I grew up playing couch co-op games. I remember the frustrated screams and cries of victory as three friends and I engaged in a particularly heated game of Mario Party and the long, sleepless nights spent raiding in Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II with my best friend. Although plenty of major developers have continued to make phenomenal multi-player experiences, couch co-op has largely diminished from the AAA line-up. Thankfully, in recent years Arcade and Indie titles have begun to pick up the slack and players have gotten some truly delightful couch co-op games like Crypt of the NecroDancer, Rocket League, and Overcooked. Klonk Games’ first game, Shift Happens, aims to add another title to the list of games best played with another person beside you.
Shift Happens is a delightfully wacky and silly platformer that can be played solo, online co-op, or couch co-op. It begins in some sort of factory, the sole purpose of which seems to be the creation of little jelly blob-like creatures. These cute little guys have the ability to change their shape and size at will from small, thin, and fast to tall, fat, and strong. However, an accident causes two cans of paint to be mixed into the goo that spawns the little critters. The result: the orange Bizmo and blue Plom, two gooey shape-shifters with personalities all their own. They get in a little trouble and accidentally link themselves to each other. Now whenever one becomes big, the other must become small.
From there, players guide Bizmo and Plom through an ever more dangerous world. They will eventually escape the lab and find themselves in a mysterious forest before adventuring on to a windy canyon and then an icy cold cave. Along the way, players learn to use the duo’s shapeshifting abilities to tackle different types of challenges and puzzles. While small, Bizmo or Plom are faster, jump further, and can fit through small crevices. While big, the two are strong enough to move large boxes, throw small boxes (or their partner), and activate heavy pressure plates. They are also tall enough to wade through water without drowning. The two have to work together to cross pits of acid, navigate laser grids, leap large chasms, and survive other types of perilous traps and mazes in ever increasingly creative ways.
Each level contains 75 coins for the player to snoop around for and collect. These coins are used to help determine the player’s final score for the level. If you want a perfect score, you will not only have to complete the stage in record time, but find every coin. Luckily, players can replay any level they have completed in time trials. Levels also contain keys that will take a bit of trickery and cunning to collect. Finding enough will unlock bonus stages that will truly test your platforming mettle and showcase just how creative Shift Happens’ puzzles can be.
The controls are that of your typical platformer: walking, jumping, throwing, and interacting. Unique to Shift Happens is using the right trigger on the controller to change sizes. I was not a fan of how loose the jumping and landing mechanics were. I prefer my platformers to have tight and concise controls. However, the margin for error on most of Shift Happens’ platforming puzzles is pretty generous and I never felt too frustrated when I missed a platform as your two partner jelly blobs essentially hold spawn points for each other. The short respawn timer is also a blessing. It did feel like the controls for both Bizmo and Plom were a little bit tighter when they were in their larger forms but I could not tell if that was actually the case or if the faster, longer jumps of their tiny forms just made it feel that way.
The game is a great solo experience, but really begins to start shining in multi-player. It truly comes into its own during couch co-op. When playing solo, players use the right stick to control one character at a time, switching back and forth between Bizmo and Plom. Played this way, it is a decent enough puzzle platformer but it can occasionally get annoying to keep alternating in order to move them from one puzzle to another. There is no system in place that allows the non-player controlled character to follow along. Therefore, I found myself trying to get to the end of the level by repeatedly switching back and forth between the two to just inch both to the finish line. Playing this way will ensure that you at least complete the game in a timely, precise fashion.
The same cannot be said when playing with a partner and the two of you have to work together to help each other succeed. Seemingly taking a page out of Battleblock Theater’s book, Shift Happens comes packed with as many (if not more) ways to hinder your partner. Frustrated with a puzzle? Grow large and throw your now tiny partner into the water to watch them drown. Not happy with how your partner “accidentally” sliced you with a laser grid? Maybe decide to not reach out and catch their hand when they are leaping across a deadly pit of acid. Hey, what are they going to say? Your finger slipped. Shift happens.
There is a lot of shouting while playing Shift Happens. It is followed by an onslaught of accusations and maybe even a little playful shoving. The puzzles, however, never get to a point of unbearable complexity that the frustration between partners breaks the camaraderie. Beneath all the puzzles, platforming, and spurts of cold-blooded betrayal is a good time that deserves a spot in your list of games to play.