It's always special when a legendary developer puts together a crossover game so let's see if Code Shifter kicks as much ass as Kunio.
When I saw Code Shifter while browsing the Xbox Marketplace, I was intrigued. Having just reviewed Stay Cool, Kobayashi-San, it was surprising to see another Arc System Works game release so soon. If you've visited Video Chums before then you may know that I'm a huge fan of Kunio-kun so being able to play as him along with loads of other Arc System Works characters got me excited to give it a go. Now that I have, I'm somewhat happy as well as significantly disappointed but I'll discuss the reasons why in a bit.
For now, I'll describe what Code Shifter is. You basically play as a programmer named Stella who works at a video game company named Awesome Rainbow Corp (or ARC for short). She and her chums discover a virus that's corrupting their newest game Colorful Fighters so she creates an avatar named Sera who can digitally fight off corrupt code. It's a strange premise for a game but it works well.
While inside the program, Sera can transform into a huge assortment of Arc System Works characters via interacting with their power-ups. She can also summon others to perform assist attacks. Anyway, the characters are from franchises such as Kunio-kun, Double Dragon, Guilty Gear, BlazBlue, Wizard's Symphony, Inferno Climber, Birthdays the Beginning, Damascus Gear, Jake Hunter, and even the recent River City Girls. So, if you're a fan of these properties then you'll love trying to collect 'em all.
The core gameplay consists of platforming and beat 'em up elements with the highlight being the special moves. Instead of just mindlessly tapping the attack button, you can use it in conjunction with the analogue stick to attack up, stomp on enemies, and dash forward. On top of this, you can use a special move that depletes your health, rotate between playable characters currently in your arsenal, and deploy assist attacks. Experimenting with the moves for each of the playable characters is great fun, especially when you come across a character with a move set that matches your play style which makes the gameplay all the more rewarding.
Speaking of which, many of the characters have moves that are helpful with navigating the stages such as being able to float up wind gusts, use electricity to power machines, melt ice blockades with fire, and smash crates. Also, whenever you change characters, a chiptune song from their respective game will commence which is a fantastic touch because many of the tunes are catchy and will be familiar if you've played the original games. Even if you haven't, it's hard not to enjoy the music as it changes.
Although the gameplay sounds very promising, the platforming and combat are held back by their lack of polish. For starters, the platforms are presented somewhat isometrically which frequently makes trying to land floaty jumps frustrating. Even after you get used to the clunky platforming, the combat simply doesn't feel like it connects which is surprising considering Arc System Works is renowned for tight gameplay in their beat 'em ups and fighters. In other words, it simply doesn't feel like you and your opponents' attacks actually land. Instead, they just flail at each other and damage just happens to be caused. Considering it's all so disconnected, it doesn't help that simply touching an enemy hurts you. In fact, playing Code Shifter made me want to play River City: Tokyo Rumble instead.
On the plus side, the level designs in Code Shifter offer a good amount of variety as some stages are mazes while others may feature plenty of puzzles or tough arena battles. However, completing these stages isn't as satisfying as it could have been because there's very little character progression. The only sense of progress is when you manage to get an S rank because that unlocks new passive skills that you can equip. Finally, I found the amount of dialogue to be quite indulgent. Sure, it's delightful to see the cast of game developers interact at first but after a while, I couldn't help but want them to shut up so I could keep playing the game.
Last but not least, you can actually play Colorful Fighters which is an arena fighting mini-game for up to 4 players. Unlocking all of the characters from the main campaign will take a long time but it's a fun distraction. There aren't many options and it isn't as fun as a River City game but it's cool that it exists nonetheless. Oh, and you can play the main campaign cooperatively with a friend as well so there's a solid amount of multiplayer options in Code Shifter whether you want to enjoy it competitively or cooperatively with local friends.
Code Shifter boasts a fantastic premise along with a commendable collection of classic characters. It's too bad that its gameplay is executed in a fashion that's substantially below Arc System Works' generally high bar.
- + Solid selection of classic characters to play as and moves to master
- + Loads of familiar catchy chiptunes
- + Level designs offer variety
- - Combat and platforming feel off and can use a lot of fine-tuning
- - Lacks a sense of progression
- - Too much pointless dialogue