The original Shift was an interesting platform game that used negative space as an entertaining hook, but it came with a few problems that ultimately made it feel unfinished and experimental. Now, Tony of Armor Games has released Shift 2, which is basically the game the first one should have been. It's not enough of a leap forward to warrant the "2" in its name, really, but it refines and expands upon the original concepts to deliver a smoother, more drinkable dose of run/jump/puzzle distraction.
Once again, you take control of a hapless research subject in a monochromatic laboratory filled with spikes and blocky architecture. Move left and right with the arrow keys, jump with [space], and shift between the worlds of black and white with—well, I won't spoil that for you. That's your first puzzle. Shifting flips your hero through the floor beneath her feet, reverses her color, and turns the entire world over. Solid black blocks become empty space, mountains become valleys, pits become towering walls. Your goal in most levels is to untangle the M.C. Escher-esque landscape into a coherent pathway and escape through the inconveniently-placed door.
This time around, you'll have to contend with a few new collectible objects. The keys that rotate large platforms are back, but now you'll encounter lightbulb icons that make otherwise impassable checkerboard bricks disappear from your path. The most impressive new feature is the arrows that alter the direction of gravity, upside-down and 90 degrees. These mean that many levels are actually eight different mazes, if you count both black and white in each of the different cardinal directions. It can get quite complicated, although there are so few levels, it never feels like Shift 2 really explores all the possibilities. But the level design is much more intricate this time around, so even though Shift 2 is a short journey, it works quite a few of your brain muscles during the trip.
The sting of brevity is made much softer by the brilliant inclusion of a fully-operational level editor. You can cobble together any sadistic, trap-filled conglomeration you like, copy the code for your creation in text form, and trade it with your friends—that is to say, us. Unlike the original, Shift 2 operates on a grid-based tile system, so levels are both easy to assemble and reliable.
Moreover, Tony has rounded out the game with achievement medals and the usual sprinkling of elbow-to-the-ribs humor. It's comforting to have the voice of a cruel mastermind accompany you while you play. It makes what would otherwise be a clever but dry adventure ring with personality. Strangely, the cosmopolitan background music of the first game has been dropped in favor of generic ambient techno, but even the author acknowledges that the new score might be annoying enough to turn off. Play your own jazz, I guess.
The glitches that plagued Shift 1 have been mostly ironed out, so all that's left is high-quality platforming fun with hopefully a wave of diabolical levels to come, once fans break open the level editor. Here's hoping another sequel comes along before too long to really shake things up. One can imagine moving platforms, enemies, tubes that work as crawl-spaces in one realm and as climbable poles in the other, all sorts of things. This is a great foundation to build upon.