Mr Shifty (Switch eShop) Review
I challenged myself when writing the Mr Shifty review to avoid mentioning the 2012 psychedelic, 80’s-inspired classic Hotline Miami as a comparative device. As evidenced by that opening sentence, I failed the challenge spectacularly.
It is impossible not to compare the slick top-down ultraviolence of Hotline Miami to that of Mr Shifty. Both games require a combination of fast reflexes and memorisation of level design to succeed. They both are also swift in punishing the player’s slightest timing mistakes.
However, to dismiss Mr Shifty as merely a Hotline Miami clone would be doing a great disservice to the game developed by Brisbane-based Team Shifty. The game’s title hints at its major hook – the ability to teleport short distances through obstacles and walls.
Playing as the silent protagonist, Mr Shifty, players are instructed to infiltrate an evil corporation to prevent a volatile chemical from being weaponised – at least that’s what I vaguely remember. Those claiming to play this game for the plot are the same sort of people who insist on watching adult films for the deeply affecting dialogue, the rising tension in the character arcs, and the explosive narrative conclusions.
More tantalising is the game’s shift mechanic, which is where the real fun kicks in. Teleporting through anything and everything in your way feels natural and makes for fast-paced action. Stages consist of a series of rooms to navigate, with the end goal being an elevator to take our hero up through the evil corporation’s skyscraper. Each room requires precision and adaptability to succeed. Enemies are strategically placed to make you think before acting. However, once the fighting starts, you only have time to act, not think. Mr Shifty relies heavily on his fists, with only the occasional pick-ups allowing for limited long-range assaults. This is a great thing, as it forces the player to make full use of the shift ability. Shifting across rooms to line up enemies and rack up the body count is exhilarating.
Mr Shifty relies heavily on his fists, with only the occasional pick-ups allowing for very limited long-range assaults. This is a great thing, as it forces the player to make full use of the shift ability. This vital ability can only be used five times in quick succession before it needs to cool down, which creates an element of careful planning to the mayhem. The game rewards speedy play, giving players a temporary slow-mo ability for chaining quick combos. One bullet is all it takes to down Mr Shifty, so you better be on your A-game.
Shifting across rooms to line up enemies and rack up the body count is a thrill. And what a body count it is. Especially by the latter stages, the game throws ridiculous amounts of enemies at you, requiring a high level of concentration and mental endurance to survive. Unfortunately, performance does struggle at times on the Switch, as the frame rate drops at irregular intervals during the crazier fights. Patches are reportedly incoming to fix this but the current issues cause many cheap and infuriating deaths in its current state.
In addition to the frame rate dips, there are a couple of mild puzzle elements that are needlessly fiddly. One such example required me to punch a bunch of explosive barrels to line them up against a wall I needed to destroy. However, this was much easier in theory than in practice. I spent longer than I care to admit trying to precisely arrange the barrels so that a turret would detonate them. The issue was that the distance the barrels travelled after being punched was inconsistent – this made for a tedious section where I just wanted to get back to punching bad guys in the face, as opposed to wanting to punch the Switch screen.
On the flipside, the game is littered with sections that disable the shifting ability to good effect. These parts require arguably the most strategy and patience, often resulting in some clever solutions to proceed. It’s times like these, and when faced off against rooms packed with smartly-programmed baddies, where Mr Shifty excels. The game didn’t quite click with me until I started again after my initial playthrough. Having a vague memory of the room and enemy layouts allowed me to shift, punch and shift again faster and faster. Then it happened. I reached a state of zen-like flow. It was then I realised that Mr Shifty is at its blistering best when played as fast as humanly possible.
What makes this approach even better is that sections of dialogue don’t repeat when restarting sections after death. Folks who remember how bad it was back in the day having to sit through unskippable cutscenes when retrying difficult bosses in Kingdom Hearts can breathe easy. Which is just as well, considering Mr Shifty’s pulpy, B-grade infiltration plot is entirely forgettable. My trusty comparative device Hotline Miami had an intriguingly bizarre narrative to entice players – thankfully Mr Shifty’s gameplay more than sustains itself.
I clocked in at just under four hours; although beating best times and attempting no-hit runs normally do not appeal to me as far as replay value is concerned, I will definitely jump back in occasionally to feel the rush and flow of Mr Shifty.
When it runs at 100%, Mr Shifty is thrilling, challenging and satisfying when played at high speed – as it should be played. Unfortunately, performance issues and a bland personality slightly hold it back from reaching Hotline Miami levels of grandeur.