A few titles have already seen the light of day since grand old Sierra was brought back by Activision to look after indie releases and development. One of these indies is Shiftlings, developed by Rock Pocket Games.
Shifltlings revolves around Goop and Plop, two janitors hard at work with space station maintenance, blissfully unaware that their actions are monitored by an entire galaxy via hidden camers and a reality show. The main sponsor of the show is Black Hola Cola, and in an early episode of the show, Goop empties an entire bottle of one of their experimental sodas, causing him to have excessive gas leaks. So to speak. This makes his spacesuit inflate, and because he is connected to his partner Plop by a hose, they can swap between who is inflated. This is the key mechanism, actually the only mechanism this game makes use of, and the only tool these to goofballs have to maneuver through more than 50 levels. It is quite simple really, the inflated character is heavy enough to push buttons and able to pull the smaller one along, but too heavy to do any jumping. The small one can jump and of course make his way through smaller openings. And he can bounce of the inflated character to reach higher spots.
You might think that a game with this few and simple mechanics will turn into a boring and monotone experience after a while, but that is surprisingly not the case. The fact that the characters are connected and can swap between who is inflated and not just have one big and one small character to use, makes for some pretty varied puzzle solving throughout the levels. It may feel like you are just repeating yourself in the start, but a few levels in things start to get complicated.
Designwise, levels are well made with lots of different puzzles to solve. You have to get creative and really think to figure out how to get through the obstacles and inflate, move, deflate, swap, move, jump in just the right order. It can be very complicated at times, this is a real brain squeezer, because you also need to get your timing right. However, after playing for a while, it's like the brain adapts and accepts the logic of the game. Almost like playing Portal, you get the hang of the way of thinking. Some of the levels took us a very long time to figure out, even if we were two people playing. The massive puzzles at the end of each world, oh my, it took a massive amount of coffee to get past those, I can tell you that.
The design is playful, colorful and reminds me of the 90's style of games. The animations, the music, everything screams cartoon sci-fi from the late 90's and early 2000. You can clearly see some inspiration from well known games from the same era. Portal is an obvious reference, the mindset required to get through this game is much the same, and you have a the host of the TV show commenting your mishaps and mess ups just like GLaDOS does. Here, the commentary consist of comments so witty and so dry it makes Sahara look like a swimming pool. But unlike GLaDOS', they get old really fast, there are way to few lines to make up for the length of the game. However, the commentators role suits the game well, but he needs a bigger variety of comments in order to compliment the game rather than just be annoying.
Shiftlings is a game designed to be played with a friend. Alone it is tedious, difficult and almost unbearable. With a friend on co-op it is a whole different matter, the game is entertaining, fun and a decent challenge without being impossible and too frustrating. It will test your patience though, trial and error is a big part of the process, but it usually looks pretty glorious when you fail, so it is all good. The key to success is communication and cooperation. Just like playing coop on Portal, there is a certain sense of accomplishment to finally find a way though a seemingly impossible obstacle. Just prepare for a lot of laughs when you both try to inflate/deflate at the same time.
Shiftlings is available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One for $14,99.