Superhero-thief meets Hotline Miami in tinyBuild’s newest release, Mr. Shifty.
Mr. Shifty is a trenchcoated super thief with a special ability over which I have drooled since the days of patiently awaiting the next issue of X-men: Mr. Shifty can teleport. In a half-stealth, half-combat centered, fifth-person heist campaign, this means a super fast-paced and exciting experience for the player. If I sound too matter-of-fact, allow me to amend: this game knocked my cynical, everloving socks off… initially.
The campaign starts by plopping you right at the start of Shifty’s mission. Any and all story is told through the sparse dialogue, and even without a clunky backstory or cutscenes, Mr. Shifty still presents clear characterization and storyline. Shifty is accompanied by his disembodied voice in his ear and by his partner, Nyx, who gives him tips and technological support remotely. Nyx’s hilarious commentary, and Shifty’s lack thereof, brings some solid humor and excellent character chemistry to the title. There is very little in the way of a tutorial, which works, because the controls and abilities are relatively simple. Shifty can teleport about three-to-five feet in front of him, which means through walls, lasers, or bullets. He can also pick up objects and use them as weapons. These weapons include, but are not limited to, brooms, sticks, oars, coffee mugs, keyboards, and my personal favorite, a trident, which at one point I used to javelin-throw and pin four guards to the wall at once. No matter which weapon you pick, it will turn Shifty’s hand-to-hand two- or three-hit-kills to one-hit-kills. Unlike other stealth missions, Mr. Shifty is just as much, if not more, focused on combat as it is focused on stealth. There is even a bar that is filled when Shifty kills multiple bad guys in quick succession. When the bar is full, SloMo mode (or, SloMode, if you will) automatically activates and gives the player a few seconds of slowed time to maneuver through enemies. I found myself maniacally laughing, teleporting behind clueless guards and taking them out with a coffee mug. I enjoyed bamfing in front of one guard, and then bamfing out of the way just in time for him to get filled with lead by his cohorts. It was pure, unadulterated fun, and it filled me with a joy that I haven’t felt playing video games in a long time. “This is a fantastically-made game,” I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to see where the next levels lead!”
The entire campaign takes place in the same skyscraper, for goodness’ sake.
The levels never changed. The mission never changed. Though the challenges increased in difficulty, and there were a few more guards that the title threw at me, it never really went anywhere. The game starts at the bottom floor of what Nyx reveals is the “most secure building in the world.” The rest of the game is moving slowly up the floors, till Shifty reaches the top and steals from the world’s greatest criminal, who is dubbed by Nyx, “Chairman Asshole.” The scenery and villains vary slightly, but most levels are more of the same. The music is even the same throughout the mission.
Aesthetically, Mr. Shifty is masterful. It has the vibrant colors and the cell-shading of a traditional American comic book, which adds to the fantastical abilities of Shifty himself. Everything about the release is reminiscent of old school comic books, including the over-the-top characters and their over-the-top dialogue. When Shifty goes into SloMode, the saturation of all of the colors increases tenfold, lending even more the the superhero atmosphere.
It’s always a really tough call when I have to put aside how much I enjoyed a game, and look at it objectively. Mr. Shifty has the bones of a truly well-made game, but it tires after a while. It’s tragic, because the mechanics are smooth, and tinyBuild was able to take an idea like from games like Hotline Miami and implement a superhero theme. The abilities are unique, the music is upbeat, the combat is fast-paced, but the variety just isn’t there. They could’ve added new abilities, new weapons and traps, or even just changed up the scenery. The entire campaign takes place in the same skyscraper, for goodness’ sake. I found Mr. Shifty to be one of the most entertaining titles I’ve played in a long time, personally. If teleportation and nods to comic book culture are elements that tickle your fancy, the repetitiveness might be a non-issue. If the developers want to appeal to a wider audience, however, some diversity should be added into the levels.