For a few years now, we at The B-Team have been big fans of TinyBuild, checking in with them at many PAXes. From SpeedRunners, to Party Hard, to ClusterTruck—and many others in between—TinyBuild continues to publish great, creative indie games, that are just plain fun. Their latest title, Mr. Shifty, just launched on Steam and Nintendo Switch. While a few of their games have been released on other consoles, it is awesome to have a simultaneous release on Nintendo’s latest platform, especially with how few other games have launched on the Switch thus far.
In short, the premise of Mr. Shifty is that you must break into the world’s most secure building using your teleportation powers along the way. Shifty delivers its story through text dialogue and attempts to be humorous in a cheesy kind of way. Sometimes it is a bit much, but Shifty owns it well as it fits the rest of the style of the game. The game is played from a top down perspective, where you move from room-to-room, clearing enemies using primarily melee attacks (the exception being thrown objects). The player controls Mr. Shifty with the left analogue stick. The “Y” button activates Mr. Shifty’s teleport ability. The player can teleport up to five times in quick succession, with the talent capable of recharging automatically after a few seconds. The “B” button is Mr. Shifty’s attack button. In addition to clobbering enemies with “B,” the player can also knock doors off their hinges causing them to fly back and hit enemies—talk about making an entrance. Finally, the “A” button serves to pick-up or throw items in whatever direction Mr. Shifty is facing. While Mr. Shifty is not a twin stick shooter, the simplistic controls and teleportation ability allow the player to quickly jump around the room to attack or dodge enemies, leaving chaos in your wake. While I have seen numerous comparisons to Hotline Miami, one notable difference with Shifty is that you cannot pick-up guns. As a result, you are forced to teleport from cover to cover in order to avoid ranged attacks, and eventually get close enough to the enemy for a personal take down.
Like Hotline, the game is brutally tough. In the roughly four-and-a-half-hours it took me to complete it, I died over 450 times. But like some other challenging games, it feels fair. When you die, it is because you overlooked an enemy, stepped into the line of fire, or were too close to an explosion. One interesting approach used by the game is that although you can be shot by off-screen enemies, their weapons’ lasers indicate you are about to be hit. So even though you cannot see them, you know you are being targeted. Fortunately, despite the Mr. Shifty‘s difficulty, the game features almost instantaneous respawns to the beginning of each room. As this implies, the next checkpoint is always within reach and simply requires moving on to the next room. The system works well as you never feel discouraged or that you are facing an impossible task.
While there is not a ton of variety to Shifty‘s levels—the game mostly involves clearing similar rooms (though there is some variety to the game mechanics later on)—the game remains fun due to its difficulty and multiple ways you can clear levels. For example, one could take the traditional approach and melee kill all the enemies in a room. But another player may choose to catch the grenades shot at him by enemies, and quickly throw them back at groups of enemies, wiping out large clusters at once. Alternatively, another strategy might be to quickly teleport between a group of enemies, and then teleport away. The enemies will open fire on where you were just standing moments early. If done right, many of the enemies will be killed in the cross-fire. The various ways the game can be played make me wish the Switch (or even Mr. Shifty through a proprietary system) supported video clip recording as screenshots just do not do the game justice.
The game works well in both TV and handheld modes on the Switch. However in both modes, there were times when there seemed to be a bit of slowdown, my guess due to the large number of characters and moving objects/particles (debris, fired weapons, explosions). In the course of writing this review, I discovered this was not an isolated issue unfortunately. Nevertheless, in my experience I did not find it to pose much of a hindrance to the gameplay. And fortunately, TinyBuild has gone on record that they are working to fix these issues through a patch. One perhaps more concerning bit though, was the game crashed twice taking me back to the Switch’s dashboard. I do not really know the reason as it seemed to happen between levels, but it is not something I have seen on the (few) other titles I have played on Switch. While not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, hopefully this can be addressed via patch as well. One other, albeit minor, issue is the vibration seemed to be a bit strong when playing with the joy-cons in handheld mode, especially when there were a lot of nearby explosions. This seems to be a common trend though with recent Switch games, so I suspect it will be addressed soon if others feel the same. That said, the vibration when using the Pro controller felt fine.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with Mr. Shifty. Though there is not a AAA game released every week on the Switch, the platform continues to deliver great indie titles to fill in the gaps, and Mr. Shifty is no exception. Mr. Shifty‘s levels are broken up well to allow for quick, pick-up-and-play sessions; or longer game sessions if you choose to complete entire levels at a time. The difficulty keeps the game interesting and creates that “just one more try” appeal. The game is priced well for the fun it offers and is worth playing for fans of top-down action games like Hotline Miami, Smash TV, and The Binding of Issac.
Final Score: 3.75 out of 5
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the title. A review copy was provided by the publisher. It was completed by the reviewer in approximately four-and-a-half-hours, though exact playtimes will vary depending on how many tries it takes to pass each room. Mr. Shifty is available digitally for an initial price of $14.99 on Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop.