Shift DX is a puzzle platformer that blurs the line between black and white, literally. In each monochrome level, your goal is to guide your character to the exit door. While running and jumping over blocks and spikes may sound simple, the key puzzle mechanic is anything but. With the press of a button, you can phase through the floor and flip the world upside-down.
In order to illustrate this mind-bending concept, you first have to understand that your character is a black silhouetted figure. Any platforms and walls that are also black are solid, and any white on the stage represents your background. When you shift, you go through the floor below you. You then emerge upside-down on the other side as a white figure, so all of the level’s white parts are now solid. Likewise, the black platforms you were once standing on become your background. The game wisely rotates the screen’s orientation by 180 degrees when you shift so that you don’t have to play upside-down.
Shift DX is thankfully easier to play than it is to explain. That said, you need spatial reasoning and patience to enjoy it. The constant reorientations are difficult to comprehend at first, but the game eases you along to ensure that you understand the concept. Learning to fall down a pit, then shift and emerge on top of a platform, is very satisfying. Once you get past the initial levels, the game introduces new mechanics that keep puzzles challenging. For example, there are keys that open locked doors and switches that cause blocks to disappear or reappear. There are also arrows that instantly alter the field’s gravitation, though the continuous rotation made me dizzy.
Even though I’ve mostly focused on the puzzle elements, the game never forgets that it’s a platformer. Even if you’ve shifted all over a stage, its final solution may boil down to making a death-defying jump over a row of spikes. Although each level generally has a single solution, there are memorable spots where the game invites you to make difficult jumps or risky falls to more efficiently reach the door. Shift DX is a rare example of a game that gives equal representation to puzzle and platforming.
Surprisingly, the game’s difficulty fluctuates from stage to stage. There are some levels that may take over an hour to figure out, immediately followed by others that you can solve within seconds. You are allowed to place one checkpoint per area, which you can return to if you make a mistake or die. Unfortunately, the system won’t help you in some of the later puzzles’ un-winnable situations. These endgame challenges often trap you in pits that you can’t shift out of or force you to push switches in an exact order. Making mistakes here is nearly unavoidable, and figuring out the answer sometimes requires trial-and-error. Unfortunately, you can’t proceed unless you solve the puzzle, which can fatigue you.
Believe it or not, one of the biggest motivators to play through the game was its underlying story of a scientist pitting your unfortunate character through a series of trials. I have to give credit to Shift DX for its genuine form of storytelling. There is text riddled across the background that represents the scientist talking to you, mocking you, and explaining why you’re in this mess. Though much of it is tongue-in-cheek, the story gets remarkably dark as you learn the truth behind these bizarre experiments.
Shift DX gives you a lot of bang for your buck. It includes every puzzle from the Shift series’ first two Flash games in addition to over 100 original puzzles. You can also play a built-in challenge mode that awards you trophies based on how many times you’ve jumped or shifted. If that wasn’t enough, an intuitive level editor lets you use the touchscreen to make your own custom challenges and share them via QR codes. You can even play and edit other players’ creations by scanning their codes, which works wonders to prolong the experience.
The graphics are simplistic but effective. Through its dual-color grid system, you can always tell which blocks are solid or not. My one complaint is the distracting border on the sides of the screen that mask the game’s full-screen resolution. There is no discernible line between where the playfield ends and where the unreachable border begins (unlike what these screenshots show you). There were times when I bumped into the border, thinking I could reach that area. Thankfully, this issue is relieved through the game’s unlockable color palettes. In addition to these fun color swaps, you can unlock hidden avatars from other indie games to spice things up. The upbeat jazz music sounds like it was lifted from a spy or heist movie, which is high praise. Even though there are only a handful of songs, the catchy tunes never got old and actually inspired me to stick through the game’s harder puzzles.
Shift DX takes one premise and remarkably makes it last for 200+ levels. Its healthy mix of spatial reasoning and platforming obstacles effectively tests your mind and reflexes. I’m convinced that this game stimulates a part of your brain that you rarely use, and it feels great. If you are even a casual fan of puzzle platformers, Shift DX will turn your world upside-down.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!