Bally/Sente's 1984 Chicken Shift

To quote the instructions, "Red button shifts red things. Blue button shifts blue things." Armed only with that simple mantra, Chicken Shift thrusts the player into an eggzciting and fast-paced world of henhouse management. The premise is simple: save the chicks (and who could argue with that?). No good guys, no bad guys: just the Player, the chicks, and gravity.

The game has three separate screen types, and each one is populated with various red & blue gadgets. Each gadget has two states (up/down, in/out, open/closed, etc.) which the player operates with the "red" and "blue" buttons. You're confronted with pipes, platforms, walls, and even chick flippers, all of which you must coordinate in a beautiful symphony of Chick Shifting. The levels come (mostly) in order: screen 1, screen 2, screen 3, repeat only harder. With each cycle, the gadgetry grows more compleggz and the game moves faster. Deliver the chicks to their intended destination (crate/eggzit/nest) and the world is your omelette. Fail, and it's egg on your face.

The difficulty ramps eggztremely quickly, which provides a wonderful feeling of schadenfreude while watching your friends try it for the first time. The simple control scheme (two buttons, no joystick) belies the sense of creeping panic that sets in as soon as the player realizes he is losing control of his precious ovoid cargo.

Missing Ingredient

Chicken Shift feels unfinished and lacks focus. The 3 screens are disjointed and barely resemble one another. It's too bad, because the game would still be almost as fun if Bally/Sente had developed it solely around the first screen (the pipes & ramps). Then they could've thrown out the 2nd screen entirely and milked the 3rd one for an entire sequel, Chicken Shift 2: The Hatchery. Furthermore, after the 3rd cycle the screens no longer change in structure -- they just get faster. Chicken Shift would benefit from more variety in a single type of level design, rather than 3 different screen types that never get used to their full potential.

The sound in Chicken Shift is disappointing, to say the least. First, there's not much of it, and the sound that's implemented just isn't very good. The background music is generally cute & catchy, but it eggscapes me why it had to be twice as loud on the third screen.

The graphics are eggzceptable, but will not eggzceed eggzpectations. Actually, they're not bad at all. The animations are cartoonish yet detailed, and don't get in the way of the gameplay at all. I just wanted to finish with a triple egg pun.

Thanks to Jeffrey Carl at ServInt for providing the space for CinemArcade


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