Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: The Third Shift Is A Nightmare At The Museum

The Third Shift is actually the first shift. Possibly even the last. You play as a man arriving for their first shift as the night security guard at the “Museum of History and Wonder” in Roanoke, Virginia. What starts out as an easy money gig soon turns out to be a life-and-death OSHA unapproved job. The cadavers in the Bodies: The Exhibition style display are not as dead as one might hope, and the latest addition to the aquarium should probably have been left down in the Marianas Trench where it was found. Not exactly the experience you would expect from a Gameboy game.

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

The Gameboy game style is pretty limiting. You can count on one hand the main types that exist on that platform. Of course there were outliers, like Tetris or F1 Race. But the main genres were JRPG, a platformer, or top-down Zelda-like exploration. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of options for a retro indie developer to emulate. 

Even so, with enough creativity, these boundaries can be pushed and pulled into something truly impressive. Teebowah Games, previously featured in a spotlight for PYLONS, made The Third Shift with such ingenuity. So accurate is it that you can actually buy it in a Gameboy cartridge. But this is unlike your average Gameboy game. Using the flat textures to create rich 3D (or rather 2.5D) environments and rotating screens to recreate the Silent Hill fixed cameras, The Third Shift is a stunning example of a developer making the most of what they’ve got.

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

Gameplay of The Third Shift is comparable to the Clock Tower series. You’re locked in an enormous building full of creeps and spooks—most of them inanimate museum exhibits. There’s a senior employee watching you on the security cameras. He’ll point you in the direction of the next objective. Objectives that mostly consist of opening locked doors and repairing the surprisingly shoddy building systems. 

In addition, there are these sequences where you can look into a room or down a corridor in the first-person. These give environments in The Third Shift a lot more depth. In a top-down Gameboy RPG, you generally never see anything up close. Having the opportunity to get a closer look at the museum environments adds a lot of detail. Not to mention when you first-person look at something that looks back at you. 

What Works:

The gameplay is sort of like a Zelda style adventure game. But it switches between first and third person visuals. For the most part you walk around from a top down angle, with some instances of point-and-click first person sequences. The fluidity of the game shifting between these modes makes the experience a lot more dynamic. Not something you typically see in a retro game of this type. 

I also really appreciated the layering of the areas. The Third Shift takes the top-down style, but also places objects in the environment in such a way that it feels a lot more 3D than the traditional RPG. This is especially apparent when the majority of an area is inaccessible, and the player only can walk around the edge of a room, looking in through windows. All of these features combined make The Third Shift feel like a golden age PS1 horror game, despite it being compatible on one of the earliest handheld platforms. 

What Doesn’t:

One big problem with the camera angle system of TheThird Shift is how easy it is to get lost. When a third person game utilizes fixed camera angles, such as Resident Evil or Silent Hill, you can much more easily fill in the blanks when moving from one area to another due to the look and angle of the corridor. In The Third Shift, everything is Gameboy Green, and at a sharp 90°. Not only that, but the entrances and exits to rooms will rotate awkwardly as well. You may exit the screen facing north and enter the next facing east. With no map, I frequently found myself backtracking.

How To Fix It:

I’d actually written up a paragraph about adding in a map, only to look over at the itch.io page for The Third Shift and see that there was a map button. So that’s an egg on my face, and I’ll have to go back and see how it is when I know where I’m going. Still, reorienting the rooms, especially in rooms that are broken up into multiple sections, would make traversing them a bit better.  

Wanky Musings:

Some of the things mentioned here seem obvious. So much so that it’s remarkable more Gameboy games did not feature them. Hindsight 20/20, I suppose. Devs of old couldn’t have had modern game development knowledge before modern games. While certainly other games have done this before, The Third Shift is an excellent synthesis of old and new styles. And that’s not even to mention the interesting premise or writing. While this is only the first few hours of the game, considering how much insane stuff happens in this preview, it will be exciting to see where The Third Shift winds up.

You can try The Third Shift for yourself on itch.io by clicking here.

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