Mr. Shifty is a shot of adrenaline mixed with pure badass action. While some games put you in the role of a superhero, Mr. Shifty makes you feel like a superhero. Do you remember that scene from X-Men 2 where Nightcrawler single-handedly invades the White House and tries to kill the president? Mr. Shifty is like that scene but stretched out into three or four hours of crazy action sequences.
You play as the mysterious Mr. Shifty. He’s a man of few words tasked with taking down the evil Mr. Stone, a villain who just wants to rule the world. The silent protagonist has the ability to teleport, or shift, short distances in rapid succession. He also has the ability to punch people in the face, punch through walls, and throw objects really, really hard. What Mr. Shifty can’t do, is take a bullet. Many people are comparing Mr. Shifty to Hotline Miami because of its top-down perspective, one-hit deaths, and emphasis on planning your route and murder spree before executing it like a total badass.
Each level in Mr. Shifty is short but action-packed. You typically start in an isolated room where you can see at least some of the enemies in the next room by moving around the right analog stick. From there, you can shift to different areas of the room and begin your assault. Shifting is done with a simple press of a button and the protagonist will shift wherever you have the aiming reticle pointed. If you shift into another room and break a desk or mirror upon shifting, enemies will be alerted and flock to your location. This doesn’t necessarily make Mr. Shifty a stealth game; rather, it's a game about carefully getting in position to best take advantage of your quick and deadly reflexes.
Combat in Mr. Shifty is simple and straightforward but also rewarding. When you’re spotted, enemies will begin firing in your direction. Thanks to your nifty shifty ability you can easily teleport away from the bullets that are moving in your direction. Mr. Shifty gets a total of five teleports in rapid succession before he needs a brief cooldown to recharge. If, however, you don’t use all your shifts in one go, they will recharge faster one at a time. This adds a bit of shift-management, as many later stages will be easier to complete if you watch your shifts and use them wisely. To be clear, this is never a restraint of the game as it’s fairly easy to pop off three shifts, hide in a room, recharge your shifts within seconds, and get back to the beatdown.
There’s no other way to say it, popping around a room and knocking out droves of guards feels amazing. When you see a horde of guards heading your way, it’s a blast to pop out of the room you’re hiding in, pick off a couple of laggards at the end of the pack, and then shift across the room without anyone spotting you. In most levels I really did feel like an all-powerful superhero that couldn’t be stopped by mere mortals with guns. As the levels go on, the guards get tougher, and their placement becomes more of a challenge than their number. When you get the hang of the controls, you’ll be able to take out twenty or so guards with no issue, regardless of the weapons they have. Guards carry pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and even flamethrowers, just to name a few enemy types. Each enemy is visually distinct enough to notify you of what type of weapon they’re holding.
Despite being a short game, around three or four hours, Mr. Shifty changes up the gameplay and objectives fairly often. Where a three-hour beat ‘em up around this villain’s tower would be serviceable, Mr. Shifty adds in some interesting levels. In some levels your shifting ability will be locked and so you need to utilize cover and stealth to meet your goals. Other levels have you running from lasers, avoiding rockets, or taking on an insane number of enemies that you can’t possibly beat with your fists alone. In these levels, which are often my favorites, the strategy is to use the other enemy’s weapons against them. Enemy fire can kill other enemies so lining up a shotgun shot aimed at you to take out a wave of guards is a viable, and useful, strategy. There’s really nothing better than watching a horde of guards go down to a well-placed rocket that you didn’t even shoot yourself.
There are some issues with Mr. Shifty that can’t be overlooked. First and foremost are the frame rate hiccups that will undoubtedly plague players. With so many enemies and explosions on screen, there are a few levels that chug momentarily. With a game based solely around the player’s twitch reflexes and speed, having those hiccups can disrupt the game in a horrible way. The game has a decent cartoon-like look to it, nothing to write home about, but it just doesn’t seem like the frame rate should drop with the basic assets the game has to work with.
There is also the issue with bugs in Mr. Shifty. Aside from the funny bodies that get stuck after dying and spasm out of control, there were some bugs that made me feel like I got lucky. On more than one occasion the AI would lock up and a scenario that I would’ve certainly died in became beatable because the two guards that were supposed to kill me didn’t move. There are also quite a few instances I ran into where I felt as though I lucked out. Explosions would kill enemies, AI would act weird and forget about me, or gunfire would just so happen to kill the enemy I was having trouble with. Whatever the reason, I felt like I was lucking out of levels rather than earning my keep. It’s also worth noting that the last level is an absolute beast to get through. It’s considerably longer than most levels and requires a lot of thinking and planning that the levels before it didn’t need in my experience. This made me feel like I wasn’t adequately prepared for my final showdown with Mr. Stone.
Despite its shortcomings, Mr. Shifty is a fun adrenaline rush that tests your twitch reflexes and quick thinking. Each level has your heart pumping as you dodge bullets only to get hit by that one stray grenade. Death comes quickly, but respawns come even faster, and you will need them. While some levels can be frustrating due to difficulty spikes, you’ll get the hang of it eventually. And when you finally complete that one trouble spot, you’ll feel that rush of accomplishment. Mr. Shifty is a fun, competent action game that offers a brief, but great, rush of excitement that is only slightly marred by technical issues.