When you first fire up Shift Quantum, you’re greeted by a welcome screen and a few T&C’s pages for a system called Axion Vertigo. It’s this system you’re logging on to and this serves as one of the single scene setting moments for the whole game. As you access the Axio Vertigo system, a voice over promises the system will make the player “happy” – they were right. This game is excellent and certainly made me happy.
Shift Quantum might look similar to a number of other games out there – something I noted when playing the game back in April at EGX Rezzed – but this game is unique within it genre. The game’s black and white art style betrays an incredible depth of play.
Every single level of this game requires you to get from the start to an exit door. It’s a basic premise but the main element of Shift Quantum that makes it stand out from the crowd is that with a press of a button, you’ve transported through the floor and solid floors become the walking space in the other plane. Fall into a deep pit and with a press of a button, you’ll be standing on top of a tall tower. It’s an interesting dynamic which makes for some very intriguing puzzles.
Simply put, the puzzle design in Shift Quantum is world class. The first 40% of the game is an accessible, gentle introduction to the games main mechanic allowing you to get to grips with the unique aspect of playing in 2 different planes which are a flipped version of one another. As you progress, movable blocks are introduced. These blocks show as physical obstacles on one plane but once shifted through to the other plane, they show as empty spaces. Soon, Fans are introduced which push you around the level unless they’re blocked by a block. Then there are switches which will switches that change the way in which gravity affects the level. Add on to this the fact that once you’ve phased through the floor, you also reverse the gravity, you’ve got some mind boggling “aaaah, THAT’s how you do it” moments.
What’s most impressive about the puzzles in Shift Quantum is how they’ve often been designed to be fool-proof and are put together in a way that means they can’t end up in an unsolvable position. As you progress through the game and the levels become bigger and more complex, they do start to become unsolvable if you’re not careful but thankfully, the game has a “restart” option that takes less than a second to boot a level back up again.
There’s a lot of content in Shift Quantum with more than 100 levels to complete grouped into branches that all share a theme. To progress onto each branch, you’ll need to complete all of the levels on the previous branch before you can move on. In other games, when the difficulty level randomly spikes, this kind of progression system can be tiresome. If you get stuck on a level, there’s nothing worse than having nothing else to try on the game until you get passed that hang up. Thankfully, Shift Quantum’s structure means that the difficulty doesn’t ever spike and because each of the branches shares a theme, you’re almost always just a leap of logic away from solving even the most difficult of levels.
Once you’ve finished with the content that comes with the game, Shift Quantum allows you to play user created levels and craft your own. There’s a custom made tool set which gives you everything you need to build your own masterpieces. The only issue I found with the crafting tools is that when you switch Shifts while creating, the map doesn’t flip too. You have to adjust your designs to the flipping which would have been nice to see in action while creating.
Putting together your own levels really does give you a deep appreciation of how much effort and level design has gone into the core of this game. At the time of writing, the community levels available online were subpar examples of someone messing around with the tools. Still, if this creation suite finds its way into the right hands, there could be a bright future ahead for the online portion of Shift Quantum.
The main drawback to Shift Quantum is that it’s very noncommittal with its narrative. There’s something of a plot in the game involving you searching for someone else inside the Axion Vertigo game who helps you as much as you help them. Every so often, a level of the game will be entirely dedicated to running after them and pressing buttons so they can get further but these feel like missed opportunities to give you further motivation to play on.
It would also be remiss of me not to mention the soundtrack to this game. EDM meets industrial soundtracks to give this whole game a sci-fi feeling. There’s some very excellent toe-tapping tunes on this game which complement the puzzle solving perfectly.
Shift Quantum might not feature the most original aesthetic and feels only half committed to its narrative elements but those are only small drawbacks to an otherwise brilliant game. This is a puzzle game that’s full of moments that’ll make you feel like a genius, will make you say “Of course! Why didn’t I see it before” and manages to curb the difficulty throughout just before it becomes frustrating. If you like a good headscratcher, I highly recommend Shift Quantum.