Arc System Works is known for their stylish and technically sound fighting games. Over the years, they’ve developed a number of unique characters. Recently with their acquisition of the Technos properties, they’ve also become the stewards for beloved franchises like Kunio Kun and Double Dragon. So, why not take all of the characters from all of these franchises and bring them together into a monster crossover? It’s a sound concept, but it’s also fraught with a few issues.
What Is It?
Code Shifter has you taking on the role of Stella, a developer at a game studio that may as well be Arc System Works. Strange things have been happening at the office lately. Code has been getting deleted, assets have been misplaced, and a whole lot of random bugs have crept into the code-base. To help deal with this problem, she develops a real-time debugging program dubbed Code Shifter. This program takes on the form of a female avatar by the name of Sara.
The game has three distinct sections. One is the office sections where most of the game’s story is conveyed. Another is the platforming section of the game where Sara will play through the levels, eradicating bugs and viruses. Finally there is Colorful Fighters, an all out platform brawler very similar to games like Super Smash Bros.
As you make your way through the platforming levels, you’ll unlock new skills for Sara which will allow you to do more damage, reach areas you couldn’t, and generally improve her ability to function as a debugger. This is also where the other Arc characters will be unlocked. Characters appear throughout the levels and Sara is able to transform into them to make use of their abilities. Some characters are stronger and can break obstacles, others are light and agile. They’ll usually appear close to areas where their particular ability will be needed, though sometimes you will have to switch to one character, then backtrack to an earlier part of the level to get to an area you couldn’t access. It’s a neat mechanic, and for the most part, works well.
Though the concept and ideas are sound, the execution is a little bit lacking. The characters you transform into feel clunky in comparison to Sara herself. They’re functional, yes, but none of them feel quite like their original selves.
Why Should I Care?
One thing that’s worth pointing out is the drastic clash of art-styles in the game. The office scenes are reminiscent of Animal Crossing, complete with awkward social encounters. The platforming sections have a modern 3D look. Mechanically there’s a good sense of flow and momentum to the gameplay, but it’s brought down a bit by controls that feel slippery. Inertia is a thing in this game, and it will mess up your platforming at least once. It isn’t something that can’t be acclimated to, though.
Colorful fighters and the characters you’ll transform into are rendered in pixel art-styles. The Arc characters are pulled from a different game and thus by design don’t fit the theme of the platforming sections. This isn’t such a bad thing thematically, as it supports the notion that all kinds of weird things are going on, but those characters also play worse than Sara so the contrast is far more apparent. The style-clash doesn’t stop at the visuals, though. Whenever you transform into a different character the music will change from the modern soundtrack to a chiptune rendition of the game music from which that character originates. It continues to support the premise that disparate elements are coming together, and some of those chiptune remixes are quite good.
There was a lot of potential for those characters to play more like their source versions, but that wasn’t done here. With more development time and resources, this could have been smoothed out. As it is, you have only Sara that feels really special.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The Colorful Fighters portion of the game is where things start to gel, though. Here, in this four-player brawler the streamlined characters make a lot more sense. This mode doesn’t have quite the depth of a Smash Bros game, but it has a good bit of the fun intact. Playing a few rounds against AI or with friends will make you want to play through the rest of the game to unlock as many characters as you can. To that end, there are thirty playable characters to unlock and another seventy as assists.
It feels as if the game was originally going to be just the four-player brawler, but the decision was made to expand it to include the platforming sections. However it came about, Code Shifter as it is now is a flawed but charming game.
I would love to see Arc revisit this concept with a bigger budget, as the idea of a mega-crossover is still a great one!