The quest for happiness is no easy feat. It means so many different things for every single individual on this Earth. But what if you could bottle it? Would you blissfully ‘buy happiness’ from someone, or is it the quest itself rather the destination that will bring you an eternal smile to your face? Welcome to the Shift Quantum experience.
The game kicks off with a female AI welcoming you to the latest fashionable app/mind prison for the general populace. When you live is a dystopian, cyberpunk, ‘Blade Runnerish’ city of the near future you certainly hope to be entertained 24/7 so you don't think about the weather outside and general decadence of society. It's time to take the blue pill and log onto ‘the Shift’.
Your world transforms into a grayscale TV picture, complete with fuzzy image filter. Rooms with platforms and hazards must be successfully navigated by your avatar, a young male adult who could very well pass as relative to both Prince of Persia and Neo from The Matrix. Your nimble parkour-prone avatar can run, jump with ‘B’, grab and pull himself up from ledges plus hold and push some objects with ‘Y’. Some tried and tested platform game mechanics… with a twist. Or rather, should we say, with a 'shift'?
Hitting ‘A’ (or the shoulder buttons if you prefer) on floors where there are no obstacles will shift your avatar into the level’s negative space. The whole room flips upside down and you are left standing in the solid spaces previously occupied by what used to be the floor in the positive space. It's a very simple mechanic that works absolute wonders when solving room puzzles since it allows you to have two distinct paths to successfully navigate to the exit or reach the many collectable data streams placed in hard to reach areas of most levels. As the game progresses and new elements are added to the rooms, so will your need to think in two planes. Death is merely a poorly timed jump away into a bunch of spikes, but you can retry any stage as many times as you wish.
Along your single-player quest of 117 levels, you will find a few of them to be… different. While we don’t want to give anything away plot-wise in this review, know that yes, there are colours beyond the grayscale to be found on this virtual world and despite no dialogue, there is a story masterfully being told using nothing but the game’s minimalist aesthetics. This story interpretation is, however, subjective so do know that besides a very competent platform puzzling adventure, mystery is also afoot.
As previously mentioned, the game adopts very minimalist aesthetics, dominated by a grayscale pallet and fuzzy TV filter. It is strangely pleasing, soothing even. Your avatar is tiny but extremely well animated, almost a call back to earlier rotoscoping animation techniques such as the ones used for Karateka, Prince of Persia or Another World. You might not even notice the busy, detailed future dystopian world running along in the background, but we suspect that is the whole point of blissfully thinking about how to crack the path to the exit instead of taking peeks at sleek flying cars driving by. The soundtrack follows the minimalist approach of the graphics, with a few tension filled tracks adding a ton of ambiance to a game that is already oozing with it. It was the result of composers Volkor X and Simon Felix using a back and forth ‘competition’ with each other, with each composer responding to a track made by the other. Play this game with the volume up to 11, it’s worth it.
If you complete the main campaign but you're still craving more puzzle antics, the developer has you covered. Shift Quantum shipped with a user-friendly level editor that gives you access to all the game’s building parts so you can design, play and share online your creations. A dystopian, minimalist, cross-platform Super Mario Maker if you will.
Shift Quantum is an impressive and fresh experience among the strange coincidental influx of dual colour/polarity themed games assaulting Switch at this moment. Often crossing the line between art and entertainment, it is impossible not to be impressed by how it interactively tells you a dystopian story using nothing more than its minimalist aesthetics. While we are still not sure we found happiness at the end of our journey, we were certainly blissfully making our journey there. If that doesn’t make Shift Quantum a very successful mind prison, we don’t know what will.