Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Code Shifter by Land Ho! and Arc System Works is a cute little take about a fairly large issue in the gaming industry. Crunch time. Set to soon release their four player versus title in the coming weeks, main programmer Sarah creates a program to help squash any bugs. Having maybe chewed off more than she can chew when the bugs become more than coding typos but actual entities running rampant in the soon to release title.
Clocking in at maybe five or so hours, as it depends on how many times you go back to get S Rankings on each stage, Code Shifter was a lot of fun. Blending in a cute little tale of a video game studio in the final month before release and the debugging of issues through a fast paced platformer style, there are also loads of nods to the larger series that Arc System Works have done over the years that are both blended into the gameplay as well as an actual four player versus a la Smash Brothers which the in game studio is actually making. It’s not just about the bugs, but also their game which you get to play and unlock more characters for as you move forward with the bug squashing.
Taking on the role of Stella, you’ll be heading the debugging with her powerfully designed code Sera that goes into the network and her coworkers files to remove the corruptions and brings things back into order. With five world stages broken down into the folders of those working on the game, each world contains five main stages and three extra ones each designed with their own theme. Some are more combat heavy, some are faster paced, and some require holding back just a little bit to be somewhat more calculating in their approach. All using Sera as a base, there are a variety of hero characters from BlazBlue, Guilty Gear and the River City universe that can be picked up to morph into in order to make it past certain obstacles like putting out fire, melting down ice or breaking through crates.
Here is where things get a bit interesting. Sera is your main platforming element. She can double jump, she has special attacks and she has moves that can be used regardless of the direction that she’s moving. The only catch to all of this is that she’s not the most powerful in the beginning. To make Sara more powerful, you have to get S Rankings on each stage which will unlock upgrades to attack power, defense, speed and the ability to have more than one hero in reserve. While it may not sound like much if you’re planning on just using Sera, as the stages increase in difficulty you’ll be wanting more than one more hero because of their elemental attributes more than their actual prowess when you actually use them.
Using these heroes is a lot of fun but it often comes with a risk. Some of these don’t move as fast, some can’t double jump, some don’t have the same level of reach and others attack so slow that you have to wonder if their increased power is worth it. And it honestly all comes down to it depending on the situation. High attack powers are great to flinch certain enemies or to one shot them if they are close enough while other times you’ll want someone fast and who can double jump over a perfect frontal defense.
Using Sera for platforming or going against other players or CPUs for a four player smash brothers match is just half the game. The other half is really the story that it tells and the team work that is required to pull it off. Between each stage you’ll see Stella at the end of the day, the middle of the night or the next morning exhausted because she pulled an all nighter squashing the bugs that was inflicting one of her coworker’s code. It doesn’t do anything mechanically, but it does showcase how hard it is on the system and how far a team is willing to go in order to get the project done. At first it felt like a lot of dialog when all I wanted to do was keep trying to get S-Ranks but it slowly became the aspect that I was looking forward to the most and I was happy with the result when the credits rolled.
While a lot of these elements are great and they work together splendidly, it’s not all a perfect ride. It may not even sound like a lot but when it comes to taking damage? Oh boy are there ever some rather unfair scenarios. If you fall in a hole, you take damage and respawn, if you hit a spike, you take damage and respawn. If you die, well you lose a life and respawn but in these three cases respawning will not only cost you most likely getting an S-Rank, but it’ll also remove any heroes that you had taken along for the ride. And honestly? Sometimes even just being close to a ceiling spike seemed to have gotten me dead and in the later stages I took damage to both that, and to falling in the hole below that because the ground was now gone. Like I said, it doesn’t sound like much but it accumulates over the hours and may cause a bit of groaning.
Taking only a handful of hours in order to complete the Normal route, two new difficulties are unlocked allowing you to go back in and both test your skills further while also increasing how powerful Sera can become. Adding in the EX levels to the mix and there’s a fair amount of replayability especially if you want to unlock all of the characters for the four player versus.
Overall, Code Shifter, while short, is a fun platformer with plenty of replayability with the difficulty options and a whole other game inside of it. Touching on the issue of crunch time with its narrative while also giving us plenty to see and do within the different coded aspects of the game was a fun approach to why would need to cross some rather extreme terrains. Adding in that upgrades are only granted to doing your absolute best, and there’s more than enough to test those that excel at the style.Score: 8.25 / 10