Mr. Shifty is the first release from Team Shifty, and the newest in a long line of indie releases from tinyBuild Games.
It’s Time To Get Shifty
You play the titular Mr. Shifty, a thief with the ability to ‘shift’ or ‘blink’ across short distances. The paper-thin plot states simply that he is trying to steal some Megaplutonium from Mr. Stone. Yes, you read that right, ‘Megaplutonium’. That’s the level we’re dealing with here. Never mind that, though, the plot isn’t what anyone will pick this up for. The core of this game is based around its shifting and shooting mechanics. These are satisfying in every way that the plot isn’t.
Shifty has two primary actions: Shift, and punch. He can also pick up items and use those to punch, but it’s really all the same. Though the mechanics may lack depth, they are incredibly satisfying to use. Every punch and shift give a nice little jolt of HD Rumble and stop the action for just a split second so you can really take in the effects. It feels a bit like what I’d expect a Zak Snyder fight scene to feel like… And I mean that in a good way, because that might not have been clear.
Outside of that, it’s all about shifting across levels and punching goons, with a couple of reaction based puzzles sprinkled on. The Switch version also has some other nice uses of the HD Rumble, such as giving a jolt in the direction that a shot has been fired from, or where an explosion goes off. This is especially satisfying when you set off a chain reaction of blasts that propagates around a level.
Heap of Shift
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the good of Mr. Shifty begins and ends. Once we delve a little deeper under the surface, cracks start to appear. Each of its 18 levels features the same bland decor and have very little to differentiate between them. It might as well be one long segmented corridor across all levels. The same can be said of the enemies. They each take 2 shots to kill and differ only in the rate they fire bullets at. By the end of the game, one is much the same as the other, differentiable by the colour of coat they wear. And God help you if one generates just off screen, where they can shoot at you without any sort of notice.
There’s also the question of difficulty. Now, Mr. Shifty does get fairly difficult towards the end, but rather than achieving it with creative puzzles or special enemy attack patterns, it does it instead by just throwing masses of meat walls at you. Wave after wave will come, with just enough time between waves to stop the build up of Shifty’s special ability to slow time when a bullet is fired at him. These long waves tend to come at the end of the later levels. So even at the end, the first 80% of a level will be a cakewalk, taking about 3 minutes to finish, while the last 2-3 rooms will take a further 10 minutes.
The dialogue is awful to boot. I know we’re not here for the story, but what little there is tying the levels together is just plain bad. Shifty’s handler, Ms. Nyx, will give you a short overview on what’s happening as you move through the building, or give hints as to what’s coming up. She’s been written with a sort of lazy sarcastic attitude that just doesn’t work terribly well. There’s a strong vibe of “Edgy teen thinks they’re funny” from it. We’d be better served with an incrementing number between levels.
On top of the bland level design and limited variety of enemies and weapons, the game has other, less subjective issues.
One of these, according to other reports, is exclusive to the undocked Switch version of the game, which happens to be how I played the entirety of the game. In later levels, the game struggles to keep up with all of the action on screen. This creates an awful stuttering effect. The game will freeze for a more than the expected split-second as you shift around. This totally takes away from the flow of the combat, breaking up the rhythm of each jump. Timing is essential in the later levels, and if that stutter causes a button press to not register, well, tough. Eat a bullet and try again. It hurts all the more in later levels, where checkpoints become quite far apart. It all adds up to the worst kind of padding.
The second issue is far more serious, and affects all versions of the game. Sometimes, the game will just crash when you complete a level. You’ll lose all progress and have to start again from the beginning of that level. No checkpoints allowed. In the 3 and a half hours it took me to complete the game. (Yes, 3 and a half. That’s all there is to it.) I suffered 4 or 5 corruptions. And yes, that 3.5ish hours includes all the levels I had to redo in their entirety. These tended to happen in the last quarter of the game too, where the levels are among the longest.
All told, I simply cannot recommend Mr. Shifty. It is too short to warrant its price tag, and while that alone isn’t the measure of a bad game, the little content it does have isn’t all enjoyable. The basic mechanics are solid, and there’s for sure a good game hidden in there somewhere, but this isn’t it. If anything, that fact makes Mr. Shifty all the more disappointing. Everything here feels a bit like a decent Newgrounds flash game or fun prototype, but not a solid indie release.
Unfortunately, Mr. Shifty is far less than the sum of its parts and pangs of a potentially good idea that has been poorly implemented. While it starts off fun, it swiftly becomes a chore. All that said, if you can nab it on sale sometime, the mechanics are worth trying out. Based on those alone, I’d be interested in the notion of a Mr. Shifty 2, provided that some of the above concerns were addressed. A lot more puzzles and a little more variety and this could have been great. For now though, this gets a hard pass.