I’m going to level with you all – writing about Mr. Shifty is a lot harder than it has any right to be. I’ve written about all sorts of games before; great games, terrible games, bizarre games, but I don’t think there’s one I’ve had more trouble writing a review for than Mr. Shifty. Because Mr. Shifty isn’t a bad game. It isn’t a good game either. No, Mr. Shifty is perhaps the worst of all – Mr. Shifty is just… There.
On paper, Mr. Shifty is the coolest thing in the world. You play as the titular Mr. Shifty – a teleporting thief on a quest to break into high-valued locations and steal whatever he can get his hands on. Or least that’s what we can assume he does because, despite his nature as a thief, he only breaks in to steal one item from the highly guarded Olympus Tower, which he and his snarky handler Nyx kinda forget about a few levels in. Instead, his quest becomes one of vengeance – to track down and kill the building’s evil owner, Mr. Stone, and save the world.
Much like Nyx, Mr. Stone is something of a chatterbox, and he spends quite a good chunk of the game taunting Mr. Shifty over his intercom system. But here’s the thing. The writing in Mr. Shifty is bad. I mean it’s really bad. Characters have no actual character besides the broadest, messiest of strokes – all of which manifest every time Nyx and Mr. Stone open their mouths to rattle off rejected Navi quotes and sub-Saturday Morning Cartoon villain taunts respectively. While I agree that not every game needs developed characters, those that don’t need it are better off not trying – because there’s a very good reason why the Cyberdemon didn’t rattle off quips in Doom.
While the story does take up a lot more time than it really should, a good majority of the game is taken up by the perfectly serviceable gameplay. Mr. Shifty is, like many indie action games on the market, effectively a Hotline Miami clone, with a pathetically fragile protagonist doing battle against tougher, better-armed opponents from a top-down perspective. As expected by the premise, the big gimmick here is teleportation, your only real defense from being turned into swiss cheese by a hail of gunfire. With the press of a button, you can shift around the map, blinking past obstacles and enemies alike before delivering the smackdown to anyone unfortunate enough to be within a five-foot radius of the teleporting thief.
There’s a simple, cathartic joy that comes with beating the crap out of absolutely everybody in your immediate vicinity that cannot be ignored, but Mr. Shifty doesn’t have much going for its bare-bones combat system beyond these carnal pleasures. You teleport around, you punch people, and you occasionally hit them with large objects you’ve swung or thrown. It is a generalized look at the combat, sure, but it’s also entirely accurate – there’s not a single visual flourish or sound effect that helps make the combat feel anything short of ‘going through the motions’. Considering how shallow the presentation of combat is, it doesn’t help that Shifty only has three actual attacks in his entire arsenal, with no real way to mix things up.
Granted, the enemy variety does its best to pick up the mechanics’ slack, consistently introducing a new baddie almost every level. While this had the potential to be a wreck, I’m pleased to say that every enemy and challenge added is, much like the gameplay, just serviceable enough. None of the new baddies change the way you approach a given challenge all that much, with the best strategy always being ‘teleport and punch until they’re dead’ no matter the foe. While one flamethrower-wielding foe does encourage more rapid shifting, it’s not enough to drastically change combat in any meaningful way.
When you get down to it, Mr. Shifty is as run-of-the-mill as games go. It’s perfectly serviceable, yes, but lacks anything even mildly aesthetically, narratively, thematically, or mechanically interesting. You play it, you smile a bit, then by the time the credits roll, you’ve already forgotten most of it. Not terrible by any means – but not all that great either.
Mr. Shifty was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by the developer.
Bland, inoffensive, and instantly forgettable - Mr. Shifty does nothing a lot wrong, but it does nothing a lot right either.
- Perfectly Playable
- Mechanically Diverse Enough to Be Interesting
- Doesn't Do Anything All That Wrong
- Shallow Mechanics
- Shallow Story
- Shallow Aesthetics