Gaming often progresses through diminutive steps. In 1978, Taito’s Space Invaders’ antagonists tenaciously marched across monochromatic screens. But a year later, the foes broke formation, attacking players with kamikaze-like vehemence in Namco’s Galaxian. Later, the arms raced intensified with the release of Galaga, where players could reclaim stolen fighters, potentially doubling their firepower. In the ensuing years, Galaga would spur nearly twenty iterations, each adding their own minor divergences to the game’s proven formula.
Similarly, even a quick glance at a Mr Shifty screenshot easily divulges the game’s influence. Using the same top-down perspective and twitch-based gameplay as Hotline Miami, the recent PC and Nintendo Switch release adds one crucial element: an ability to teleport short distances. In theory, the supplement might make Shifty seem like a derivative experience worthy of consideration only when bundled with a slew of other software titles. But in execution, the title is something special, with players acting out Nightcrawler’s White House incursion in X2: X-Men United.
Built upon a premise which sees Mr Shifty climbing each floor of a skyscraper to steal some weapon-grade plutonium from a corporate scumbag, there’s little more than a skeletal storyline in the game. Certainty, the banter between the firearm-avoidant Shifty and his handler Nyx, is a missed opportunity, with the two exchanging a succession of humorless statements. But the game succeeds its most important, with level design engaging players across the six-hour expedition.
Across the first few floors, Mr Shifty’s journey is tranquil, with the protagonist confronted by foes that are slow to aim to slower to actually fire. Effectively, this allows the character to teleport behind them, take safety on the other side of a wall, or even trigger of procession of jumps that puts him on the other side of the map. Around each map, a variety of weapons can be found. While some, like a broom splinter after a few uses, others like Neptune’s trident can skewer a succession of foes, before being picked up and recused.
While you feel powerful, Shifty’s core ability isn’t limitless. On the bottom part of the screen there’s a five- blink meter that gradually refills, ensuring players can’t approach the game like a relentless whirlwind of death. Later, levels may even confiscate your teleportation ability, pushing you to sprint from bloodthirsty enemies as just a single bullet can kill the protagonist.
Undoubtedly, Mr Shifty’s midgame is the most enjoyable part of the excursion. Here, you’ll discover creative ways to escalate the kill-count. Techniques like blinking into the middle of a crowd, then teleporting back to safety while antagonists incompetently gun each other down is one of those exhilarating moments that almost singlehandedly warrants the purchase price. And for those seeking more than just a test of reflexes, Mr Shifty offers some light puzzle aspects. Essentially, these reduce autonomy, goading you into playing a very specific way. Usually, these sections aren’t difficult and while they add a bit of variety, there’s not as enjoyable as Mr Shifty’s more straightforward sections.
Later, the game ups the difficulty, thereby decreasing your margin for error. Beyond the basic grunts with laser sights and hulking brutes capable of one-punching you into a ‘gave over screen’, Shifty sends out machine gunners, rocket-launcher toting guards, and infantry with flame throwers. Throughout, you’ll have to content with a growing arsenal of environmental hazards like rotating lasers. As you persevere, stages get longer and the retries grow increasingly numerous. While it’s never as expletive-inducing as Hotline Miami, latter sections of the game can induce frustration. On the other end of the spectrum, the game’s final boss is a bit of a pushover.
On a GPU-powered rigs, Mr Shifty sputters a bit too often. Occasionally, just tossing a can of soda on an enemy-free screen can cause the game to slow, while other times the framerate is flawless when a horde of enemies encroaches. While the hitches usually don’t affect gameplay, narrowly dodging bullets fills a gauge that can slow down the speed of antagonists, give players an edge. Woefully, I’ve tried to fill the meter, and have been thrown off by the occasional hiccup. Sonically, the game’s soundtrack offers an upbeat assortment of EDM, that’s ideal for setting the pace of rapid-fire teleportation.
Although the last half-hour can drag the momentum down, most of Mr Shifty’s journey is a visceral, fast-paced thrill ride. Toying with opponents rarely feels as spirited as it does here. For that reason alone, the title is worth a playthrough- especially if you’ve ever longed for Kurt Wagner to get his own video game. Until an ambitious studio ups the ante, Mr. Shifty will be the reigning king of top-down, cartoonish violence.
Mr Shifty was played on the PC using review code provided for review.
Platform: PC, Nintendo Switch
Developer: Team Shifty
Release date: April 13th, 2017
Launch Price: $14.99 via Steam and eShop