Shift has been around for a while as on online game, but for its appearance on the iPhone, it's given itself a bit of a spruce up, adding 25 new levels to give it a little more long term appeal.
With Shift we are in classic "Prisoner" mode. You are the Subject 32763, trapped in an experiment from which you must escape. Each level takes place in a single room and is made up of classic platform/puzzle action. You goal on each screen is simply to reach the door that takes you to the next room. To do this, you need to do the usual things like collect keys, switch platforms the right way round and avoid hazards. The faster your time, the better your score.
So far, so generic. But Shift has a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First up is a strong visual identity. Remember the stark black and whites of Sin City (film or book)? Shift imitates that, instantly making it stand out from the colourful, cutesy platform games we are used to. Everything is either solid black or solid white and you really do feel like you are taking part in a comic book adventure, not a computer game. This feeling is further enhanced through the occasional appearance of captions, giving you instructions or encouragement, which mimic traditional comic book narrative boxes. There's no doubt about it, Shift looks cool.
But the stark visuals provide more; they are actually there to add an important twist (literally) to the game. In the earliest levels, you are standing on the solid black objects, whilst the background or spike pits are solid white. However, to complete some levels you have to hit the Shift button. When you do this, everything is turned upside down. The white areas become the solid areas you can run on, the black areas the background. By constantly switching between black and white, you can get to otherwise unreachable parts of the screen. It's rather like one of those optical illusions where when viewed from one angle shows an old woman, but viewed from another becomes a beautiful young lady.
This makes each level far more challenging, as it's not simply a case of running from left to right and jumping onto platforms. As well as avoiding objects, you have to work out when you need to flip the screen to reach those otherwise unreachable areas. This can involve a little bit of trial and error, but there is a real sense of satisfaction when you do work it all out and reach that exit. Levels are very well designed so that whilst I got stuck for a few seconds on a couple of screens, with a little bit of careful thought, I was able to work out exactly what I needed to do. Shift is not your standard platformer: it requires you to think as well as leap and some people may find themselves throwing their iPhone across the room in frustration (not recommended!)
Like most platformers, Shift requires almost pixel perfect jumping and this can be frustrating. This is especially true when leaping over spike-filled pits. Start your leap so much as a millimetre too soon and you will hit the last spike, meeting a rather messy, red end. Time it just that split second later and you will soar over it. There are also a few levels where spikes start to drop slowly from the roof and kill you if they catch you. Again, this can be very frustrating as your timing needs to be perfect. On some levels if you make just one mistake, you've got no chance of outrunning the spikes and inevitably die. It's highly rewarding when you finally defeat such levels, but very annoying when you know that just one error will cost you dearly.
The difficulty level of Shift does seem a little arbitrary. Some of the earlier levels I found quite tough to figure out, whilst other, later levels, it was immediately obvious what you needed to do. This is both frustrating and pleasing. Suddenly coming across an easy level after a series of tough ones give you a little respite; although coming across a really tough level after a sequence of easy ones can be annoying.
At least, the controls are well thought. Like the rest of the game, they are simple, but well implemented. To the left and right of the screen are two arrows. Pressing the relevant arrow makes you run in that direction. To jump, you run in one direction, and press the other directional arrow. At the top of the screen are two shift buttons which are used to flip the screen, as described above. The controls are deceptively simple and can be picked up instantly, yet they are also highly responsive. Only on a few occasions did I feel that I had missed my leap because the controls did not react to my movement in time.
Sound is a rather weak aspect of the game. There is a blues/jazz type tune playing in the background which suits the black and white look of the game. Initially, this is fun and quite catchy, but because it is short and loops endlessly, it soon becomes annoying. Sound effects are limited to a single "splat" when you impale yourself on a row of spikes.
The game's most serious weakness, though, is its lack of longevity. Whilst the iPhone version adds 25 new levels, it's still pretty short. The real challenge lies in working out how to solve each screen; what route to take, when to flip etc.. Once you have done this, it offers less of a challenge. There is always the element of trying to complete each screen as quickly as possible to get through the whole game in the fastest possible time, but this will have limited appeal to most people. Eventually, you do get bored of playing the same levels over and over just to see if you can shave a couple of seconds off your time . Shift's gameplay is novel and addictive in the short terms, but it's very unlikely you'll still be playing it in two month's time.
Shift's real saving grace is its 59p price tag. No matter how short-lived the game, there are few people who would argue that that doesn't represent value for money. If you're still not convinced, there's even a Lite version which gives you the chance to try out a dozen levels or so for free. Try that and if you like it, you can then buy the full version. If you hate it, you've saved yourself a whole 59p.
Shift is a quirky little game which offers a strong visual element, combined with a neat little twist that makes it a lot of fun to play at first. For most people, those enjoyment levels will drop rapidly after you've completed all the levels, but then you can't really expect immersive World of Warcraft style gameplay for 59p.
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