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Shifting World - 3DS Review

Game Info
Shifting World

3DS | Aksys Games / Fishing Cactus | 1 Player | Out Now
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25th June 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

If there was ever a marathon to decide which puzzle game could run the race the best, there wouldn't be enough room in the streets to tell everyone apart from one another. But one by one, as the weak links get picked off and fail to hold their own across great distances, the ones who have it in them are gradually put in a better position to make a new name for themselves. Humor me for a moment and picture Shifting World as a participant in this defining race. Sprinting ahead of the pack in its offering gameplay of a different perspective, it soon finds itself losing steam and trailing behind more well-rounded competitors. Never able to recover from such losses, it fails to place in the winner's circle. Now, such events may be hypothetical, but its reasons for coming up short are not. Relying perhaps a little too much on its main strength and not harnessing secondary features to a fine degree, a host of flaws come close to undermining the very creativity the team tried to use to pull all aspects of the game together. Shifting World ends up being more than a few blocks shy of being recognized in a really positive light, and I see it developing a reputation for its slip-ups rather than its successes.

    The game wastes no time in getting players into this moderately-sized monochromatic world and the lonely stalker who oversees everything in it. By means of a brief introduction to the dimension's quirks and the existence of the boss man, the Duke of Shadows, navigation is not only revealed to be your primary concern. Thanks to the story taking the backseat that it does, it's really your only concern. In each level you find yourself in, you'll need to use the L or R Button to pull off the main character's Shift ability to flip from positive to negative space and back. The level designs exploit this feature and make it a mandatory component to your traversal of this warped environment. There are some areas where you can't pull this off, and these are marked off with striped or block patterns. Checkerboard patterning is the norm here as an overall aesthetic, and it certainly is appropriate. Whether this was the intent or not, it gives Shifting World an Alice in Wonderland feel; I'd imagine that WAS their goal, though, considering the slight similarity in how both characters encounter these hazardous lands.

    At the forefront of all of this, your first order of business will often be to track down a series of keys to open up the very paths you need to travel down to get to the exit door. These changes in circumstances that are then created are made apparent to you by means of an arrow. Similar changes arise when you encounter numbered panels that will activate or deactivate barricades, bridges, and other platforms when you Shift while standing on top of them. One more important feature to note is the presence of circular portals (or mirrors) that automatically send you to the opposite part of the world as you jump through them, without eliminating the need for the Shift ability altogether.

With these multiple elements in place and considering how you'll be moving back and forth between two different phases of the environment, a natural question arises about the difficulty surrounding the navigation of said environment. On the Touch Screen, you do have a map to consult that sticks by you with each shift you make. But realistically, while this does clue you in on the body of the level that you're working with, emphasis is still placed on what transpires on the top screen as it is only here where certain interaction points can be found and then manipulated to your needs. As such, you'll sometimes encounter directional arrows embedded on walls, floors, and ceilings but with an inverted colour to indicate that a Shift must take place up ahead.

    Even with these providing clues as to where to go, they don't always cut it. Players are thus subtly encouraged to be observant, even looking on ceilings to spot interactable elements that might not be visible at certain angles. Still, speaking from experience, you're bound to get stuck somewhere, and after having explored, even exhausted different possibilities, don't be surprised if you get to feeling like you've been running in circles. Such a dilemma springs forth a need for the player to cling to a hint system of some kind. This can be a driving factor towards unavoidable frustration, but how far can such feelings really go? Let's put that on hold for just a second and continue with a few other details on the structure.

    The levels in this game usually show off a clever thought process on the part of the development team. Nothing ever really approaches a level of complexity, but Shifting World certainly marks its position within those two realms. This is especially important in a game like this because the environment stays the same throughout, and it would otherwise be very easy to feel like current puzzles aren't all that different from the ones you just cleared not too long ago. But really, Shifting World is a game that is some parts clever and some parts irritating with no real equalizing effect to take the reins in the face of uncertainty. Reasons for this stem, at least initially, from the controls. Players do have the ability to jump using the B Button, but sometimes the loss of progress or even deaths in levels are simply a matter of the controls not responding when they should. There were many occasions where I felt forced to preface my jump by moving backwards a step or two, and then do a running jump. You can't just jump in place and expect to make it over a small set of spikes or a dangerous gap, as the case may be.

Losing progress by not jumping properly or failing to jump at all can prove costly if you can't remember the sequence of events that got you to the place you just where. So yes, it is a big deal. And just to touch on the matter of spikes, there are occasions where the level designs set up players for failure in their exploration of the different paths, frustratingly sending you all the way back to the start after you've made great progress. The map spoken about earlier can assist here to prevent situations where you fall down a shaft thinking there's a platform to land on when in actuality it's just a row of spikes. But again, because the emphasis is on the top screen and given the sometimes surprising appearance of these traps, you can't anticipate every wrong move. 

    Shifting World contains more than 60 levels in all, and it isn't until the fourth world that you see a significant change in how you approach levels. The suitcase item allows you to change from a 3D to a 2D landscape, which presents with it a whole new set of challenges. As nice as this is, it's not long after this that you start to feel like the game is dragging it out, leading you from admiring the systems at work to wanting to be done with it. The puzzles most definitely become monotonous to a point where you want to detach yourself from the experience. While the game is not ruined entirely because of this, it is certainly hampered by repetition that will surely push even the most patient of puzzle fans away. What can really push your buttons, though, is the feeling of confusion that does pop up more often than not.

    I should offer the following preamble before I go any further and express that this isn't necessarily a sign of poor game design, because other puzzle games I've played have managed to make this element work for them. In the case of Shifting World, though, it tends to create dissatisfaction over your lack of progress and leave you doubting your willpower to continue unfazed. Unfortunately, when the going gets tough and you have trouble seeing the light at the end of the black and white tunnel, you develop an inclination towards taking an extended break from the game before jumping back in. The linear level structure prevents you from exploring other options in the meantime, while the lack of a hint system also has similar detrimental effects when it comes to keeping players motivated even when they're at a loss for what to do next. And it is for these reasons that I feel Shifting World leans more and more towards mediocrity as it progresses.

For what it is, the production values in this game are fine, albeit there's still not a whole lot to them that's all that enticing. I found their attempts to make the game interesting by using dialogue and short story details to be weak and amateurish, and I also observed one or two textual errors. Aside from a few isolated examples, I was not taken in by the use of 3D in this game, and it is indeed something you can totally do without. Additionally, the framerate isn't always consistent, and I often found that whenever you would jump off a platform or collect something important, it would dip for a moment or two. As for the music, it isn't bad. In fact, I liked the bluesy feel that they went for. But this quickly turned to indifference upon realizing that the same song is heard in every single stage, even during cutscenes. And especially considering this is a retail release, I can't say that's excusable.

    Impressed as I was over the fact that I was able to remember some of the layouts and progressive solutions involved as I went back to certain levels, that's about the only aspect of the game where you can say that something sticks with you. When considering that Shifting World isn't really compelling, this becomes a question of whether you're okay with spending money on a game that you likely won't have much interest as you get further and further in, let alone after all is said and done. Everything considered, the idea of unlocking and participating in Time Attack levels was very unappealing to me. The monotony turned me off so much that I found a bit of happiness parting ways with this game. 

    Truth be told, Shifting World isn't that great of game, and I don't mean to say that the game is very flawed or anything those lines; just that, as an experience, it feels almost run-of-the-mill despite the slightly creative concept backing it. At the end of the day, if someone were to ask me about a good puzzle title for this platform (or even just in general), I would have no regrets about keeping my mouth shut about this game. Between the lack of flair, the level of frustration associated with the puzzles, and the unrelenting repetition, I find this game very difficult to recommend. 

17/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Level designs exploit regular use of the Shift ability, some good mechanics introduced, puzzles become very monotonous
Presentation 6/10 - Visual style works fine, almost no variety with the music, use of 3D doesn't mean much, unimpressive attempts to create a story
Enjoyment 2/5 - Many will feel like giving up when stuck, gets frustrating and boring as you progress, not much to guide you through moments of confusion 
Extra Content 3/5 - Good number of stages but the repetition is such a turn-off, bonuses like Time Attack mode aren't very appealing

Equivalent to a score of 57% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Shifting World
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