Puzzle platformers come in all shapes and sizes these days, but Shiftlings - Enhanced Edition might take that notion in its own direction. Preferably round, and depending on who’s carrying the fart bubble you might be large or small. Yes, really.
The conceit of the game follows two hapless janitors tethered together as they try to amble through 55 different stages for the sake of a reality game show of some sort. Unfortunately, one of them fluffs, causing their space suit to inflate, making them large and rotund. The goal then is to try and meander and maneuver through various situations with the ability to push the toot back and forth between our doddering duo to make it to the end. Periphery collectables skirt the perimeter for those looking to 100% any given level.
Things start out simple enough, with solutions being as obvious as taking turns crawling through smaller spaces or using the bloated teammate to drag the regular one up a ledge. Shiftlings smartly teaches the player new concepts at a steady but manageable clip, while layering them on top of each other to challenge you to use what you know and think outside the box to figure things out. Because the game is 2.5D, it can be a little tough to gauge your jumps and landings, but fortunately this issue is mitigated by the fact that there isn’t really a lose state. You’ll stumble and make mistakes, but the only punishment is getting back to where you were and trying it again.
The level design itself is clever, never disguising itself as anything but a platformer. It’ll help you to focus on what’s in front of you without needing to contextualize it. However, that’s not to say that the aesthetic of the stages aren’t fun to explore. Set across five words, the backgrounds and stage elements are brimming with life, giving the game a very cartoon-like feel that fits with its inherently wacky premise. There are tentacle-filled Lovecraft areas, submersible water stages and the obligatory ice planet. Nothing extraordinary, but still delightful none-the-less.
For as smart and entertaining as Shiftlings - Enhanced Edition is, there is a big caveat to playing this that you’ve likely soused out by now – this game is best played cooperatively. Thankfully, it’s as easy as handing a Joy-Con to your buddy or family member, as there is no online mode to speak of. Not that you’d want to play this with a random stranger; the games fun is amplified by sitting next to someone else and giggling while trying to figure out what you’re supposed to do. It’s also just plain easier when you don’t have to stop and switch characters, making for a more seamless experience overall. There’s just an extra layer of frustration that is alleviated by playing this with a friend.
Shiftlings - Enhanced Edition takes a wacky and weird concept and just runs with it. The result of doing so is a highly entertaining puzzle platformer whose general design and aesthetics meld together into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Although its potty-humour premise may not be for everyone and the cut scenes a bit ham-fisted and overacted, it’s the type of game that will suit just about anybody. Well, anybody that has another person on hand to play it with, as it is best enjoyed as a cooperative experience. Not too shabby for a game that has you cut the cheese but not the chord.