Thanks to ARC SYSTEM WORKS for the review code
Title: Code Shifter
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 01/30/2020
In this action platformer, you take control of a program known as Sera, created by a game developer to combat a flood of viruses infecting their big video game project. During the adventure, Sera gathers the power of many popular Arc System Works characters to transform into, taking on their abilities as they work towards finding the hacker responsible for all the bugs!
Right from the trailers, it may seem that the game primarily sports an 8-bit look with a chiptune soundtrack, due to all the characters appearing in a crossover format. However, this only applies to a very minor portion of the game, which is a minigame that’s basically a simplified version of Super Smash Bros, so the main game is actually done in a weird mix of styles. The 8-bit sprites come into play whenever Sera transforms into a classic character, with each hero getting their own chiptune remix of their theme song, and these look and sound outstanding.
The sprites have great animation and color detail, and the remixes are honestly some of the best 8-bit demakes I’ve heard of any songs in any sort of media ever, and I’m not kidding there. Next to the bonus tracks from the Astebreed soundtrack, I can’t think of many other de-made music that sound this phenomenal, and the chiptune remixes of character themes such as Noel, Ragna, Kunio, and many others are easily some of the best versions of those songs to date, leading to this having a great OST that should be one of the greatest in recent years, right?
Unfortunately, that’s where the more “modern” aspects come into play. You see, outside of the transformations in the main mode, the game goes for this incredibly strange looking art style, going with something I can only really compare to those weird digital animations that pop up on Youtube Kids channels from time to time, or as a more popular example, Tangled the Series. The main characters look OK at best in this style, and the hub world manages to look clean enough, though there are some annoying aspects to this that drive me insane. One of the biggest that you can thankfully eliminate is the way the characters talk to each other, which is in this weird, animal crossing like gibberish language. It’s absolutely ear grating and does not manage to hit the same nail as other made up dialect, so I strongly advise that you lower the voices down to 0 in the options for your own sanity.
Most of the enemies in the platforming segments look solid, and the backgrounds tend to look great for the most part, especially the wallpaper backgrounds used on the title screen and main menu, but goodness, do some parts of this game feel real out of place or cheap for a game like this. While the general platforming looks good in motion and feels tight, a small amount of enemies look as if they came straight out of one of those aforementioned animations, and the second boss fight in particular feels that if I were to erase the HUD and the Hero powerup from a screenshot of this fight, it would fit perfectly in one of those aforementioned youtube videos.
The music is also equally disappointing in this aspect, as while the 8-bit songs are absolutely godlike, most of the songs that play when you’re playing as Sera are just bland and generic, feeling like elevator music in comparison to the music that plays when you control a hero. To make matters worse, you can’t just play as a hero in order to listen to 8-bit music non-stop, since minibosses and bosses force the modern music to kick back in, which is really infuriating considering the noticeable drop in quality going from amazing demixes to generic noise. At the very least, the 8-bit fighter minigame uses only the demake songs.
Code Shifter is a platformer taking place across several worlds, where the main objective of each stage is to fix all the rampant glitches and defeat the enemies that block your path. Sera has a pretty decent moveset at her disposal, with a multi-hit combo attack, a sliding dash move, and a special attack that will drain her health upon using it, even if she misses. With each world cleared, you do gain access to a new special move that you can choose before entering a stage, but I find her default attacking move to be the most efficient.
The controls are fairly easy to get accustomed to with one annoying exception, and that comes from the total lack of D-Pad support whatsoever. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to use anything but the left analog stick for movement, and D-pad usage is limited to very specific menus. I was able to somewhat mitigate this by using my USB Genesis controller and mapping the left stick to that D-Pad, but this isn’t really an option for everyone, and even then it wasn’t nearly as effective as if I just used the d-buttons. Still, the controls are pretty simple to get used to and you can map most of the buttons at your own leisure, with the odd exceptions of the ZL/ZR buttons, which are never used at all.
Traversing through the folders of each of the game’s staff members, you’ll find a variety of hazards and obstacles to deal with, and this is where the classic Arc characters come in to lend a hand. Every now and then, you’ll see a little pedestal with a “Hero” or “Assist” title attached to it. Hitting the interaction button will cause you to take that character and add it to your team. If it’s a hero, you can switch between them and Sera’s normal form on the fly, while assists only allow for one character at a time. There are a ton of Arc characters represented here, from older titles to newer ones, and the assist characters even go into some pretty obscure and niche titles, which is a real treat for fellow fans of their retro/non-fighting stuff, since a lot of Technos love is thrown in the mix.
Each character has their own movepool, and while the controls are the same, each character does things a bit differently, so they don’t really feel like a clone of Sera at all, which is refreshing since you’ll need to often use heroes of a certain attribute in order to clear obstacles or progress through some of the stages. The characters that appear are semi-random, as while they will rotate out on most cases, the ones that are set to appear in certain stages remain fixed for the most part, and if they do swap out, it’s usually just with another character of the same element. Still, playing as these can be lots of fun, especially since they come with that awesome theme music I mentioned earlier.
Unfortunately, once you go through a few stages, you pretty much see all the main game has to offer. Each stage is just point A to point B, getting there and usually using a hero to remove an obstacle or too. Every five stages you end up fighting a boss, but these feel beyond generic and don’t really relate to the crossover characters at all. In fact, the crossovers barely feel important here since their theme music stops whenever you fight a miniboss or boss. And since minibosses are very frequent (most of them being enemy waves), expect to hear generic music a ton while you play.
Clearing a stage with little damage while scoring as high of a score as possible will reward you with an S rank, which in turn will unlock a bonus you can give to Sera. Whether it be an extra hero slot, more attack power, or even some extra speed, these can come in real handy, although this repeats an annoyance the Mega Man Zero games had, where if you don’t get the S ranking and end up being pretty average at the stages, you’ll hardly get any powerups to speak of, though the NPCs do give you some over the course of the story, which is a big, big relief to prevent things from getting too monotonous.
Still, there is one huge mode to this game that may be a huge motivator for some people, and that comes from the 8 bit crossover fighting game: Colorful Fighters! Here, all the sprites and heroes from the main game can be used in order to battle it out with up to four people in a smash-like, and this should be an excellent idea, it should be a great bonus mode akin to the Double Dragon minigame from River City Rival Showdown. But somehow, someway, Arc not only managed to somehow screw up the basics of the game itself, but also the core essence of how to even begin it.
You see, in most fighting games, you pick a character, then you usually pick the CPU characters and go to town fighting against them, maybe even a stage or music choice, too. Of course, if it was an arcade mode, you just pick your own character and fight stage-by-stage to make it as far as you go. However, in Colorful Fighters, the moment you pick your preferred hero, you just get dumped into a random stage with 3 CPUs. No options, no choices, nothing. This is a horrific design decision, since not only does this mean you can’t do anything besides a four player royale, but it also disables the options to pick your own music or stages… And with how pretty the pixel art stages and OST is in this game, just why would anyone think it would be a good idea to limit that? Even with a friend, they’ll be picking their own character, but you’ll get 2 CPUs still, and a random stage.
To make matters worse, not all of the heroes are unlocked from the getgo. In fact, they aren’t even unlocked in a sensible way, such as maybe running into them in the main platformer stage. No, instead you have to go out to these EX stages in order to find special battle arenas, where if you beat a powered up version of one of the characters you can unlock a new fighter for the minigame. Considering how these EX stages are some of the toughest and most tedious in the game, it’s just poor padding to make people play the entirety of the main game to unlock what was arguably the most advertised mode of the game. Definitely a huge disappointment, and quite honestly the minigame’s an utter waste of time that you shouldn’t even touch.
In conclusion, Code Shifter is unfortunately, a big bag of missed potential. On one side, you have some of the best chiptune remixes to grace any video game, and it’s clear Arc gave it their all to represent each character in their own special way, nailing the crossover aspect in that regard. But on the other hand, the majority of the game sports this absolutely dull art style that honestly feels as if it belonged to another game before Arc characters were thrown in at the later stages of development. Combine that with some confusing design decisions such as the lack of D-Pad support, character themes getting interrupted by bosses, to even the 8-bit minigame lacking so much as stage, music, or CPU select options, and you have a mess of a crossover that barely feels like one, and isn’t even as fully realized as it easily could have been.
It’s depressing in a way, since the platforming itself is still fun despite the generic art style, and the cameo characters have cool movesets, but with so many generic stage layouts and pointless padding to unlock the characters in the minigame, Code Shifter feels as if it was made on a great idea, only to go as far away from it as possible. Definitely a title that would benefit hugely from some quality of life updates, from adding D-Pad support, more options in the minigame, and not stopping the character themes whenever a miniboss is initiated. If you were hoping for the epic Blazblue X Guilty Gear X Kunio X Double Dragon crossover of your dreams, this ain’t it.
I give Code Shifter a 5 out of 10.