Code Shifter Review – Not up to code

    Title: Code Shifter
    Developer: LAND HO! Co., Ltd.
    Release Date: January 30, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Arc System Works
    Genre: 2D Action

Crossover games are innately exciting to me. I love the idea of characters from wildly different things showing up in the same game. Of course, due to licensing, they’ve usually got to have something in common with each other, and Code Shifter is the crossover game I didn’t know I needed as it uses titles that Arc System Works have been involved with. Come on, a game where I can play as Jake Hunter (Jake Hunter detective games) as well as Ragna the Bloodedge (Blazblue) and Sol Badguy (Guilty Gear) sounds incredible! Unfortunately, this crossover really missed the mark.

In Code Shifter, you play as Stella, an energetic programmer who works as a game developer for the needlessly cool-sounding “Awesome Rainbow Corp.” Seemingly tired of fixing bugs the usual way, she’s made a game out of it with ‘Code Shifter,’ a program where she plays as her OC Sera, and smushes bugs and viruses into oblivion. Recently, there have been a lot of bugs in the latest builds of the team’s new game, and it’s raised a few eyebrows. A mysterious force is adding new bugs to the game and messing with the work of her colleagues. So it’s up to her to crush them.

Code Shifter is a 2D platformer that has a basic attack, a couple of directional strikes, and a special move. Your goal in stages is to simply reach the end of the stage with a score being given depending on how many bugs you destroyed, enemies you killed, damage you took, etc. If you manage to obtain an S rank score, you’ll receive a skill.

These skills will boost Sera’s stats in various ways, such as increasing the amount of damage or knockback she deals or decreases the amount of damage she takes. The main gimmick of Code Shifters is that Sera can locate heroes from the “Colorful Fighters” minigame during stages to transform into them. These heroes are pixel art versions of characters from across the Arc System Works library and have unique movesets for you to kick ass with.

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The game looks great, and the art is clean across the board. Stella and her friends look fantastic, stages have bright colors I quite like, and I think the pixel art is well designed. The gameplay, on the other hand, isn’t so hot. If we ignore the hero part (don’t worry, I’ll come back to them), we have a less than bog-standard 2D platformer with an underutilized skill system. Right off the bat, you’ll find out that hit detection is messy both ways.

You’ll often be surprised by an attack connecting or missing, be it yours or the enemies. The player also has very few invincibility frames after being hit, so it’s not uncommon to be hit multiple times when you do get attacked. The skill system could be exciting but will become a footnote when you realize it’s more trouble than it’s worth. To get an S rank to obtain skills, you will need to get nigh-perfect almost-no-damage runs, which will require multiple attempts to learn the levels. Still, you unlock costumes every five stages, which is something.

They are also status moves such as super jump, temporary shield, and attack increase. You can only have one per stage, and they cost HP. The idea of a shield sounds incredible, right up until you get hit with attacks that hit multiple times, and you question what the point of it was.

Code Shifter 2

Heroes sound great in a promo or concept, but in execution are nothing more than stage gimmicks. Each hero has a type, which will allow them to break boxes, use switches, put out fires, etc. so you’ll get heroes on stages where their gimmick is used. The game loves stopping itself to shove tutorials down your throat that could be quickly figured out with contextual cues, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the heroes you currently have.

Nothing is more fun than trying to figure out what someone’s moves are, only to be locked into a dash and fall into a bottomless pit. The only way to unlock a character is to find a stage with them in it and then find their boss portal and beat them in an extremely unbalanced fight. They don’t get stunned, have several seconds of invincibility when they get hit, and won’t stop attacking you. That’s not fun.

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When you run out of HP, or if you get hit with a powerful attack, you’ll also lose your heroes, leaving you back with Sera to continue until you find some more or run out of lives. The main positive of these folks are their homages to other franchisees and the remixes they have of signature songs. And even that last part gets boring fast as every time you swap characters.

You’ll get their theme playing. You’ll likely swap characters a lot to get past stage gimmicks, and their song starts from the beginning each time. These chiptune remixes are fantastic, but hearing only the first 20 seconds over and over starts to drive you a little mad. The assist heroes are executed much more effectively as the game tells you what they do and who they are and give you an extra option.

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The story is also a huge missed opportunity, as it functions as little more than an excuse plot with no real development and little character exploration in the slightest. Stella and her co-workers look super cool and exciting but ultimately detract from the experience further.

For example, one section involves Stella getting a colleague to playtest some stages so they can be balanced and fixed. This sort of thing doesn’t occur in the actual gameplay, and it hurts when a vast majority of the stages are simply no fun to play. Some gimmicks, like the ice floors and blocks or the rotating scenes, are quite fun, but those stages are few and far between.

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The primary antagonist, a mysterious hacker named ghost, is defeated with 0 catharsis and their identity and motives unknown. Stella points out how all the major boss fights resemble your co-workers, but that too also goes unexplained. The story never tries to be anything more than an excuse plot. And when you do complete it, you get the ability to play it all again but harder.

Movement options in the game are next to non-existent with double jumps as your only evasion strategy, the costume that lowers gravity helps a lot here, but that’s all you’ve got. Limited options, coupled with janky hitboxes, makes for a frustrating time. There’s no way I was going back there.

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Code Shifter is a game that had me extremely excited when I saw it but managed to not only dash my expectations but bury them six feet underground. Inconsistent hitbox placement, a lack of movement options, and a lackluster story made for a game with a whole lot of missed potential.

It’s ironic really, the game itself is the antithesis of what the in-game developers were attempting to make. Code Shifter does have some fun things in there, but that small dose isn’t enough to make up for the fact that most of the game is mediocre at best and frustrating at worst.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter