Mr Shifty is a top-down action game that focuses on a voiceless, faceless thief of the same name with the intention of stealing a device called Mega Plutonium from the most secure building in the world, the Olympus Tower. Armed with only his fists and his ability to teleport, Mr Shifty must overcome deadly traps and evil henchmen in waves.
Mr Shifty is a faceless and voiceless protagonist whose identity is often masked by either his signature red cap or blue trench coat. His entire style is very reminiscent of the X-Men’s Kurt Wagner, AKA, The Incredible Nightcrawler from the opening scene of X-Men 2. Even his shifting ability is incredibly similar, missing only the telltale “BAMF” so often used in the comics. It’s this very design feature that instantly drew me to Mr Shifty. Essentially, it’s the Nightcrawler game we’ve never had.
Mr Shify utilises simple controls; the left joystick moves Shifty around while the B button is used to “bamf”, sorry, “shift”. The Y button is then used to attack various enemies that populate the highly secure Olympus Tower. Items and weapons can be picked up with A and subsequently thrown with the same button. With only four options to worry about, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Mr Shifty is a simple game – far from it.
In order to progress you need to employ different tactics throughout the game. Running at your enemies fist-first just doesn’t cut it after level one. Using Shifty’s teleportation move I often found myself shifting behind my foes and attacking from behind. There are a number of different enemy types to keep you on your toes. Each will test your abilities and force you to up your ante and each is colour coded to help you recognise their threat level in the midst of battle.
For example, blue shirt henchmen use handguns. One shot and pretty slow, whereas the yellow shirt henchmen have automatic weapons; they have a higher rate of fire and they’re pretty deadly. Later enemies are loaded with flamethrowers, whilst some have grenades. Each needs to be approached differently and shifting wildly is not the key. Consideration needs to be taken to avoid shifting into the path of a stray bullet. Which happens. A lot.
Shifting can’t be wild and spontaneous, but rather it needs to be well timed and calculated. One bullet is enough to end Shifty’s life and send you back to the last checkpoint. There’s a limit on the number of shifts that can be performed within a short period of time; five to be exact. Using all five bars up in one go means there will be a delay on the power regenerating while using the ability sparingly causes the meter to fill up much faster.
Combat with the various (I can only assume) employees of the Olympus Tower builds up a special orange meter. Once this is full it allows Shifty to automatically enter a slow motion phase if a bullet narrowly misses him. In this mode Shifty moves much faster than his enemies, allowing you to take down a number of hostiles which could otherwise cause hassle in the long run. Initially, I was disappointed to find that this mode was purely an automatic reaction to a specific event in-game and not something I could activate when I needed it most, though after giving it some thought, I realised it would make the game much easier and would effectively ruin the difficulty curve that Team Shifty had so well crafted.
For the style of game, the top-down approach works well. It allows you to see what’s waiting in each room before you move there. The element of surprise is often the key to survival. The visuals work very well, the cel-shaded design of the game help pick out each of the coloured enemies as well as the surroundings. The levels are designed well and offer a number of different play styles to keep the game feeling fresh.
Earlier levels are player toward the top of the Olympus Tower so there’s lots of glass and open spaces. As you progress you end up in the basement of the complex which is the complete antithesis. Some areas may be filled with rooms, so much that it’s almost claustrophobic, whereas other areas may be wide open and full of traps. This works well with the game’s top-down style; this view gives you a full view of the rooms ahead without needing to open doors. This gives you the added advantage of planning ahead and using Mr Shifty’s abilities to the best of your advantage.
In many of the later levels, I found there was a lot more going on. More enemies, explosions as well as items that could be picked up and hurled at the nearest enemy. While this was the cause of many game-over screens, mostly from stray bullets, I also found this to have an adverse affect on the game’s performance – both in and out of docked mode. The action would visibly slow down and the framerate would take an obvious plunge, sometimes down into single digits. While I didn’t encounter this during every high action scene it certainly occurred enough to ruin a significant portion of the gameplay.
In conclusion, Mr Shifty is a well thought out game with both interesting visuals and simple controls that allow anyone to pick up and play, but at its heart, it offers a much more in-depth focus on strategy. Wildly shifting into the action will in most cases end up wth your demise, but taking the time to assess your situation will reward you with the total feeling of badassery; with the corpse of countless Olympus Tower employees at your feet. I’m only disappointed that the game suffers from such performance issues, which ultimately drags it down and does affect my final score.