Review: “Shakes on a Plane”

The airline concept helps Shakes on a Plane get off the ground but can’t keep it aloft.

At the start of the cooperative Shakes on a Plane, a quartet of aliens hoping to win the Galactic Cuisine Prize look to inspiration from Earth chefs. This plot gives Huu Games a lot of latitude (and longitude) for their tutorials, which operate much like iconographic airline safety manuals, complete with video demonstrations. (They’re deliberately confusing: aliens don’t understand us.) That doesn’t fully explain why nobody on these flights looks askance at the increasingly oddball deliveries (roasting skewers of meat-and-veggies over an open flame) or the terrible design of planes that put their juice bar blenders on the opposite side of their pantries, but when you’re thousands of feet in the air, it’s not hard to suspend belief.

In similarly absurd fashion, players choose from one of three brainwashed subjects–a burly prisoner, an undead vampire queen, a rejected robot maid–and Zog, a little green man with a paste-on mustache. Each one has a special move, though they’re poorly explained and largely superfluous–the game is beatable, on single-player, without ever once using these powers. Shakes on a Plane is filled with such more-is-more elements, and with a tighter, more precise design, that might work. Instead, the game’s various hazards often end up feeling haphazard.

Unsurprisingly, Shakes on a Plane is best when it leans into its airline design, much as Moving Out used its packing theme to distinguish itself from a crowded field of chaotic co-ops. Levels are sometimes interrupted by turbulence that, if you don’t buckle up, will disable your character for a period of time. In addition to cleaning up after each order, you may also have to preventatively distribute barf bags, lest you waste valuable time mopping up an entire row’s contagious vomiting. The best levels are those in which you must also paradrop passengers–after, of course, matching their seat number up to their misorganized luggage. These activities feel more novel than the standard deliveries of beverages and the reheating of burgers and fries.

Ultimately, Shakes on a Plane is bound by its own concept–encased in similar tin shells, it’s hard for these levels to do enough shaking up. These twenty-odd aircraft have uniformly dull designs for their passengers, seats, and tiling, and even the handful of UFOs you visit in the game’s final stretch are all generically saucer-shaped. Sure, they occasionally tilt through the air, messing with your camera angle and sending loose carts careening down the aisles, but these environments get very boring very quickly, no matter how many conveyor belts, teleporter pads, or, yes, actual snakes, you throw in. It’d be like a season of The Amazing Race in which contestants fly thousands of miles around the globe but never leave the confines of each country’s airport. Fun as the game can sometimes be, in spite of its own imprecise controls, this flight of fancy just never fully takes off.

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