The Game Boy has had been going through a resurgence of late and I have been enjoying all the news coming our way of brand new titles. Infinity has just smashed its Kickstarter and I have been chatting to a few indie devs preparing to release demos of promising platformers. Nintendo’s handy little icon certainly shows no signs of giving up on its loyal fans anytime soon. I was lucky to be sent a copy of another new GB title this week. Shapeshifter, from GreenBoy Games, went through a successful Kickstarter in January that saw 900 eager backers pledge $60k. We now have the final product and I have a full lowdown of Shapeshifter for Game Boy.
At its heart Shapeshifter is a classic point and click adventure. You explore single screen areas, picking up items and working out how to use them. It does go deeper than that however, as you are faced with a few action stages and Metroidvania style tracking back. Right from the start the ambition that GreenBoy Games owner, Dana Puch, shows is evident. Clearly the aim here was bring a new type of indie game to the Game Boy. With so many action and RPG games out there it feels fresh to have a new genre to tackle. But how does it play? Let us find out!
You start Shapeshifter as Elliot, a young boy on a camping trip. After suddenly awakening you find yourself at the start of a fantastical adventure. You are charged with saving an elf from a well and once this is complete he rewards you with special powers. You can turn into any animal you touch and use their abilities to progress through the main quest. The elf asks you to go with him to his magic land but you are unable to fit through the small hole in the tree. So begins your adventure through mountains, mines and the ocean. The story is actually decent for a Game Boy title. I nearly always find myself dismissing them in indie games but I actually cared about Elliot’s plight.
I will not spoil the story but suffice to say there will be sequel. So what about this ability to morph into animals? At first I thought it was a cheap gimmick to add fluff but most of the animals have an impact on the story. The first thing I noticed was that I only need to be an animal for a certain section before changing back to human form and moving on. I was a little disappointed with the mechanic at first but, being a puzzle game, allowing players freedom to be anything they wanted would have made the game unplayable in sections. However, spread throughout this adventure are mini-games that use the specific ability of certain animals. A great example is morphing into a grasshopper and leaping around a tree avoiding spiders! Another, morphing into a bat to escape a collapsing cave. Fantastic stuff!
Some of the animals you morph into are clearly just plot devices to get you between screens or to solve a puzzle. This is probably the only negative I can find reviewing Shapeshifter, everything else is very positive. A few of the creatures could have been left out and items used to solve puzzles instead. But it is good to see the developer try and include as much actual shapeshifting as possible, even if it is only to get through a small hole for example. And the action stages mentioned before are worth noting again. The game would have suffered without the animals because the point and click sections are quite basic. You only hold one item at a time so it is not overly difficult to work out the puzzles.
That being said, I did get stuck a few times. A section towards the end requires a lot of backtracking while switching between multiple forms to gain access to the next section. But overall point and click veterans will skip through this quickly. And that is not actually a bad thing, the game is fairly short but keeps the fun pumping throughout. There was not any moments where I lost interest. I feel if the game had been any longer than the three hours I spent on it things may have started to drag. It is rare for an indie game to find a perfect length. They are either way too short or way too long. Shapeshifter sits nicely in the middle and provides just enough.
Anyone familiar with point and click games will know there is not much to say about the controls. They function exactly as they should. However, it’s worth mentioning the controls for the action sequences. I was surprised how well they function in this type of game engine. Each of the action stages requires a different skill but all handled well. A standout being the grasshopper jumping high or low depending on how hard you press the action button. But apart from that there is a button to select on screen objects and four directions to move. If I am being picky a diagonal would have come in handy but the lack of it does not spoil the gameplay.
The presentation in Shapeshifter is also decent. Bold sprites fill the screen and there is great variety in the different areas. Some of the backgrounds are a little bland but overall the graphics are great. Personally, I would have liked to see a little more detail in the characters, some do look like blocks rather than defined shapes. But I also feel this is the style that the developer was aiming for. The stand out visual treats are the small cutscenes that appear between sections. They were most impressive considering the limitations offered on the Game Boy. The music and effects, by Cesc Mozota and Oscar Latorre, are clean and crisp. Some of the music gets repetitive but again, we must remind ourselves that the developer has the restraints of a Game Boy cart to work with. Overall the presentation is of a high quality for an indie game.
The game is broken down into distinct areas featuring different landscapes and themes. The variety is a welcome one and keeps the slow paced nature fresh. This game will not suit everybody, arcade gamers and action fans will probably not get the rush they need. But those who enjoy a unique story with varied gameplay will definitely enjoy this one. The characters are distinct and the dialogue kept to minimum. The level of difficulty is just right for a handheld game and it one you can enjoy again due to the fun action games.
I really enjoyed playing through The Shapeshifter. Yes, it is a little short but there is lots of fun to be had. The pacing is great and the gameplay is broken up with mini action stages. It has interesting graphics and tunes that compliment the slower pace point and click style. Is it perfect? No, I would have liked to have had the option to free roam a little as the animals. And some of the puzzles are very back and forth which is not ideal. But overall The Shapeshifter is a very accomplished indie title that deserves success. Buy your copy now at GreenBoy Games.