Mr. Shifty is a top-down, beat em’ up, action indie game developed by Team Shifty and published by tinyBuild GAMES. Team Shifty is an Australian based indie studio formed by some of the developers who used to work at Halfbrick Studios; the developers that created the popular mobile game Fruit Ninja. Mr. Shifty is Team Shifty’s debut title and is being released first on PC and Nintendo Switch on April 13, 2017.

At first glance, Mr. Shifty might seem like a copy of Dennaton Games’ Hotline Miami. They share a similar top-down perspective, one-versus-all gameplay elements, and are both oozing with their own distinct style. Hotline Miami is one of my favorite indie games of all time, so I was excited to play Mr. Shifty and see how it compared. After completing the game, I believe Mr. Shifty is a significantly more ambitious project because of its innovative teleportation mechanic, destructible environments, and addictive gameplay loop by mixing those two aspects together.

Story

You play as a mysterious thief named Mr. Shifty. Wearing his bright red cap and dark blue coat, Mr. Shifty infiltrates the “most secure building in the world,” Olympus Tower, in order to steal back a resource called Mega Plutonium. The owner of Olympus Tower, Chariman Stone, stole the Mega Plutonium and is trying to weaponize it for seemingly evil reasons. Mr. Shifty’s mission is to steal it back. Mr. Shifty is not alone on his mission, however, he is helped by a woman named Nyx, who gives him important details on the building. These include mission objectives and escape routes with “minimal resistance.”

 The overall story of Mr. Shifty is nothing particularly groundbreaking but the character interactions are where this title thrives. Nyx and Chairman Stone’s dialogue is filled with engaging and humorous commentary on the events that go on throughout the game. Nyx makes degrading puns at Chairman Stone’s expense, while Chairman Stone laments at the destruction of his precious Italian marble. The characters are well written and provide a nice break from the action every once in awhile.

 Presentation

Like I said earlier, Mr. Shifty is a game oozing with its own distinct style. Mr. Shifty looks like a cel-shaded comic book in action and it fits the overall theme of the game well. The music suits the game despite the fact that there are only a few tracks. After a while, listening to the same songs gets a little irritating, especially if you are constantly dying and repeating a section of the game.

A feature exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version of Mr. Shifty is the HD Rumble found in the joycons. At first, I did not notice anything special about the vibrations. It wasn’t until an explosion occurred on the left side of my screen that I noticed only the left joycon rumbled. This is a nice touch because you will be able to tell where an explosion occurred off screen because you will feel it in the joycons. When you punch enemies in a certain direction, only that direction will rumble on the joycon making for quite the interesting experience. While the HD Rumble doesn’t make the game inherently better, it is a cool feature and it’s nice to see it being supported by all types of developers.

Gameplay

The best part of Mr. Shifty is its teleportation mechanic, or “shifting” as it’s called in the game. Mr. Shifty has the ability to teleport a short distance in front of him. All you have to do is point Mr. Shifty in the direction you want to teleport, and press the B button. Mr. Shifty has the capacity to teleport 5 times, but if you do them all at once he becomes exhausted and will be unable to shift for a short amount of time. Shifting selectively allows the teleportation bar to quickly regenerate the amount of shifts you used. For example, if you teleport 3 times, it will take about 1 second to regenerate each teleport used. The teleportation in this game is incredibly satisfying. It allows you to teleport through walls, dodge bullets, and confuse your enemies. One of the best uses of shifting is to teleport in between two enemies, have them point their guns at me, and when they’re about to shoot, shift away. It feels responsive, fluid, and clever.

Mr. Shifty has more than just epic mobility. His other special ability allows him to slow down time when a bullet is about to hit him. There is an orange bar that builds up by punching enemies consecutively. You must quickly defeat an enemy and move on to the next in order to keep the bar going. After the bar is full, it will remain full until you’re almost attacked and it will activate automatically. When initiated, you have around 5 seconds to take out as many enemies as possible in slow motion.

When this ability is activated, the colors of the game become hyper saturated, and the music and sound effects slow down. It makes the ability feel a lot more tangible and provides a satisfying difference between the regular game. Be careful not to run into bullets in slow motion though because they will still kill you. (I learned this the hard way).

Other than these two mechanics, Mr. Shifty has the basics when it comes to top-down fighters. Shifty can only pick up melee weapons though, so don’t expect to level the playing field with guns dropped by henchmen after defeating them. There are a variety of melee weapons Mr. Shifty can use such as sticks, poles, mops, oars (yes, the ones for canoeing), etc. The weapons allow you to defeat every enemy with only one hit.

Normally it takes 2 punches to defeat small enemies, while it takes 3 to defeat larger sized ones. This would seem overpowered if it wasn’t for the fact that each one of these melee weapons have a durability limit. For example, you can only hit enemies with a stick 3 times before it breaks. This way the game keeps you active and engaged in constantly moving and knowing when to attack with or without weapons, instead of relying solely on beating everyone up with a mop you found in the janitor’s closet.

Mr. Shifty has a variety of enemies that keep the game challenging as the game progresses. There are 4 enemy types, each one with various subtypes.There are regular sized enemies that use guns (2 punches to defeat), large sized enemies (3 punches to defeat), small, agile type enemies (2 punches to defeat), and turrets that auto lock on (can only be defeated by explosions). The subtypes of regular sized enemies are differentiated by the color suit they have, color of their hair, and the type of gun they are using.

For example, the blue suited enemy has a pistol that shoots only one bullet a second while the yellow suited enemy has a rifle that shoots more than 3 rounds a second. These new enemies are introduced as you progress further in the game. Each one of these enemies are easy to deal with on their own, but the real thrill of Mr. Shifty is when you have to fight a variety of enemies all at once and you must figure out how to defeat them all without getting hit.

There are a total of 18 levels in Mr. Shifty. It took me about 5 hours to complete the entire game. The levels in Mr. Shifty have several objectives. Some task you with finding keys, stealing the mega plutonium, escaping, etc. While they give you objectives for completing a level, each one of these things is done by defeating rooms of enemies. Most of the time you cannot progress to the next section of the level until you defeat all the enemies. Sometimes there are sections where you don’t have to defeat all enemies, but instead run away from explosions or lasers.

Throughout some levels, you will be placed in what I call “fight rooms.” You will be locked into these rooms where enemies will constantly pour in for you to beat them all up. They can become frustrating at times because they can last longer than 2 minutes. If you die at any point in these rooms, you start fighting the hordes of enemies from the very beginning.

These rooms also highlight the destructible environments in this game.  As you fight these enemies, the walls of rooms will crumble. Furniture, statues, desks, etc. will break as you teleport from room to room, avoiding the bullets of enemies and preparing your attack against them. Sometimes you can punch an enemy so hard that they fly towards a wall and go right through it. It’s extremely satisfying to send enemies flying into walls and into other enemies as you defeat them all with your abilities.

You can punch through crumbling walls in order to make your own path of escape. Destructible environments fundamentally change the way Mr. Shifty is played. You can’t simply rely on hiding behind the same wall, waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack. You have to constantly move, constantly think about how you’re going to position yourself to defeat a group, and use these destructible environments in your favor.

Concerns

Mr. Shifty is not a game for everyone. You will die a lot in this game. A lot. It is inherent with these types of games. Mr. Shifty is a bit forgiving in that it gives you the slow motion mechanic if you’re consecutively being defeated by enemies. Unfortunately, this will not be enough for certain levels and you will die often. Loading times between these deaths is hit or miss. I never experienced a loading screen for more than a few seconds, but they are not instant. The loading screens in between sections of a level are similarly long. However, some sections in levels are simply too big.

Unlike in Hotline Miami, where a section of a level can be completed in less than a minute, Mr. Shifty has some level sections that can go on for more than that. There are sections with more than 5 rooms with dozens of enemies. If you get hit once, you have to start over from the beginning of that section. While I do not have a problem with this because I enjoy the challenge, this might put off some players who do not have a tolerance for patience, repetition, and/or are easily frustrated.

In some sections of the game, like the “fight rooms” where hordes of enemies come in, performance takes a significant hit. I experienced no difference in performance in sections where there was a lot of action or explosions when docked or undocked. The game feels like it runs at 30 frames per second, but in these sections the game can feel as if it is running at 20-25 frames per second. Sometimes it even comes to a complete halt for a second.

This becomes a problem in “fight rooms” where you’re fighting hordes of enemies. Instead of feeling fast, fluid, and responsive, the game feels sluggish, static, and frustrating. I did have the game crash on me once on the very last level, but I have not been able to replicate it. The game is playable, but it’s important to have stable performance in games that revolve around split-second movements. Hopefully, Team Shifty can offer a patch in the future to remedy these performance issues.

The worst part of this game are sections where you are not allowed to use your teleporting powers. These sections are extraordinarily tedious and made me wish that they were not included in the game. These sections do make you appreciate the teleportation mechanic, however.

There isn’t much in the way of replayability in Mr. Shifty. The only things that are measured at the end of the level is how long it takes to complete a level, and how many deaths you suffered throughout the level. There is no score counter, consecutive hits multipliers, etc. If you want to keep replaying the game in order to get a better time, or less deaths, that’s always an option.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed Mr. Shifty. I believe it is a thrilling, challenging game with an addictive and engaging gameplay wrapped in a cool, confident art style. It does not dethrone Hotline Miami as my favorite indie video game of all time, but it is definitely one of my favorite indie video games. Despite some performance issues and punishingly long level sections, Mr. Shifty is successful at being an ambitious top-down, brawler with its original teleportation mechanic. If you enjoy a challenge and are looking for a quality indie title to play on your Nintendo Switch, Mr. Shifty is worth your time and money. I am excited to see what Team Shifty creates next. Mr. Shifty is available for download on eShop for Nintendo Switch owners, pricing at $14.99/£13.49.