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Platform: PC

Mr. Shifty Review

Cuts straight to the action and certainly delivers

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I hate when video games get bogged down with a bad story. Most often, I run into this issue with indie games, as a smaller team of developers are stretching their writing muscles for the first time. Instead of rookie writers realizing their strengths and weaknesses, they seize an opportunity to try and introduce the world to their magnum opus - except it’s usually derivative drivel, chalked-full of clichés, serving only to kill the momentum of the game. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a title like Mr. Shifty nonchalantly skip any semblance of a plot, except for the most basic necessities, and let its kick-ass gameplay speak for itself. And it speaks volumes. Mr. Shifty might not be shooting for the moon with its simple premise, but the finely tuned combat is the most invigorating experience this side of Hotline Miami.

Mr. Shifty

Before we get to the good stuff, let me explain that Mr. Shifty isn’t a great game. It feels a little bit like your favorite candy - something that’s small, disposable and totally unhealthy for you, but it doesn’t make it any less enjoyable in the moment. I doubt anyone will be talking about Mr. Shifty a year from now other than to let their friends know when it’s available on a Steam sale, but anyone who stumbles across it will likely find themselves momentarily in love with its breathless pace and exciting action. This all comes with giant asterisk denoting the game’s technical problems, and really there’s no getting around those. So yeah, Mr. Shifty has issues, but they’re so easy to forget when you’re watching your enemies fly around the room in the chaotic violence that is the game’s beating heart.

The framework for the rookie effort from Team Shifty features the titular character, Mr. Shifty, fighting through floors of minions in an effort to save the world. Shifty seems to be named for his teleportation power that allows him to fly around the room in puffs of smoke that are more than a little similar to the X-Men character Nightcrawler. The game begins with Shifty breaking into a skyscraper with enough armed security to be Fort Knox in an attempt to steal mega-plutonium from the building’s owner, Mr. Stone. His only help is his handler, Nyx, who radios in to provide exposition.

Really, that’s about it. There’s no real twists, no character development. Shifty never explains why he wants the mega-plutonium. Sometimes it seems like he’s a merc-for-hire, and other times it sounds like he might be working for some sort of United Nations-like government, but the game isn’t interested in explaining itself. Nor should it. The little bit of dialogue and story that’s provided is pretty cliché and really only serves to explain why there are more bad guys and why as you ascend the floors of Stone’s building, the game gets increasingly difficult. The plot of Mr. Shifty feels about as necessary as the plot to The Fast and the Furious movies - just simply an excuse to raise the stakes and the action.

Mr. Shifty

And that action is good. I made a reference to Hotline Miami earlier and there’s an easy line to draw between the gameplay of the two titles - both are fast-paced games that insist their players make it through sections of a larger level without taking any damage, and quickly restart the section if they've died. The top-down mayhem moves along at a brutal pace, and while Mr. Shifty is a bit more forgiving than Dennaton Games’ aforementioned classic, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to shake your fist in self-loathing rage after you’ve accidentally shifted into a stray bullet or missed an opportunity to exploit an enemy’s opening.

While I don’t think Mr.Shifty is the instant-classic Hotline Miami was, it does manage to separate itself in positive ways. Aside from the obvious teleporting ability, Shifty refuses to use guns to kill his enemies - though he’ll use melee weapons. This, along with the game’s more forgiving nature, encourages players to be less tactical and more spontaneous. There is also a meter that rises with each enemy you take out, which immediately starts sinking unless it’s full. Once the meter is filled, the game will go into slow-motion when a bullet is about to strike you, allowing you dodge and take out some enemies before everything returns to normal speed. This pushes the player to take out multiple enemies quickly to fill the meter, instead of picking them off one-by-one. Later on, the game begins to feature enemies that appear out of thin air and cover that is constantly changing. Again, all of this serves to make sure players are forced to teleport out in the open, dodging through gunfire.

There are also fun traps in the game that will keep you on your toes. Some levels rely heavily on laser traps and anti-shift fields that keep the gameplay varied enough that you won’t get bored. Here’s where Team Shifty truly show their skill. Ripping off Hotline Miami with a superhero riff would be one thing, but the level design is truly impressive. The game slowly adds more and more enemies that require different strategies and sometimes encourages the player to use those varying strategies in tandem. For instance, when the enemies start using a grenade launcher, Shifty can catch the grenades and throw them back at enemies or use them to take out barriers that require explosives. Or when heat-seeking missiles are fired, you can sometimes guide them into a horde of unsuspecting enemies.

Mr. Shifty

There’s a true craftsmanship mentality at work here and it’d be foolish not to appreciate it. A lot of love has gone into creating each encounter so that they are challenging enough that it’ll take a few attempts, but also allow you to be creative in your plan of attack. Sometimes a good strategy is to teleport your way through hordes of enemies and hope they shoot each other, sometimes you can lure them into chokepoints to better even the odds. It all works so well, that even when you’ve failed a section a half-dozen times, you’ll still want to give it another go.

While Mr. Shifty has a lean narrative to highlight its gameplay, it’s pretty barebones in other aspects as well. The art-style has a nice cell-shaded look and the color-coordinated enemy outfits largely exist to help the player determine which kind of enemies they’re facing, but it lacks any real flair to stand out. It’s hard to describe any level or stage in Mr. Shifty because they largely run together. Shifty himself is dressed like he just hopped off Limp Bizkit's album cover from 1999 for Significant Other, but his design isn’t bold enough to be distasteful. That’s kind of the problem with the game’s aesthetic. It’s not bad, but it hardly registers any emotion at all. It’s very workmanlike and, like all things in the game, services the gameplay more than anything.

This is also true of the pulse-pounding score that only seems to alternate between a couple of tracks. The themes are electric and exciting, but by the end they’ve almost dissolved to white noise because they’re so repetitive. If there’s a problem with Mr. Shifty’s break-neck speed - as it hops from level to level - it’s that there is never any time to let the game breathe. It seems largely intentional, but much like the game’s art, it’s hard to latch onto to anything in Mr. Shifty because it all feels so disposable.

Mr. Shifty

But the biggest problem with the game comes in the tech. There’s nothing game-breaking, but I did encounter a few bugs that forced me to restart. This can be particularly troublesome because the game has 18 stages made up of multiple sections, but it doesn’t save after each section. So if you hit a bug after beating a few tricky sections in the middle of a stage, you’ll have to replay them all after you restart. Also, when too much chaos is happening on screen between the teleportation, explosions, destructible environments, and dozens of enemies, it can cause framerate issues. It never caused me to fail, but it is annoying.

Still, as a small indie effort, I have to recommend Mr. Shifty. The core of the game is so good, it’s bound to give you some thrills. The game doesn’t indulge itself in any sort of narrative or stylistic flair, it really cuts straight to the action and it certainly delivers. Landing on the short side at 4-7 hours, Mr. Shifty isn’t the kind of game that is going to deliver an experience that will stick with you for long, but while you’re playing it, it will almost certainly win you over.

Our ratings for Mr. Shifty on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
There’s nothing to really critique in Mr. Shifty’s art and music, but the package is pretty milquetoast.
Mr. Shifty’s thrilling action left me pumping my fist in victory and slamming it on my desk in defeat. I loved it.
Single Player
There’s not a lot of narrative to pick at here, but the overall level design works well as enemies and elaborate traps are introduced with great pacing.
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660
OS: Windows 10 Home
PC Specs

With bugs that can force you to start an entire stage over again and frame rate issues, Mr. Shifty is in need of some patching.
There's not enough substance to Mr. Shifty to leave a lasting impression, but the moment-to-moment gameplay is certainly enough to get your blood pumping for a bit. In this case, that was certainly enough for me.
Mr. Shifty
Mr. Shifty box art Platform:
Our Review of Mr. Shifty
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Mr. Shifty is ranked #881 out of 1980 total reviewed games. It is ranked #63 out of 174 games reviewed in 2017.
880. Day of Infamy
881. Mr. Shifty

Mr. Shifty
6 images added Apr 26, 2017 21:59
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