Mr. Shifty – PC Review – by K3W3L

Genre: Action Adventure Indie
Developer: Team Shifty
Publisher: tinyBuild
Release Date: Apr 13, 2017

tinyBuild strikes again with yet another game release in 2017 (following the Early Access titles Guts and Glory, and Streets of Rogue.

Mr. Shifty, the first game from Team Shifty (based in Australia) is a top-down beat ‘em up game. Picture Hotline Miami, but strip away the guns, and mix in a bit of Tracer’s (Overwatch) blink abilities plus the ability to go through walls, and you get this game.

Notably, Mr. Shifty is the first tinyBuild published game to be ported to the new Nintendo Switch console, making it one of the first few (though not included in the launch batch of) titles to be released for the console. Unfortunately, that port has been reported to be plagued with slowdown issues, prompting even the developers to suggest getting the Steam version (reviewed here). One can only hope that these issues will be fixed relatively soon to give Switch owners more choice to play. But I digress.

The titular (and typically silent) protagonist Mr. Shifty is blessed with the aforementioned shift/teleport abilities – hence his name (duh). His initial goal, with guidance from his overseer Nyx, is to steal a highly radioactive item from a tall tower, but this later progresses to him taking down the evil Chairman Stone that is in charge of the tower. This takes place across 18 levels, divided into 3 acts of 6 levels each.

When I say “picture Hotline Miami”, I mean it. The gameplay is rather reminiscent of Hotline Miami, where you progress through multiple rooms in each level. Usually you have to eliminate all the enemies in each room before the door to the next level opens up – there are a few exceptions.

Like Hotline Miami’s player character, Mr. Shifty is impossibly squishy and dies in one hit – when he dies, the room resets. You’re probably going to reset a lot in some specific rooms in each level, so it’s good that restarts are near-instantaneous (you can choose when to restart) – what’s NOT good however is that almost every time, any dialogue that plays at the start of the room is displayed again, and is unskippable. It’s irritating because there are a few cases where the developers follow game design rules and stop it replaying after the first time, but most of the time it does not – and that is a bit of a shame, because the dialogue is pretty appropriate and presented in a comic book-ish style.

Compared to Hotline Miami, Mr. Shifty has one thing working in his favour – his shift abilities. It’s advertised rather prominently in the game’s name, the protagonist’s name, the trailers, etc. He can shift through walls and dodge enemy attacks with relative ease. The adrenaline rush that the player gets from rapidly dodging past these enemies into different rooms is wonderful. However, I dislike that from the second act onwards mechanics are introduced which hinder your shifting abilities, running somewhat counter to the advertisements of the shift mechanics.

The game regularly introduces new enemy types at various stages of the game, keeping the player on their toes throughout the whole 18 levels. You start with easier enemies that shoot one bullet from their guns at a time, gradually progressing to enemies with flamethrowers, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, and so on. In the later levels the game difficulty ramps up significantly – it throws a huge variety of the enemies at you. These later levels can also extend the length of a room by throwing multiple groups of multiple enemies – you need to really exercise caution because of the aforementioned squishy nature of Mr. Shifty. There have been many times in the last few levels, especially the last one, where I’ve gone almost all the way through a super long-ass room and then gotten killed and had to redo the whole thing, frustrating me to no end.

Despite the difficulty ramp up, all in all I took only 6.6 hours as tracked by Steam to finish story mode. There are other achievements for speedrunning the game but with the difficulty of the last few levels I realistically don’t see many people attempting to accomplish those due to the infuriating nature of them – if you seek replayability from this game though then that’s your only avenue for it.

Ultimately, how well does the game technically perform? Well…the PC version I tested had minimum issues (so you can really see why the devs recommended that). The UI to display your shift ability counter, slowdown ability timer and goal arrow is quite minimalist, avant-garde style – part of me wishes it was more polished while a different part of me admires this simplicity that wouldn’t look out of place in a comic book, complementing the graphic style well. The options menu is a bit screwy in that resolution always defaults to the lowest possible whenever you load it up, and you would have to be careful not to accidentally set it to that. The game performance ran almost without hitches, but there are a few small yet easily discernible slowdowns on (yes, again) the later levels where you have a lot of enemy entities, explosions, and whatnot.

I’ll save the best aspect of this game for last – the music. It gives off these awesome espionage vibes, and I found them still pretty much playing on repeat in my head long after I finished the game. They would often be constantly engaged in a battle with the similarly soothing and ridiculously catchy post-level elevator theme for resident earworm status.

Pros:

  • Adrenaline rush
  • Somewhat witty dialogue
  • I freaking love the music, especially the elevator music
  • Not really related to the game, but the amount of console ports available is impressive

Can go either way:

  • Minimalist UI is functional but can feel unpolished
  • Game difficulty in the later levels really ramps up

Cons:

  • The challenge in the last few levels doesn’t feel so much fun as it is frustrating
  • Later levels may strip away the core mechanic that sells this game
  • Dialogue is unskippable
  • Short length
  • (Minor) Substandard graphical performance with too many game entities

K3W3L gives Mr. Shifty a Drastik Measure 7.0 out of 10 (70).

While an ultimately fruitful and rewarding proposition, the short length to finish the story and the somewhat frustrating difficulty means I don’t think I’ll be playing it long enough to justify the $14.99 asking price on Steam (and other associated platforms). That being said…I want the soundtrack so bad.