I Heart Shift – Xbox Indie Review

An XboxHornet review by WDesm

“Relax, chill, enjoy.”

I Heart Shift has an interesting history. Taking the story from the developer’s own website, Fronominal (a lone coder by the name of Keir Miron) wanted to create an action-game colour-based puzzle solver, and looked to a variety of sources to make their first XBLIG entry; Fronominal cites Zuma, Geometry Wars, and Pixel Junk: Eden as being part inspirations for I Heart Shift. I, however, see a different analogue to their finished product, and that’s Rez. Rez is known for (aside from the overplayed vibrator references) being a “chill” shooter game where the rhythm plays into your game, and I Heart Shift is the exact same way. It may take a few levels to get the hang of it, but the aim of the game is definitely casual enjoyment, and it gets the job done nicely.

In I Heart Shift, you control a small ship, much like a regular twin stick shooter. Unlike a shooter, you cannot control your fire rate; that is controlled by the tempo of the music, which increases as you gain larger combos. You can also move your ship around, using the traditional “left stick move, right stick aim,” and like the above-referenced Zuma, you shoot your coloured block into a pre-designed stage, hoping to score a big combo. Assuming you don’t miss a shot, the combo multiplier grows, the tempo increases, and your reward (if the above wasn’t enough) is a musical tune of increasing complexity (each successive boost to your combo lengthens the tune you hear, starting from a single note into a complicated rhythm).

The above (a musical puzzle based game) would stand well enough on its own (indeed, the upcoming Chime for XBLA is banking on just that), but I Heart Shift has an entire extra game-mode hidden still: Once you have cleared enough of the stage to have a clear aim at one of the bounding walls, you can fire a shot off the screen, switching the gameplay to “alternate mode”, a full-featured twin-stick shooter. The trick is to time the switch so that you have accrued a large combo multiplier in puzzle mode, so that your shooting nets you the highest bonus possible.

Ambitious? Certainly. Well Executed? Almost Definitely. Missing Anything? …Well, some form of local co-op would have been nice, but I suppose that if the aim of the game is to relax, match colours, and slowly unravel a musical melody, then a two player mode might have detracted from that. What would have really been a boon to the game would have been some sort of “endless mode,” or “no-fail” mode, for when you want to play just to enjoy the game, rather than specifically play a stage. Either way, I’m surprised at both the game design’s simplicity and the resultant complexity of this game: If you appreciated Rez (beyond just being a crude sex joke between gamers), or enjoy puzzle matching, you owe it to yourself to try this gem. Just be careful to read the (sparse) tutorial page; the game drops you right in the thick of it, and it will take a few stages before you begin to appreciate its unique flavour.

Game score 9/10

Download a free trial here.

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