Electron Dance
26Apr/187

Dabbling with… Shift Quantum

The eleventh episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

Hey, remember Shift? It was a big Flash puzzle game in the days when Flash was where the exciting stuff was happening. We’re talking about the year known as 2008 BED (Before Electron Dance). It was a time when puzzle-platformers were innovative, edgy and cool. These envied beasts roamed free on the wild digital savannah

It was a few years before Andy Nealen ranted this:

"If I see anyone flip gravity again, I'm gonna fucking freak out."

Shift was a stark puzzle-platformer developed by Anthony Lavelle, walls were black, space was white. All you had to do was make it to the exit which was impossible unless you shifted: the screen would flip, Andy Nealen would fucking freak out, and you’d now be standing inside the walls. By continually shifting perspective in this way, you'd eventually make it out. I don’t know if I finished Shift. I admired the ideas of puzzle-platformers but can't be sure how many of them I actually enjoyed. You'll find a bunch buried in my back garden.

Until I started writing this preview, I was unaware the Shift story had continued beyond the original Flash game. There was a Shift 2 and Shift 3 released in the same year, 2008, and a Shift 4 the year after. Then there are the console ports like Shift Extended in 2011, Shifting World in 2012 and Shift DX in 2016: a whole pile of Shift.

And now it’s back again with Shift Quantum. Fishing Cactus is working on this latest iteration which closely follows the Shift formula.

It retains the iconic black-and-white style and there will be a story involving the protagonist whose silhouette is a dead-ringer for Neo from The Matrix. Let me just get this out of the way: shifting feels awesome. When you shift, Neo-guy punches through the floor into the inverted world. I just wanted to sit there quietly and shift back and forth. Honestly, that is some good Shift right there.

I played through a number of puzzles and, yeah, it was fine; as I alluded to earlier, I’m not sure it’s the game for me but history has proved Shift has an audience. It looks neat although the faux Japanese backdrop irritated me as half the text is reversed. Maybe that was deliberate to represent the weird shifting reality, but it was all over the promotional material and I doubt your average player would notice. I Shift you not, those players will be too busy punching through the floor repeatedly. And if you fancy it, you’ll also be able to build challenges for others.

Shift Quantum will be released end of May to Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam.

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  1. Thoughts:
    1. The second gravity-flipping puzzle in LIMBO was a flickin’ triumph. Don’t @ me.
    2. Osmos was really really really good. I wish Andy Nealen would come up with something else that good, or something else, but I guess it’s better to come up with one really good thing than a bunch of things that are not really good.
    3. There was this game, Scale, which was somehow connected to Nealen maybe? Or Osmos? I think I found out about it while looking for something more that they’d done? Oh Eddy Boxerman worked on both. Anyway, it seems to still be under development a few years on from its Kickstarter, which is a thing that happens I guess, so not much use asking if it’s any good. But I guess it’s in Alpha now?
    4. I couldn’t remember whether I’d finished the first Shift either, and puzzle platformers are my thing, as were Flash games back in the day, though honestly I would’ve figured that Shift was about three years older than it is. One thing the first Shift reminds me of is how damn short those Flash games could be, which is a good thing. Like Samorost and Samorost 2 are lots of fun, and now there’s this Samorost 3 which is like Samorost but huge, but who wants 45 screens of Samorost all at once?
    5. The ennui-inducing aspect of of the original Shift for me isn’t the gravity-flipping. It’s not mostly done as a reflex challenge (except that annoying advancing wall of spikes level and even that boils down to a rhythm game), but as a way of carving up the topology of the level. No, the annoying thing is the blatant Portal rip-off written narration. Looks like Shift Quantum does away with that… but also maybe goes a bit more toward gravity-flipping as a reflex challenge like VVVVVV and And Yet It Moves and the end of Limbo. Eh, not sure.

  2. Hello Matt. It’s a while since anyone mentioned Osmos around here :)

    I think that’s one of the great things about the ad model, there’s less bitchiness about the “length” of a game. You don’t have to revisit that value judgement of how much the hard dollar was really got you. All you lost with a “free” game is your time. You can appreciate it for what it is.

    I had another go at the original Shift was this post and, yeah, after a few screens I was done. I mean, I wasn’t really pumped to solve some more and that kind of drive is necessary to keep you going though anything challenging. I don’t know if I really got a feel for the game either, an understanding of what has to happen to get you from A to B instead of just randomly wandering about and shifting in places you hadn’t before.

  3. It is almost exactly the one-year anniversary of someone mentioning Osmos around here! Oddly enough, it was me, talking about the level select screen.

    I had mentally slotted mobile games into the “Where did Flash games go” casual market but they’re very different. Even the ad-supported mobile games sit around on your device (or in the cloud) forever and there’s some friction getting a new one, and they go into suspended animation when you’re not playing them, so they’re geared more toward long plays and repetition. Browser games go in a tab and often get played in short breaks and when you close the tab it’s just as easy to find a different game as go back to that one, which pushes toward bite-sized games. Also it means a lot of them were pretty shallow. So many platformers with a twist like One and One Story! But there are some lovely miniatures too even if they’re not mechanically very deep.

  4. I recall there were a lot of suspicions around Flash games, that anyone could chuck a Flash game together and make a quick buck. They weren’t real games, they were in a browser. How the times change. To the point where I can feel nostalgic for this period.

  5. Well it’s the “quick buck” part that’s the problem, surely. Anyhow I would read Jayisgames.com so I got a preview of it.

    OK, here are what would be some entries in my Golden Age of Flash Games series, in the order I think of them:
    Small Worlds (platformer)
    REDDER (platformer)
    Blocks With Letters On series (block-pusher, except without pushing)
    Fishbane (platformer… you know this one, maybe)
    Sonny, maybe (RPG)
    Monster’s Den (RPG)
    Trapped! series, particularly Part 2: The Dark (point-and-click)
    Boomshine (hard-to-classify ambientish game)
    all of Neutral’s Room Escape games
    Grow Cube (secret box with a goal)
    Wonderputt (minigolf)
    Egg Run (very silly and slight golf-like)

    The only one of these that’s really a miniature is Small Worlds though the levels of BWLO are small.

  6. I played a lot of pretty mediocre point-and-clicks though. There may be more scope for point-and-clicks to be really annoying than platformers, because it’s easier to get really unfair with them (illogical puzzles, pixel hunts), and also easier to completely not innovate on the form and try to carry it with a story or setting that’s really not that good.

  7. Matt, I don’t think I’ve played many of those Flash games :O

    I certainly played a lot of Flash crap myself during those years. Of course, the Flash spirit has migrated to itch.io but it’s not quite the same – in terms of payment options and the community around it. You can get browser games in there now but without ads I think there’s a disincentive to go down that road.


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