It’s impossible to talk about Mr Shifty and not mention Hotline Miami. Top-down, high-stakes combat, mainly consisting of clearing floors of enemies before finding an exit to take on the next level.
Mr Shifty’s most important innovation is the teleport ability, similar to Disney’s Marvel’s Nightcrawler. An ever present white dot resides a few inches in front of your character in the direction he is looking, signifying where your teleport will take you. You can teleport through just about anything, as long as there is a playable space on the other side.
Teleporting works like Epona’s carrots from Ocarina of Time, each shift uses one of five boxes that refill after a few seconds. Use them all, and you’ll have to wait a tad longer to fill the bar up again. I always had enough juice to stick and move, but the system cleverly limits shifting too far ahead of certain hazards.
In such a fast-paced game, I would appreciate a sound cue letting me know when the shift refilled to save me looking away from the action.
Shifty goes for a cartoony comic-book look and spy theme. The visuals are pleasing and communicate the rules of the battlefield well. The presentation is tight but could have benefitted from some variety.
The story is very glib. It winks heavily while delivering intentionally vague lines about the motivation in what I assume is a send-up of action fiction. A more engrossing or personal story could have fought away the tedium of the later stages.
The soundtrack started off strong with a killer rock guitar riff, but quickly ran out of steam, offering little variety after a few hours. Perhaps a tense spy-score would have better fit the overall theme.
There are also environmental hazards like lasers, exploding barrels, shift-disabling rays, and more. You’ll interact with the level too, shutting down security, stealing items, and unlocking doors.
I feel this aspect could have been explored much deeper to further set Shifty apart from Hotline and provide more meat to the repetitive gameplay. The prospect of infiltrating a building as a teleporting super spy was intriguing, but it mostly devolved into clearing hordes of goons and the odd set piece of moving lasers decimating everything in their path.
As I mentioned earlier, when imitating another game so closely, it’s impossible to avoid comparisons. Hotline Miami derived satisfaction from the fast-paced, one-hit death shootouts. Death came fast but never felt cheap as you unfolded it’s challenges like a puzzle. The emphasis on guns added a layer of multi-task coordination that tickled the brain.
Shifty’s base gameplay is much easier and loses much of the adrenaline and satisfaction because of it. The enemies and their bullets move slower and your attacks feel overpowered unless dealing with the artificial difficulty of large hordes. The melee has a long range and the teleportation guarantees you can dart away from almost every danger to regroup.
Open areas filled with gunmen and lacking bullet-proof walls proved the most challenging and also the most fun as intelligent shifting became essential for survival and provided a rush. Bullet-proof walls however, unfortunately expose the AI’s desire to funnel through the same door as you create a pile of dead guards.
A meter fills up that activates a bullet-time effect when a bullet should have killed you, serving as a stylish safety net and providing a huge advantage when the situation might be most dire.
Mr Shifty’s tedious nature fails to deliver on the huge potential of its mechanics. It doesn’t help that the throwaway story does nothing to promote engagement. There’s some fun to be had and it’s worth a look if the premise has intrigued you, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.