Review – Code Shifter

The amount of meaningful franchises under Arc System Works’ wing is truly impressive when you stop and think about it. Some people may only know them as “the Guilty Gear guys”, but they also own franchises like BlazBlue, Kunio-kun / River City Ransom, Double Dragon, The Missing, River City Girls, and many others. You could say that they have enough characters to fill a fighting game roster of their own. That’s probably how they came up with Code Shifter‘s elevator pitch. This game is the definitive celebration of everything Arc System Works. Well, with the exception of Dragon Ball FighterZ, that is.

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This is not a Shoryuken, but I like to pretend it is.

In Code Shifter, you control Stella, a game developer working for a studio called Awesome Rainbow Corp (see what they did there?). You’re in the final stages of development on your next game, Colorful Fighters, and your objective is to basically debug the entire project with your program called Sera. You’re a Kim Possible-esque avatar that can fix bugs, solve small puzzles, defeat enemies, and transform herself into various Arc System Works characters whenever you find their icons throughout the levels.

Code Shifter plays like your typical 2D platformer. You go from A to B all while jumping platforms, avoiding traps, solving very simple puzzles, and defeating enemies along the way. Levels are packed with secret areas to explore that either lead to bugs to fix (this is your main objective throughout the game), points to collect, or health pickups to acquire. You can even find new Arc characters to help you out, be it as avatars for Sera or assist characters that can either provide an immediate offensive attack or a passive buff for a short period of time. You’ve seen that before and it’s not going to impress you in any given way, but the way Code Shifter presents its plot and gameplay loop is so damn charming that you’ll end up not caring about that.

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The River City Girls are in here too!

In addition to regular levels, Code Shifter also features a few harder levels called EX levels. They are usually shorter and comprised of fights against shadow versions of other Arc System Works characters. Defeating them will unlock them in Code Shifter‘s other mode, Colorful Fighters. This is basically an 8-bit version of Super Smash Bros with Arc System Works characters. Complete with the option between timed and stock battles, simple attack prompts that are influenced by the direction you’re facing, and multiplayer for up to four players with a joycon each. I’m not going to say that Colorful Fighters is jaw-dropping, but most companies would have sold this title as a standalone game, yet it’s available here as an extra mode that incentivizes you to tackle harder levels in order to fill up its stupidly immense roster. Good on you Arc, good on you.

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Colorful Fighters is basically a Smash Bros game inside another game.

The game’s presentation is adorable. Not only are the 8-bit renditions of classic Arc characters like the Lee brothers from Double Dragon or Guilty Gear‘s Sol Badguy endearing, but the protagonist, her avatar and all enemies she fights against are also well-designed and very well-animated. Even though those art styles don’t exactly look similar to each other, they do look nice together. It’s a nice contrast. The only real issue I have with the visuals is the fact that levels all look too similar to one another. Just like Digimon Story before it, all the levels feature that same “venturing into a buggy cyberspace” aesthetic, with only a few color differences between chapters. EX and Colorful Fighters levels are a bit more creative, as the arenas are based off the respective character’s source material.

The same can be said about the soundtrack. Listening to Sol Badguy’s theme song in 8-bit format is amazing in its own right, but the game does have a handful of good original tracks as well, be it when you’re just casually exploring the game studio you work in, or when fighting a boss. The sound effects aren’t as well crafted as the soundtrack, however. Code Shifter features that same Banjo-Kazooie / Yooka-Laylee style of “voicing” characters with small and repetitive voice clips, but instead of sounding cute or charming, it just sounds plain annoying.

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I guess this guy doesn’t hang out on internet forums that much.

With all that said and done, I do have a big gripe with Code Shifter: its controls. They’re not overly complex or confusing (even though this is one of those games in which B confirms and A cancels), but the game does suffer from a more than noticeable input lag when you’re trying to jump or attack a foe. The lag is less obtuse when you’re using an Arc character instead of Sera, but it’s annoying nonetheless. The overall gameplay when exploring the studio is also pretty bad. Not only is Stella painfully slow when walking, but the collision detection is absolutely terrible. Thankfully, there’s not a lot you need to do in these sections and you’ll quickly skip them in order to explore a level.

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This is your avatar, Sera. Yes, she does remind me a lot of Kim Possible. And yes, my assist character is a chicken.

I really enjoyed my time with Code Shifter despite its handful of issues. It’s way meatier and more enjoyable than I could have ever expected. You’re basically getting a competent action-platformer with a fine plot and a fun Smash Bros clone in one adorable and fanservice filled package. This is an absolute love letter to the often underappreciated Arc System Works and its history, and a must-have not only for fans of the company in general, but any fan of any of its franchises.

 

Graphics: 8.5

Not only are the Arc System Works characters beautifully rendered in 8-bit sprites, but the main character and enemy models are also beautifully animated in the own right. The only problem with the game’s graphics is how repetitive the backgrounds can be.

Gameplay: 7.0

The controls are simple on both the main story mode and the Colorful Fighters arcade mode, but they suffer from a noticeable amount of input lag. The overall controls and collision detection when you’re exploring your office are inexcusably bad, by the way.

Sound: 8.0

The game’s soundtrack is already pretty good by itself, but it becomes even more enjoyable when you start listening to 8-bit renditions of themes from Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. The sound effects, on the other hand, are a bit annoying and repetitive, especially when characters are “speaking”.

Fun Factor: 8.0

This is a fine platformer and a decent Smash Bros clone packed in one. It’s challenging and it’s full of secret areas and characters to discover. It’s also full of fanservice for those into Arc System Works’ titles, as it basically covers every single franchise they have ever touched.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Code Shifter is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of Code Shifter was provided by the publisher.

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