Need to know
As the name implies, Mr Shifty’s protagonist can ‘shift’—or teleport dodge—with supernatural speed, a very convenient skill if bludgeoning baddies to death is your vocation. And bludgeon he does, because this game closely resembles Hotline Miami in its approach to fast-paced, calculated top-down violence, though it replaces Hotline Miami’s thick sense of style with an effective, if one note, novelty.
That novelty is—you guessed it—the shift ability. In this otherwise very straightforward action game, Mr Shifty’s special skill is the saving grace. His ability to flank and outmanoeuvre enemies, in addition to the convenience of warping through walls, is a delight to experiment with, and the game thoroughly explores most of the ways in which such a skill can be applied.
The story is negligible: a corporate villain called Chairman Stone has some deadly plutonium, and you have to infiltrate his skyscraper to retrieve it. Along the way you’ll lay waste to thousands of hapless minions, and engage in some very light puzzling. These minions range from bumbling oafs who punch you, through to snipers, dual-pistol wielders, lasers (of course), and other enemies with flamethrowers, grenade launchers, and machine guns.
And that’s pretty much the sum total of what you need to know about Mr Shifty. It’s very rare that something arrives so stripped of all the moreish qualities games are expected to have in this age. There are no collectibles, there are no new powers to unlock: it’s just you, the agile Mr Shifty, and the relatively breezy problems he must overcome.
Mr Shifty doesn’t have a gun, but he can pick up some neat perishable melee weapons throughout the levels, ranging from wooden planks to a golden trident which, when thrown precisely, can nail a whole line of enemies against a wall. Aside from shifting, the only other special power here is a meter which, when filled after enough attacks, automatically slows down time if a bullet draws too close.
Meanwhile, you’re able to use environmental hazards to kill enemies, and while you can never pick up their weapons you’re able to—for example—catch a grenade and throw it back at its source. One cool encounter forced me to blink to a door guarded by enemies, quickly open it to allow a deadly turret to obliterate them, before blinking out of the way just in time.
While the movement and pace of Mr Shifty never feels bad, the game does rely on a few annoying tropes—for instance, temporarily removing your cool ability as an added mid-game twist. I hated this, because it revealed how reliant this game is on the inherent joy of blinking the nominal character around the levels, and without being able to shift whenever I wanted I got bored. Also, while the combat always has impact and always feels empowering, the several instances of wave-based enemy encounters was tedious rather than challenging. Mr Shifty is at its best when all enemies have been placed deliberately, purposefully.
Meanwhile, Mr Shifty isn’t as challenging as the likes of Hotline Miami, and chances are you’ll knock it over in about 5 hours. It’s a neat game built around a single neat idea, and once the neat idea’s every permutation has been exhausted, the Mr Shifty gracefully bows out. Hardly groundbreaking, but the fluidity of the combat and simplicity of its execution makes Mr Shifty recommendable for fast-paced, top-down punching enthusiasts.