When I started Mr Shifty, I was in love. The game reminded me of Hotline Miami, crossed with that scene from X-men 2 where Nightcrawler attacks the White House. Mr Shifty is about beating people up and teleporting away or behind people to avoid being shot to death. When you start off, it feels like a bullet ballet. It is exciting, fun to test and master and it works really, really well.
Then you realise that this is all the game is ever going to give you. Mr Shifty is about a thief who hates guns but loves violence, a man who has a short-distance teleport ability. He is a man who says nothing, preferring to punch his way out of all of his problems while Nyx tells him what to do over his comms, giving the scant bit of story and humour to the game. Your job is to steal the Mega Plutonium from an evil madman CEO Stone. Things go wrong and you end up needing to fight Stone to stop him from taking over the world.
Lovable punching and teleporting
For the beginning few stages, having a threadbare story wasn’t an issue. There was enough humour in the occasional messages you received while threading your way through challenges. A single bullet kills, taking you back to the beginning of the room you are in and Mr Shifty’s teleporting ability is not completely unlimited. Besides having a very short range, using it too often will leave you too tired to shift for a while, meaning you need to be clever about how you move around. Breaking line of sight, getting behind enemies or ambushing them, you have to thin out the ranks of enemies to make sure a stray bullet doesn’t send you back to the start of the room.
When you start off, it feels like a bullet ballet. It is exciting, fun to test and master and it works really, really well.
Killing enough enemies in a short span of time will fill a focus gauge, which will activate if a bullet is about to kill you. This gives you a few seconds where time slows down, letting you dodge the would-be fatal rounds and take down a few targets. Besides your fists, you can get your enemies to kill each other with friendly fire, or you can pick up an object and turn it into the most deadly thing imaginable. A stack of dollars? Lethal throwing weapon. A pillow? Lethal throwing weapon. A broom? Lethal sweeping strikes. Mr Shifty takes no prisoners.
Then it keeps going…
The bad sets in a few levels into the game, when you realise that Mr Shifty doesn’t really evolve. He doesn’t get better moves or tricks or powers, and enemies reach the point where the only way to make it a challenge is to throw more of them at you, or to make you complete gauntlets. It is these gauntlets that completely broke my enjoyment of the game. Sure give me a gauntlet or two before the boss or something, but the final level of the game gives you a gauntlet, then doesn’t let you go to the next room to find a checkpoint. Instead you start *another* gauntlet, and any stray attack that hits you means there you go, back to the beginning of the room, starting off gauntlet one all over again. The lack of a checkpoint feels unnecessarily unfair, a result of the game not knowing how to challenge you any more, so it just throws more enemies at you for longer periods of time, hoping to catch you when you make a mistake, forcing you back to square 1.
What makes it so annoying that you don’t get any new powers is that the boss does get new powers, allowing him to send enemies after you in creative ways, while you stick with the exact same options that you had from the beginning of the game. This isn’t in itself necessarily a bad thing for a game to do, but when looking at other shortfalls, like the lack of a story to keep you interested, the game carrying on well after the joy of what you can do in it wears off and the end levels feeling less like well designed challenges and more like someone threw more enemies at the problem hoping this time it sticks all adds up into a frustrating experience that goes sour.
I honestly try my best to finish a game before reviewing it, but I am stuck on level 18 called “The End” and well, for the sake of my controller and my heart, I am giving up on this game now. Doing gauntlet after gauntlet after gauntlet without any checkpoints isn’t my idea of fun.
Can you go from loving to loathing something in two hours? Apparently you can, if it overstays its welcome.