This title was reviewed on PC, but is also available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
I know the review comes a bit late to the party with this one. So late, the house the party it was at has been bulldozed and a parking complex has been built on the rubble. Despite this, I still want to let off a few party poppers in the empty lot for this little gem of a game that I feel has passed under too many radars.
Firstly some background: Mr. Shifty is a game developed by Team Shifty, published in April 2017 by TinyBuild, the same folks that published SpeedRunners, Punch Club, The Final Station, and Clustertruck. It plays as a top-down twitchy action game focused around melee combat and fast-paced teleportation.
The story of the game follows a thief named Mr. Shifty. On a job to steal a weapon called the Mega Plutonium from StoneCorp, a company controlled by your run-of-the-mill, megalomaniac CEO Chairman Stone, hell-bent on world domination. Mr. Shifty accompanied by Nyx through his radio, seek to put an end to Stone’s evil plans by stealing the Mega-Plutonium from his high tech building Olympus Tower. Teleporting through walls like NightCrawler and decking all his guards (and hopefully him) square in the jaw. The story is not high art and it knows it, often mocking its own simplistic plot and character motivations. While some may find this annoying I found it endearing and it only added to the atmosphere of its ridiculous 80s action film style.
The visuals and style of the game are simplistic, to say the least, don’t expect any stellar views or remarkable texture work. Sometimes the environments can get samey, but they try to mix it up as much as they can through different parts of Olympus Tower, and occasionally the cubicle farms and techno-security areas can feel like they drag on. This, however, is a compromise to maintain a high frame rate for the intense fights that you will face against Stone’s personal army of guards. The game sets itself apart from games in the same vein like Hotline Miami by having less of a focus on gore and more on the toll the fight will take on the area. After a fight, it won’t be unlikely to see glass coating the floor, cracks and breakages in the walls where the enemies have been thrown into it and door splinters and debris covering the area. Possibly due to these environmental details, earlier on there were issues with the performance on the Nintendo Switch port. It seems that the patch they released has fixed it with an increase to loading times on that version of the game.
The gameplay and combat are the obvious focus of this game. Mr. Shifty’s unique ability is to “Shift” a gameplay mechanic in which you can teleport to wherever you cursor is placed in a single button press. Whether that is on the other side of a wall, a gap or straight into the middle of a group of enemies. Since Mr. Shifty refuses to use anything longer range other than a boat oar he can lob at his foes face’s, you will be using this ability to dodge gunfire and melee attacks while unleashing flurries of blows and wacks upside the head with anything you can get your hands on. Items like table legs, oars, and shields which you can gain by picking them up or breaking something, either with your bare hands or the limp body of the last underpaid security worker that had the misfortune of going up against you. Once you’ve defeated enough enemies in quick succession you are rewarded with slow-mo, which does what it sounds like, letting you unleash as many punches and blunt force trauma til the timer runs out. Gaining slow-mo can change the tide of a fight as it goes from fighting tooth and nail for your life to seeing about ten of your opposition flying off to meet walls and glass windows face first. Admittedly the depth of the game is lacking, your shift is the only ability that you gain throughout the game and there is nothing to adjust or improve besides your play. I find the game doesn’t bog itself down as it doesn’t overstay its welcome and drag on for longer than it needs to.
The puzzles are very simple timing, spacing your shifts, and hacking terminals for the most part. The game can get hair pulling levels of difficult at some stages (at least for me) because of the fact it takes you at least two bare-knuckle punches to take someone out of commission whereas takes just one hit from anything to down Mr. Shifty. You are a glass cannon, a glass cannon with a severe calcium deficiency that smashes with the slightest tap. This can be incredibly frustrating at times considering how insanely intense the fights get later on in the game but it has almost no loading times so it’s easy to throw yourself at it again and again until you finally beat it.
Mr. Shifty is just fun. It is dumb, intense fun. The combat along with the sound design, the mechanics and the teleporting make the games various brawls a symphony of black smoke and broken teeth. The game’s difficulty ramps up appropriately throughout your journey through Olympus Tower. Everything around the combat is just padding for the main experience and while on the shorter side at its current price point of $17.99 NZD on Steam, I personally feel the combat alone is worth that. Later sections may get frustrating at times but nothing beats the catharsis of standing victorious in a room full of smashed furniture, strewn books, and countless battered henchmen. If you can allow for a few flaws this game is a great way to spend an afternoon.