Mr. Shifty is a game that proves you can punch your way out of any situation as long as you’re determined enough. With a slick blend of Hotline Miami’s frantic combat and comic book superpowers, it’s an extremely satisfying power fantasy that will make you feel like a complete badass when you dispatch a room of thugs with nothing but your fists.
The story is pretty simple, but you can tell the creators had a lot of fun writing a superhero tale. You are Mr. Shifty, a thief with vaguely explained teleportation powers who has arrived at a towering skyscraper to steal mega plutonium from an evil corporate villain named Chairman Stone who is planning to weaponize it. You’ll be getting transmissions and mission objectives from Nyx, a female handler who guides Shifty from afar. Stone will taunt you while cursing at his incompetent minions, his constant gloating makes him an enjoyable villain, with a lot of presence even though you don’t see him for most of the game. Stone brings a bunch of pesky technology to bear as you draw closer to the final confrontation, occasionally disabling your powers or teleporting his own troops to ambush you.
The art style is super stylized, it oozes character from every pore. The thick outlines and dense shadows are callbacks to early cell shading and comic book illustrations. Every single punch is accompanied by a spiky explosion of force that’s only missing the “POW!” and “BAM!” that would complete the Batman fight visuals. Explosions and flames are intense and all of the colours are eye poppingly bright with no muddy brown pallet in sight. Enemies are even colour coded, wearing flashy yellow suits and red blazers which helps a ton when the frantic fights start throwing them at you from every angle. The soundtrack isn’t incredibly memorable, other than the cheery elevator music that greets you between levels, it mostly blends into the background. You’ll be ascending the tower to a mix of tracks that sound like they’re straight out of an action heist movie.
The engine holds up extremely well considering the speed of combat, I didn’t see a single slowdown even with dozens of enemies firing weapons and explosives at me. Nearly everything in the game is destructible, which becomes more important when mines, lasers and grenade launchers start making an appearance in the second half. Little is as satisfying as punching an enemy through a window down into swirling clouds, or through a crumbling wall into a nearby room.
Combat is the game’s strength, there are a few laser/bomb trap puzzles but you’re here to punch guys and steal some mega plutonium, and there are a ton of guys between you and your prize. Shifty is an agile combatant, he can teleport instantly up to five times within a few seconds and the recharge is so quick that you’ll rarely find yourself out of teleports. Enemies will follow you with red dot sight weapons, and even a single bullet will put you down, which means you need to be out of the way before they start firing generally. This leads you to fight for only a second at a time in any given spot, quickly appearing behind another enemy while he shoots the hapless friend you were just beating on.
If you think on your toes, you can utilize friendly fire and the enemies own explosives to take out huge swaths of them at a time. While the enemies get more and more difficult and varied, all you really need is your speed and some clever use of the environment and before long you’ll find a veritable mountain of bodies left in your wake. Chairman Stone will amp up the fights with flamethrower troops, shotgun accountants and even speedy ninjas who are nearly fast enough to catch Shifty, which creates some of the best fights in the entire game.
While Shifty doesn’t ever touch a gun the levels offer up sticks, shields and even landmines to augment your arsenal temporarily. I took particular glee in the levels with tridents or shields, hurling them through groups of enemies and catching them on the other side after a few teleports made me feel like Captain America on steroids. Temporary is the key word though, most of these will break in a few hits. Extended fights will fill a slow-time gauge which kicks in any time a bullet is about to hit you, allowing some breathing room and enough time to mop up a few enemies. This is a lifesaver against gun toting foes, but doesn’t do much for the other grunts.
Controls are fairly precise, and teleporting is accurate if a little floaty when you come out the other side. In combat it’s not noticeable but you may kill yourself on a few lasers before you get extra careful. The game recommends a gamepad, and I agreed after swapping between that and mouse-keyboard. In combat a generous aim assist means you’ll rarely be whiffing at empty air, but later levels may find you tossing things at the wrong enemy if they’re standing a little closer to you than your target. Difficulty wise, the game is on the easy side, with frequent checkpoints and a well balanced difficulty curve. The only thing that stuck out was the final two levels, which dealt me more deaths than the rest of the game combined.
You’ll probably beat Mr. Shifty in a single sitting, but already fans are clamouring for an endless mode or additional levels so expect to see updates in that vein. The combat really hooked me, and if you’ve ever geeked out over the Flash or Nightcrawler you’ll find the kind of “everywhere at once” fights you often see them carry out here. If you’re a fan of comics, beat-em-ups or Hotline Miami, Mr. Shifty is definitely worth your time and money. I eagerly await the next release by Team Shifty, after an incredible first game they’re a developer I’m keeping an eye on for the future.
The publisher provided us with a copy of My. Shifty for review purposes.