Mr. Shifty Review: Shifting Down To Mediocrity

credit: tinyBuild
credit: tinyBuild /

Mr. Shifty is filled with fast-paced action and combat that will leave you feeling like a badass superhero. For the first half of the game, that is.

Developer: Team Shifty
Publisher: tinyBuild
Platforms: PC (Version reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: April 13, 2017

Like so many older comic book and video game heroes before him, the eponymous Mr. Shifty is named by how he moves. The expert thief and master of teleportation can shift his way in and out of trouble, Nightcrawler style. The top-down shooter’s gameplay style draws painfully obvious parallels to Hotline Miami. However, Mr. Shifty‘s take on a violent overhead brawler results in quite a different game, for better and for worse.

The player-controlled Mr. Shifty has two basic moves: shifting (teleporting) and punching. You can also pick up a varying arsenal of weapons such as rods or poles, which you can either throw from afar or use in melee combat. This gives the game an extremely basic control scheme that you can quickly pick up and understand with ease. The controls feel natural and intuitive, which helps give players a very visceral feeling as you teleport behind enemies and punch them out of windows.

Mr. Shifty
credit: tinyBuild /

While you do discover a few weapons throughout the game’s eighteen levels, Mr. Shifty’s core abilities never change. It’s the same, repetitive combination of teleportation and attacking: shift in, attack, shift away. But don’t teleport too much: if you empty your shift meter, you leave Mr. Shifty vulnerable to enemy gunshots. On the flip side, Mr. Shifty can gain the ability to enter a sort of Matrix style slo-mo sequence after filling up an attack meter. This lets players shift around as much as they please for a short duration, killing enemies frozen in time. Managing your shift powers is of the utmost importance, as it only takes one hit and you are wasted. This causes the game to often be as much about stealth and cover as it is about attacking.

The number of enemies gradually increases, making for some fast-paced “Oh Shift!” moments…

This same gameplay formula repeats throughout the entirety of the game while slowly increasing in difficulty. At first, you face lots of dumb pistol-wielding goons and the occasional big brute looking to smash your face in, while later in the game you will run into more enemies carrying dangerous weapons: everything from flame throwers to rocket launchers. The level designs get harder too, introducing lasers, proximity mines, explosive barrels, and “shift-free” zones. The number of enemies gradually increases, making for some fast-paced “Oh Shift!” moments as you teleport in and out of combat to avoid getting shot.

Mr. Shifty
credit: tinyBuild /

This is where the challenge in Mr. Shifty resides. You have to maintain a constant knowledge of where your enemies are, quickly figure out a plan of attack, and then execute that plan with little to no room for error. One stray bullet hits you and you will have to restart. And as levels become increasingly difficult,  the game starts to almost become an exercise of trial and error. You might have a flawless plan for the first half of a level, only to realize the second half requires a completely different strategy. Sometimes this made for overly repetitive gameplay, as I found myself having to redo the early parts of levels several times so that I could figure out how to beat the latter part of them. This repetition becomes more and more noticeable in the later stages of Mr. Shifty.

Throughout the majority of the game, though, this isn’t actually too much of a hindrance. Mr. Shifty is very generous with its checkpointing system, as nearly every door to a new room is a checkpoint. However, these checkpoints do not save your game between runs. They only act as a reset point for when you die. Your game file only saves between entire levels, which I found out the hard way. Granted the levels are pretty short, averaging maybe fifteen minutes each, so it didn’t result in too much lost time.

Mr. Shifty
credit: tinyBuild /

Each level is a different floor of a giant, highly secured skyscraper (Die Hard anyone?) that Mr. Shifty has broken into for…reasons. Something to do with stealing a plutonium core of sorts from the evil crime boss Chairman Stone. Guided by the comical commander Nyx, all you know (and need to know) is that you’re a badass here to crack some skulls. The primary selling point of Mr. Shifty is the combat, and the game knows this.

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The storyline is there to give players an inkling of a reason behind all of this shifting and punching while providing witty tongue-in-cheek humor. Any game where you can one-shot enemies by throwing keyboards at them clearly doesn’t take itself TOO seriously. Which is not a bad thing by any means: I found myself chuckling at the game’s banter.

Throughout the first half of the game, I couldn’t help but feel like a badass superhero. You shift around behind enemies, smacking them upside the head with metal bars as they fly through windows. My favorite weapon was the trident, obtained by breaking them off various statues throughout the skyscraper. Tricking mindless enemy goons into a small hallway, then impaling them all at once with a swift throw of justice was gloriously amusing. Or better yet, positioning yourself so the less-than-intelligent AI would blow up other enemies instead of the targeted Mr. Shifty. To put it simply: it felt awesome.

Mr. Shifty
credit: tinyBuild /

This satisfying, visceral feeling of badassery was short-lived, however. I found the gameplay loop to eventually become entirely too repetitive, even with the gradual introduction of new enemy types and level layouts. The combat sequences begin to introduce small environmental puzzle elements, but not in a meaningful enough manner. Dying from combat against a horde of enemies due to a mistimed attack is one thing. But getting one-shot from shifting one too many times trying to avoid a laser left a bad taste in my mouth, especially in such a combat oriented game. Having to restart a whole segment because of a non-combat death made some of the levels feel very much like a repetitive grind.

While I enjoyed that the playing environment was destructible and contained useful items, I felt like a number of the levels were unnecessarily clogged. Mr. Shifty jam packs too many enemies into too small of a space, often times resulting in enemy models overlapping each other in funny ways, or occasionally getting themselves stuck in walls. Even on my relatively high-end PC, I could feel it chugging along as the game’s framerate dipped during some of the more crowded levels.

In the last two levels, the game’s checkpoint system also suddenly becomes not-so-player friendly anymore. Instead of frequent checkpoints between areas, suddenly you can go a whole ten minutes into a level before you reach a safe spot. I found this incredibly frustrating, especially in a game where you rely on trial-and-error to learn how to handle the next wave of enemies. Maybe I would feel differently about this had Mr. Shifty used this checkpoint style from the start. But I ultimately felt like this change was employed to fabricate added difficulty towards the end of the game.

Mr. Shifty
credit: tinyBuild /

While the story is clearly not Mr. Shifty’s priority, the end of the game was truly a disappointment and left me wondering what the hell just happened. I will refrain from spoilers, but it was one of the most anticlimactic endings to a game I have experienced in recent memory. You’re looking at maybe 3-4 hours of gameplay to finish the game’s eighteen levels. But once the credits roll, there is little to no reason to continue playing the game. Which is odd, considering the game logs how long it takes you to complete each level. Yet there is no built-in leaderboard support in a game essentially MADE for speedrunning.

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  • Aesthetically, Mr. Shifty isn’t the most appealing thing to look at either. The cel-shaded art style is overly basic, adding little to no depth. While each of the eighteen levels is laid out differently, they all pull from the same three to four tilesets. The music is also the same throughout the entire game, something that could have drastically added uniqueness and immersion to different levels. This only adds to the feeling of repetition throughout Mr. Shifty.

    Mr. Shifty attempts to take a unique approach to top-down brawlers and iterate on the success of its predecessors. The game’s mechanics are intuitive, and initially make you feel like a badass superhero. But ultimately, Mr. Shifty becomes almost formulaic in the end, despite it’s relatively short length. The gameplay becomes a bit too repetitive, and the game didn’t quite introduce enough new ideas to keep me entertained. It’s a serviceable top-down brawler for a fair price, but it’s nothing to shift your pants over.

    6. Mr. Shifty is a competent and mostly enjoyable top-down brawler with an instinctive, visceral combat system. The teleportation mechanic is a standout addition to the game that makes players feel more like a superhero than a thief. But that feeling is short-lived, as the game fails to meaningfully introduce enough new elements to keep the gameplay from feeling formulaic and repetitive. With essentially no replayability, Mr. Shifty is a mildly entertaining title that did not fully capitalize on its potential.. Team Shifty. . Mr. Shifty

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.