A stylish, minimalist puzzler chock-full of content.
“Axon Vertigo’s mission is to deliver absolute happiness, to absolutely everyone, absolutely free,” we’re told at the start of Shift Quantum, “We are humbled that you have come to us to help improve the quality of your life”.
That may be a bit ambitious for a humble puzzle game, but Shift Quantum certainly provides plenty of satisfying entertainment. Its singular focus is daring, wrapped up in a stylish futuristic package that looks striking on the Switch.
Set in a monochromatic neo-noir world, each stage is a 2D maze of black and white blocks. Your simple task is to reach the exit, but to do this you must use your inverting ‘shift’ ability. This flips the camera and allows you to traverse negative space, creating platforms and paths where before the route was blocked.
It begins, though, with a short quiz. If your life were a movie what would the title be? What issue can Axon Vertigo help with? What impact these questions have on the game itself is unclear, but it sets up the notion of a cyber corporation putting your mind into ‘game mode’ in the pursuit of happiness, adding an extra layer of context to your progression.
Stages are divided up into strands on a sort of neural map and each strand brings new additions. What begins as simple traversal soon develops: spikes block paths and punish a misplaced jump; blocks can be manoeuvred and shifted through; switches flip gravity; air fans create jet streams that can aid or hinder. The game hits just the right amount of challenge with a carefully managed difficulty curve and levels that tax the mind just enough without truly frustrating. Extra collectibles provide a further challenge for those who seek it.
And… that’s it. Like the best puzzle games, Shift Quantum takes a simple idea to the extreme. It’s single-minded, gradually iterating on its core gameplay throughout its sizeable quest of 117 levels. The minimalist graphics follow suit, with a beautifully animated avatar and a dystopian backdrop of a bustling metropolis. It makes for a hypnotic, mesmerising experience, though how much that really improves your life is up for interpretation.
For those wanting even more, there’s also an intuitive level editor (which would benefit from touchscreen controls) and a tonne of community levels to play through. Its lack of colour, play styles and variety of aesthetic do eventually become draining, but few puzzle games provide this much focused content.