If there is one thing that I’ve never truly understood it’s reality television. Why would people seriously put themselves through some of the things that they do for the entertainment of others? Is it the money? Or is it the fame? It is that off phenomenon that Shiftlings taps into, as we’re welcomed into an intergalactic reality television where the stars are two of the galaxy’s goofiest janitors.
Immediately what stood out was the game’s sense of humour. Shiftlings is essentially one of the best flatulent jokes that I have ever seen. Not only does it make fun of the ridiculousness of what people get up to on reality television, but does it all while making one giant, extended fart joke that ends up being the basis for one of the best cooperative gameplay mechanics for a platforming puzzler that I have ever seen.
Things kick off with a recap of the janitors working on their last job; performing repairs at a soft drink processing plant. Then one of them drinks down the plant’s speciality; one of the fizziest drinks ever created. Then the humour kicks in – these two are wearing space suits attached by a single tube, and unfortunately for them, those suits are rather stretchy and that gas that they just guzzled down has to go somewhere.
Utilising this setup as the core for the puzzle mechanics, players will send gigantic amounts of gas between the characters in order to navigate through the world and make repairs to the various broken machines they’ll come across. When one janitor passes gas to the next, the poor fellow being gassed will go from being their normal size to something about three times the size. This size difference allows the gargantuan janitor to press down on heavier objects, push things out of the way, and so on.
The most interesting part came about when controlling the two janitors. It is easy enough to do alone, but things became much more interesting when a partner picks up a second controller. With the level of cooperation required to complete puzzles actually makes the experience twice as hard as playing by yourself, and proper and concise communication an absolute must. But the humour more than makes that extra challenge worthwhile; it was often worth failing just to see your partner’s face as you passed the gas at just the wrong moment, making them miss their jump.
From the opening cut scene through to the various platforming puzzles, Shiftlings feels like more than just a simple platformer with a gimmick. Instead of inserting a joke and then going about the level design like it never happened, here the joke is very integral part of the experience.
– Pierre-Yves L.