It’s not often we see a game that so unabashedly borrows from other games and franchises yet creates a niche all its own—and does it well. Called by its own developer at Team Shifty “Hotline Miami meets Nightcrawler,” Mr. Shifty borrows heavily from the Hotline Miami series, utilizing its isometric design and stealth-action gameplay, while also borrowing from X-Men’s Nightcrawler in the form of the titular character’s Shift ability. While the borrowing of these ideas is admittedly clear, Mr. Shifty combines them well and makes for a fantastic experience, with a slick art style and satisfying gameplay.
Starting up the game, the silent Mr. Shifty finds himself on an elevator on his way into the world’s most secure facility. Communicating with his remote partner, Nyx, Mr. Shifty is tasked with finding an object hidden within the facility. Aside from a few twists and minor developments in the later game, that’s about all there is to the story. Gameplay is front and center in Mr. Shifty, and for what it does, that works just fine. I often found Nyx’s oft-cheesy commentary a welcome addition, but it doesn’t do much to service what little story there is here.
Since gameplay is king in Mr. Shifty, I’m happy to report it works exceedingly well. Mr. Shifty’s primary mode of combat is attacking melee-style, though he can pick up found weapons to work in his favor. Most enemies take two or three unarmed hits to fell, but certain weapons, like a staff or broom, take down enemies in a single swing. The best part about Mr. Shifty’s combat and gameplay, however, is his signature Shift ability. A simple tap of a button will allow Mr. Shifty to shift, or phase, and reappear a distance away, à la Nightcrawler. This ability proves especially useful to Shift through walls or behind enemies—which I found myself doing often. Be warned though, as Mr. Shifty can only Shift five times in succession; use all five Shifts too quickly and Mr. Shifty will find himself wanting for escape, waiting for his ability bar to refill. If you use Shift sparingly, though, one-by-one they regenerate quickly, and I only found myself depleting all my Shifts when trying to escape swarms of enemies in the late game.
Additionally, there is a slow-mo meter above the Shift ability bar. If you take out enough enemies within an allotted time, the bar will max out. Once maxed out, Mr. Shifty automatically engages in slow motion the next time a bullet is fired at him, giving him an opportunity to evade and take out enemies before the bar resets. Most times, I found myself Shifting immediately once slow-mo had engaged, and I either used the time to take out multiple enemies or flee to a safe spot, depending on the situation.
Overall, I found gameplay and combat immensely satisfying—the game often made me feel like a badass, being able to narrowly escape death by Shifting at just the right time, then popping back up behind an enemy and swiftly taking him or her out.
Despite how good the controls and gameplay feel, Mr. Shifty isn’t lacking in difficulty. One shot or melee strike from an enemy, and you’re done. Each death never felt like an immense setback, however, as you’re dropped right back into the same room you were within seconds. For how unforgiving some of the enemies are, I never felt like I was being punished with death. I often found each death as a learning experience, and used my prior downfalls as a lesson in what not do to next time. With each restart, I would try something a bit different each time until it clicked. Once I found a method of success, it was then simply a matter of execution.
Oftentimes, too, there is more than one way to clear a room of enemies. Most stages provide ample cover where Mr. Shifty can hide, watch an enemy’s route, and pop in and out with a clean kill. Most times, though, one downed enemy will alert all others in the vicinity, so I often found myself quickly Shifting between rooms and through walls, trying to single out an enemy here or there to safely take them out.
Enemies aren’t lacking in variety either. Early on, you’ll face off against simple, gun-wielding goons which are easy to pick off one-by-one, but later you’ll face larger enemies that take more hits to take down, as well as enemies with varying weapons, reaction speeds, and movement speeds—not to mention trying to dodge moving lasers or avoiding motion-seeking rockets at the same time. Especially later in the game, I often found myself facing off against swarms of enemies made up of differing types, and I had to prioritize which units I would try to single out and take down first. If I noticed an enemy with a shotgun knowing he has a fast reaction speed (based on the color of his clothing), I would Shift around until I had him cornered, quickly take him out, then Shift away before the rest of the swarm came in behind him. It was in these situations where I found myself dying most, and I admittedly became frustrated when I was so close to finishing a boxed-in room with swarms of enemies, only to die and have to restart the entire event. These frustrations were few and far between, but were most concentrated toward the late game stages. Despite these minor frustrations, though, I always felt determined to defeat whatever obstacle was in my way.
Mr. Shifty is also ripe for replayability, as one can go back to replay a stage at any time from the main menu. The end of each level presents the player with how much time it took to clear the stage and how many times Mr. Shifty bit the bullet, so there is plenty incentive for speedrunners, or simply for people to just jump back in and try to better their completion time or death count.
It’s also worth noting that my experience varied slightly between handheld and docked mode on Nintendo Switch. I found myself playing 90 percent of my playtime in handheld mode, which felt absolutely natural for this game. The addition of HD rumble support on the Joy-Cons made for an exceptional experience in handheld mode. It was only when my battery level became low that I remembered I could play this game in docked mode as well, so I docked my system and grabbed my Pro controller. After playing for hours in handheld mode only to blow the image up on my living room TV, it took a few minutes to adjust to, but it played just fine in docked mode. I will note, however, that while I did experience a small handful of framerate hiccups in handheld mode, I experienced far more framerate drops and moments of frozen gameplay while in docked mode. Mr. Shifty is definitely a superior experience in handheld mode, and I’m glad the Nintendo Switch version gives me that option.
As I have not yet completed the game, I cannot comment on how the game shapes up in its final act, but I will update this review (with video, too!) when I have finished the game in its entirety.
If I had to score it now, though…
Mr. Shifty takes a tried and true formula and mixes it up just enough to make it feel novel. Offering excellent gameplay, sharp visuals, and great replayability, Mr. Shifty is an excellent addition to the Switch’s lineup and should not be missed.
Disclaimer: A review code for Mr. Shifty was provided by the game’s publisher.