is worth 30 bucks. The gameplay is one-note, the control issues are shameful and the story and graphics, while somewhat intriguing, is unfortunately not enough to save the game.
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 05/17/12
Game Release: Shifting World (US, 04/24/12)
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