Shift began life as an online flash game and, like all popular flash games nowadays, was ported to smartphones, along with some extra levels. A few months later, again, in a manner similar to many Flash/iOS games, it is now an extortionately priced PSP Mini with “extra content”.
Shift gives off serious Portal vibes. You are a nameless and personality-deficient test subject being exploited by some dark organisation that is experimenting with some new form of technology that involves phasing through walls. Naturally, you can’t do quite as much with the ability to turn upside down as the ability to shoot interdimensional portals through space and time, but it’s a neat feature nonetheless. Think of it as a monochromatic and, I daresay, bland, version of Portal, and you’ve got a general idea of what Shift is.
The objective of the game is to get to the door at the end of the room, which is filled with black spaces, white spaces and checked spaces. You occupy either the black or the white space at any single point, and can press L or R (it’s personal preference; I prefer L) to turn the room upside down and switch to the other colour. This does not work if you are standing on the bottom of the room or on checked squares, so the latter, along with a series of locks, are really the only obstacles in the game (that cannot be passed). Spikes are the only actual hazard, but you can also be crushed by moving platforms, which results in a satisfying crunching sound and a spray of blood.
There are three power-ups in Shift Extended. One clears the aforementioned nightmarish checked squares. The second changes the colours of certain areas of the room. The final power-up is a key that rotates one or more locks, clearing paths or providing platforms. It’s not really accurate to call these power-ups at all, though, because you must collect all of them to get to the final door. Usually, you must do this in a set order: the first pickup will clear a path to the second, which will rotate a lock, allowing you to reach the third, and so on. It’s extremely linear, but then there’s no way it could really have avoided this.
Shift Extended is fun to play, but overly simplistic. A puzzle game is supposed to make you think, but the much simpler and less brain-intensive strategy of moving in a random direction and pressing L when you get somewhere new also works disappointingly well. Pretty often there’s only one way to go at the beginning of a level, and almost a clearly marked path from then on. Perhaps I’m just brilliant at Shift, but I’m rubbish at Portal and have pretty poor spatial awareness, so this is highly unlikely. Shift Extended is far too easy, and this is the main issue that I have with it.
To what extent is Shift Extended actually extended from Shift, you ask? Nobody seems to have any idea how many levels are present in the original Shift, perhaps because of the relatively small number of people who could actually be bothered to finish it. Extended, however, has four sets of thirty beautifully numbered levels, for a grand total of 120. The first few rooms won’t take you much more than 20 seconds to complete, but they do get slightly harder (though never actually particularly difficult) later on.
There appears to be something vaguely approaching a story during the first few levels, but it seems that the developers soon got bored of this and just threw in a few sentences along the lines of “You’re doing well!” every ten levels or so. There was the opportunity for some nice GLaDOS-style commentary here, but it has been completely ignored, which is a shame.
Graphically, Extended is quite a step up from the original Flash game. Your character looks more like a man and less like a shapeless blob, and everything generally looks smoother and cleaner. A “Level Complete” message, complete with the obligatory “Victory!” sound effect, has been added, as well as a crunching noise on death. The music seems slightly different, but still gives a sense of espionage, which makes no sense, because you’re not a spy at all. Perhaps they originally designed Shift as a spy game, then realised that this would have required a great deal of creativity and changed it, but forgot to change the soundtrack. Either way, it fits well, as long as you don’t think about the game’s story, which is easy, because it doesn’t really have one. Not so fantastic is the way that you listen to the same track on every single level, and the same horrible blood-curdling chord every time you complete a level.
Shift Extended is not a long game, but for a Mini, it isn’t overly short. At a level a minute (on average – the first few levels will take significantly less time, and the later levels slightly more), you’ll get about two hours out of this, and you probably won’t get sick of it before then, because despite the fact that nothing really changes beyond the first ten levels, it’s curiously addictive. You won’t be gasping at the incredible quality or production values of Shift Extended, because it has neither. It is, however, a nice time pass which is fun to play, if not particularly difficult, varied, or deep at any point.