I always believe that a really great puzzle game is the type that slowly reels you in, gently teaching you the mechanics whilst making you believe that you’re actually quite clever. Then, before you know it you’re hooked, and then at that point the game hits you with all it has, making you feel like the stupidest person alive. Shift Quantum is one of those games, but it does a sterling job of never quite over-testing your ability and patience. Developed by Fishing Cactus, Shift Quantum is the spiritual successor to the Shift series of flash games from the late 2000s. The game is available on Xbox One, PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch, and this review is from the Xbox One version.
It all starts off relatively simply. The premise of Shift Quantum is your character’s ability to shift between dimensions, namely the black and white areas of the level. If your character is in the black dimension a shift will cause the level to flip vertically around you, leaving you in the White dimension. The aim is to navigate your way through to reach the exit. As you shift, previously unreachable areas open up to you. Each level also has glitches to collect, which of course means more shifting to reach those areas.
As you progress further, the difficulty increases and introduces spikes, moveable blocks and switches. And this is where Shift Quantum opens up to be a lot deeper and more interesting than it first looks. You see, the black and white moveable blocks are not just a means to reach higher ledges. When they are used correctly they can also bridge gaps in the environment when you shift, opening up that path to the exit. The switches turn fixed platforms on and off which can drop blocks, which again, opens up new areas. You will find yourself being mentally challenged but very rarely will you find yourself becoming completely stuck.
Shift Quantum also has a narrative running alongside the puzzles, with a mysterious girl making an appearance and intriguing you to push forward. The game is monochromatic by design, with only a few splashes of colour accompanying the sequences with the girl. It also has a Futuristic vibe as the levels are set against a Blade Runner-esque cityscape, complete with flying cars. The music runs alongside the game constantly and I did have to search through the menus in order to turn it off, as I found it distracted me.
Once you reach about 50% completion the difficulty really ramps up, and this is where you will find yourself really being tested. Added to what you have already learned are switches that turn the level through ninety degrees, and tractor beams that pull you towards spikes. There are also blocks that gravitate in certain directions and you will need to rotate the level, navigate the switches in order to get the block into the tractor beam, all in order to avoid the spikes. And the weird (but great) thing is that all this feels very natural. Not once have I felt the need to scour the internet for assistance.
The developers have also included a level designer to the game, meaning once you’ve finished the main story there will hopefully be lots of user generated content to plough through, and design yourself if you are the creative kind. If you like puzzle games I would highly recommend Shift Quantum. It’s a very likeable and well designed game which both myself and my thirteen year old son have really enjoyed. It’s difficult to really pick any major faults. My only criticism (apart from the music) is that after playing and completing a few levels I felt like I needed a break, as it can be mentally draining. I also would have liked more levels that included the mysterious girl, as this would have added a bit more variety and interest to the levels.