Friday, 02 September 2016 00:00

Pulse Shift Review

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And you'll fall to your presumed death, frequently.

I saw the preview and didn't expect much, outside of a new concept. Rotate by 90°, either quickly or slowly, and always while standing. The shifts must be conducted along the 6 central axes by which the levels are aligned, to navigate free-floating pathways from beginning to end.

One of the features that's always close at hand is the ability to Rewind Time, which is used primarily to undo your mistakes from the last 10 seconds. Think of it as a limited "forget I just did that" button with a cooldown, and while it's satisfying to watch your erroneous path play out in reverse, I would have preferred a basic retry. Perhaps if there had been a thematic reason why you'd control time, I'd be fine with it, but there isn't.

Speaking of thematics...

There's no story. No characters, no plot, no humor, no overarching goals. The whole purpose, you guessed it, is simply to complete each level. Better than a bad story, in my opinion, but if you need something more to motivate your puzzling self, you might find Pulse Shift disappointing.

Thankfully, gameplay offers some depth in mechanics.

When it comes to the platforms encountered, you're presented with a variety of challenging events to deal with. Some will keep you on your toes by disappearing, others will drain energy and play tricks with physics. All while rotating, you navigate these treacherous lands using a range of skills, like the ability to freeze time, visualize incoming threats, and lower gravity. As levels increase in difficulty, things will get hard, demanding, and with such a broad range of options available to solve incoming challenges, you'll almost wish you had a manual, if only to remind you of each ability and what they do. To be fair, each skill has a level that introduces its use and application. Still, the learning curve isn't all that well paced, and unless you possess a great memory, the solution to go back to earlier levels for refreshers, is a bore.

At times, the solution requires thinking before you realize it's obvious; other times, it's obvious but difficult to pull off.

A few times, I skipped entire sections, avoiding both platforms and menaces, thanks to skillful jumps straight to the finish. Although that may sound like witty fun, among the biggest frustrations is how tricky it is to get a feel for how fast you're going, how momentum carries, and how far you can jump. Quality competitors in the realm of puzzle platformers excel at doing just that: mastering abilities after a few levels, all to encounter greater challenges on the road ahead. Sadly, even after a few hours with Pulse Shift, I still never quite succeeded at landing where I wanted. And it's pretty crucial to land precisely. Perhaps I'm just awful at this.

You will also spend much of your time figuring things out on your own. Is there fall damage? Sometimes yes, sometimes no, and the line between what hurts and what doesn't, you must guess. Is your health being kept track of? It seems you sustain some damage from certain heights, but there's no health meter and nothing else seems to affect you.

Graphics are basic, though they do have consistent themes that cross over between levels, which is nice because it feels like some levels are connected in time and space. In particular, I enjoyed the levels that looked like exploded 3D blueprints.

The music is whatever. Nothing to write home about.

I know this feedback comes off as negative, and in many ways, it is. Still, I suspect there's something more than what I've found in my time playing it. I've witnessed occasional cracks in the environment, cracks that I can't seem to explore despite my pursuits. Maybe there are different game modes back there. Or an escape story. Weird, I know, but to my surprise, and it happened once, I did temporarily warp to another level in a style similar to an acid flashback (which aren't real things, by the way).


I will say this for sure: the game gets in your head. After playing for a while, I felt compelled to rotate my browser, my bed, and the sidewalk outside my home to more exciting angles. Pulse Shift itself isn't disorienting, but the world afterward can be. And that's the sign of a game made well, atmospherically.

Assorted Thoughts

I can't jump for sh!t
When I jump, I sound like No Face from Spirited Away
Just lemme rotate gravity while I'm in the air! Like once! It'd be sick!
Has anybody made a good Enders Game Battle Arena game yet?


The Verdict

It's a great idea but a bit of a miss. Comparisons will be made to Portal and they won't be favorable. Still, if you want a new concept in a taxing puzzle platformer, check Pulse Shift out. Otherwise, wait for the developers to perfect the recipe. Hopefully, they will.

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Joe Pilato

Joe Pilato works as an engineer and pub quiz host while developing his skills as a standup comic and storyteller. You may occasionally find him wandering the streets of NYC looking for adventure or possibly running into the woods to hide from civilization for days at a time.


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