Through the returning Sierra publishing label (another arm of Activision), indie developer Rock Pocket Games has released an intriguing take on the cooperative puzzle platformer. The game opens with two brightly colored aliens, where one becomes extremely thirsty and takes a sip of the fizzy drink Black Hola Cola. As you might expect, the alien gets a serious case of gas and his airtight space suit balloons up in size. Being tethered to the other alien unwillingly, the additional (and unwanted) air can be pushed between the two with the press of a button.
Across more than 50 unique levels, these aliens will be tested on an intergalactic reality game show, performing both basic and advanced maintenance tasks. Apparently, the audience for the show finds it hilarious and any time you can't solve a puzzle, or fail at doing so, the announcer is quick about making a snide comment on your behalf. Due to the previously uncontrollable gas explosion, both characters are used in different circumstances, although neither of them are unique beyond their appearance. The without the extra gas can jump higher, navigate through small openings, and activate levers, while the bigger, and slower, gas filled alien can push heavy objects, activate pressure switches and drag the smaller alien around walls and various obstacles.
Although you are fully capable of playing through the entire game alone, you'll have to constantly switch between the two aliens. For the most part, this works well enough if you can figure out the solution to the puzzles. Switching which character you are controlling and which will be a balloon in next year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is simple and intuitive. Certain parts of levels are slightly more complex, especially when you are tasked to bounce on the enlarged character with the smaller one across platforms that require both characters to move simultaneously. Although the starting levels do an adequate job at going over the basics, there was one thing that I don't recall being covered. At the time, I attempted to control each of the aliens separately, slightly moving one and then the other while still bouncing. It wasn't until a dozen or so puzzles into the game that I stumbled upon using the shoulder buttons to move the non-controlling charactering at the same time.
Severing the tether will instantly kill both of the aliens, but thankfully the penalty of dying isn't too harsh, granted you seek out the various checkpoints scattered throughout levels. You'll simply return to the last one activated. Both characters need to be in range for it to activate initially and I've skipped some without even thinking twice about it. With the amount of moving platforms, doors, and laser grids you'll be navigating across, there are plenty of ways to die in game.
Shiftlings was developed with cooperative gameplay in mind (especially the later levels), either online or locally. I would stress the case for couch co-op for the simple fact you never know if someone online will have voice chat enabled. Trying to coordinate with a partner that is unresponsive is not ideal, and you'll end up frustrated instead of enjoying the charming title. Playing with someone else does raise some concern as two different minds may approach the same puzzle from different directions. Considering the characters are tethered together, this could pose a problem when one person does not cooperate.
Although the focus in Shiftlings is on cooperative multiplayer, the game can be enjoyed solo if you want to experience it that way. The first set of puzzles don't pose that much of a challenge, but you'll benefit from a partner for the majority of the puzzles in the game. That is of course if you are in constant communication and have someone willing to work as a team.Note: Shiftlings was reviewed on PlayStation 4. A digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.