Divergent Shift

A game by Intrinsic Games for DS, originally released in 2010.
Divergent Shift, previously known as Reflection, was originally developed as a student project at the University of Southern California in 2008. It started as a PC prototype to illustrate the core mechanics and design of the game, which had heavily anime-influenced stylings. Later that year, the game was converted to a fully-playable 45 minute demo for the Nintendo DS, which was showcased for a number of major publishers.

Getting feedback on their prototype build, the team went back to the game to address everything from the core mechanics to the overall presentation, and in the end, they decided that it would be best to start developing the game completely anew. The result of that development is a vastly tightened and redesigned experience, and a move away from the original anime style to a more natural look. A publishing deal was struck with Konami, who brought the game to DSiWare.

The USC student group is now known as Intrinsic Games, and they are introducing the world to Kirra, a puzzle/platforming heroine who has accidentally broken a magical mirror that has split her world in two. Now, Kirra finds herself in one world – on the top DS screen – while her other self roams in a mirror world on the bottom DS screen. As you might imagine, Kirra quests to find the pieces of the mirror to repair her shattered reality… but what mystery lies within her shadow self?

The player assumes control of both characters simultaneously to traverse platform-based worlds and solve environmental puzzles. Frequently, a platform will appear on one screen and not the other. So, the player can jump Kirra onto a platform on the top screen, while her mirror image appears to hover in midair on the bottom screen, and vice versa.

Kirra is a fast and mobile character. She has a wall-jump move and can change direction in mid-air, which even allows her to perform multiple wall-jumps against the same wall. She can also perform long slides under platforms and other low-hanging objects without even slowing down, and she can grab ledges and flip up on top of them. Her moveset and animations give her an almost Parkour-like feel in the open platforming areas.

It’s a bit difficult to describe how the game operates since so few games allow you to control two characters simultaneously. It works somewhat similarly to Mickey Mouscapade on the NES, except that there is no delay in movement between the 2 characters. It is probably more comparable to Chronos Twins, except that the scrolling between the 2 screens is not locked, so it’s actually possible to move Kirra and her other self to a different areas in the level. We could try to draw comparisons to The Adventures of Cookie & Cream on PS2, but that would probably only confuse the matter further.

At any rate, dual-screen gameplay doesn’t just mean your brain has to work twice as hard to keep track of what's going on... You actually have to coordinate some of your efforts between the top and bottom screens. For instance, Kirra may encounter a block on the top screen that she is not able to push. But lining up both forms with the same block gives her the force she needs and allows her to progress.

The game promises more than 25 challenging levels, plus time trial modes to really put Kirra's acrobatics to the test. In addition for searching for the pieces of the broken mirror, players can also collect journal entries which explain the history of her world.

8 Bit Horse interviews Henry Liu of Intrinsic Games. We discuss the developer's gaming influences, the decisions regarding the art style and gameplay, and the overall development process, including some insights into the team's work as student developers while still attending classes. Check out the video interview below, which features footage of the game in action.

This is the first full-fledged outing for Intrinsic Games.

The developers were previously students, so there’s nothing outside of the prototype build to demonstrate their competence. It was the only DS game to pick up a win at the 2009 Independent Games Festival, garnering an award for the Next Great Mobile Game.