Traditional co-op games like Shit Happens have become somewhat of a rarity nowadays, with more and more developers currently focusing on team-based competitive titles. But while it’s definitely fun to gather your squad and work together to defeat the enemy team, sometimes you just want to hang around with a buddy and have some old fashioned fun while playing a more relaxing game IRL. Unfortunately, not a lot of developers can be bothered with two-player cooperative games anymore and even fewer take the time to add couch co-op. Luckily, some studios have started to notice that gamers do, in fact, still meet in real life and there’s actually a pretty high demand for titles like that, particularly on the PC.
The brainchild and debut project of German-based studio Klonk Games, Shift Happens is a side-scrolling co-op puzzle platformer that was recently released on Steam, PS4, and Xbox One. The game features two quirky protagonists known as Bismo and Plom, who have become inexplicably linked to each other as a result of an experiment gone wrong. Well, that’s what I think happened anyway. In truth, the game doesn’t have much of a story, nor does it need it. Shift Happens is all about working together with a friend in order to solve the game’s many puzzles and occasionally mess with each other just for kicks. The game is very much inspired by Portal 2 and makes no excuses for using it as a source of inspiration, however, it’s also original enough to stand on its own merit. Just like in Portal 2, though, you won’t get very far in Shift Happens unless you work together with your partner.
Like any good puzzle platformer, Shift Happens starts you off nice and slowly. The first few levels are generally easy enough to complete once you familiarize yourself with the game’s mechanics. Things get more and more difficult as you progress past the first chapter, though. There are a grand total of over 40 levels to play through in multiplayer, many of which feature additional objectives to complete and secret areas to explore. The optional objectives merely consist of placing a special cube in a particular part of the level in order to unlock a few more bonus levels. It may not sound too exciting, but achieving this actually requires a good amount of coordination between the two players, which isn’t always easy to pull off depending on who your partner easy. The same is also true for most of the regular puzzles in Shift Happens, especially past the first chapter, so choose your partner wisely because this can be quite a challenging game.
While the bread and butter of Shift Happens is undoubtedly its co-op mode, the game can also be played in single-player. Doing so is a bit tricky since it requires the player to control both protagonists and alternate between them. Because of this, the single-player mode isn’t nearly as fun as the co-op, but it’s still nice to see that the developers actually took the time to give players this additional mode. This mode only features 30+ levels and they’re a bit different than the regular ones, which is understandable. As opposed to the regular levels where both players often need to complete a certain task at the same time, the single-player levels were designed to allow you to take your time and carefully position both characters.
In terms of multiplayer, Shift Happens offers two modes – local and online. Just like in Portal 2, communication between players is vital so if you’re playing online, make sure you’re using some sort of voice chat. Although designed with controllers in mind, the game also works pretty good with a keyboard. Not nearly as good as with a controller mind you, but manageable. What I found a bit odd, however, is that local co-op doesn’t allow both players to play from the same keyboard. This is especially strange since the game only requires you to use a few buttons. I’m not sure why that is but it’s a bit annoying because you basically can’t play Shift Happens in local co-op mode on the PC if neither player owns a controller.
Assuming you do have at least one controller and a friend to play with, Shift Happens is a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I say surprisingly because we don’t usually expect debut project from indie devs to blow us away, and yet, Klong Games somehow pulled it off. Sure, the game can be a bit frustrating at times but it never feels unfair. There’s a good sense of progression here as the puzzles get increasingly more complex with each passing level and you are introduced to new and interesting mechanics. That said, the actual puzzle solving is only part of what makes Shift Happens so fun to play.
Just as its name suggests, the game revolves around a shifting mechanic that allows both protagonists to change size at will. Thing is, when the player controlling Bismo decides to grow, Plom will automatically shrink as a result, and vice versa. Many of the game’s puzzles rely on the proper use of this power, which can be activated at any time, even while the player is moving or jumping. At the same time, you can very easily mess with your partner and get them killed if you decide to shift at just the right time. And there are definitely plenty of opportunities to do that throughout the game. More often than not. your partner will likely find a way to pay you back with a backstab of their own later in the game, so it might be best not to abuse this mechanic too often.
While Shift Happens is technically a cooperative game, it also feels a bit competitive a lot of the time. The main goal may be to work together in order to complete the various puzzles, but at the same time, you’re also racing against your partner to see who can get the most points by the end of the level. It’s not necessarily a direct competition from the get-go, but it will unavoidably become one if you play long enough. Luckily, you can collect a lot of points by finding secret areas and if all else fails, you can always kill your partner and steal all their points afterward. Ultimately, though, the number of points collected by each player matters only if you’re interested in bragging rights. At the end of each level all the collected points get pooled together and you are rated as a team, not as an individual player. But do make sure at least one of you goes after all the collectibles because that’s the only way to unlock bonus levels.
Shift Happens might not necessarily be a fresh take on the genre but it’s one of the best and most polished co-op puzzle games in recent memory. With its unique aesthetic, charming yet silent protagonists, and plenty of content to play through, this is arguably a must buy for any fan of the genre. The game also comes with three game modes – if you count local and online co-op as separate modes – right off the bat and time challenges for every level that has already been completed at least once. It’s easy to see why Shift Happens would be very easy to recommend under normal circumstances, however, since we are talking about the PC version here, it mostly boils down to whether or not you own a compatible controller. As mentioned before, the keyboard works just fine but you will need at least one controller to play the local co-op mode, which could be a deal breaker for some gamers.
It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Shift Happens grow even further in the future, with additional levels and game modes added via DLC; though I suppose that all depends on the game’s success. As it stands right now, however, the game already feels like a complete package and is priced quite fairly all things considered. Shift Happens is currently available on Steam for $15, so it’s pretty much a steal for anyone who enjoys a good puzzle platformer.
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- Fun and Engaging Gameplay
- Challenging Puzzles
- Clever Use of the Shifting Mechanic
- Both Local and Online Co-Op Modes
- Feels Like a Complete Package With Lots of Content
- Controller is Mandatory to Play Local Co-Op on PC
- The Single-player Could Use Some Improvements
- Certain Levels Can Feel Frustrating, Especially in Single-player