Mr Shifty Review

April 23, 2017

It was only a few years ago that Hotline Miami opened my eyes to a kind of top-down mayhem that I had never experienced before, but unlike other successful Indie games, it didn’t immediately set a trend. Only now are games coming out that seem to take inspiration for Hotline Miami, with one in particular being especially interesting. Developed in Australia and bringing a new world-bending teleportation mechanic into the mix, Mr Shifty is an interesting top-down beat ‘em up that just misses the mark.

As Mr Shifty is the name of the game, shifting is your main means of defeating enemies and avoiding death. While Hotline Miami focused on guns and brutal melee weapons, Mr Shifty instead completely removes the ability to use guns, focusing on melee combat and thrown weapons. This forces you to largely get in close to enemies, which is incredible satisfying but also extremely risky as a single hit from any enemy will kill you. To mitigate this risk, you’re able to use your shifting skills to get behind enemies, dodge bullets and move between walls, funnelling enemies into doorways where you can quickly pick them off. In the face of overwhelming enemies and odds, you need to shift, use your environment and the weapons you find within them to survive and thrive. You’re able to quickly shift five times in a row before your powers go into a short cooldown, meaning that if you abuse your powers you’re likely to leave yourself vulnerable to attack. It’s a simple to way to stop you from being overwhelmingly powerful and forcing you to think strategically through encounters. Quickly shifting behind enemies to take them out, shifting from between two enemies to avoid their fire (and subsequently having them shoot each other to death) and dodging explosions and lasers leave you feeling incredibly powerful and capable.

Your fists are your true mainstay in Mr Shifty, they’re always there when you can’t find weapons, but they’re also less efficient than a good wooden plank. The true strategy in Mr Shifty comes not just from avoiding enemy attacks, but also from surveying your environments and learning what is at your disposal for each combat encounter. Sure, you can try and take everyone on with your fists, but that trident you see to the left will effortlessly skewer enemies and is reusable, but needs to be aimed, while that oar on the wall can only be used a few times but hits in an arc in front of you. Each weapon behaves differently, allowing for a myriad of ways to destroy your opponents, but the one thing they all have in common is that they kill enemies in one hit. Most weapons will quickly break, meaning that you will have to use them efficiently, lest you waste their power. This allows you to feel powerful, but stops short of making you completely overpowered.

These mechanical shifts continue to the enemies you will face and some parts of your environments. Early enemies will only be carrying a pistol, but as you get further into the game you’ll find enemies that can shoot steady streams of bullets or dodge your initial attacks. You’ll also come across areas where your shifting powers stop working, homing missiles start following you and the floors become littered with mines. These additions force you to slightly alter strategies on the fly as you come across them, but they don’t really change the general flow of the game. While a new type of enemy may be able to shoot more often or dodge an attack, you’ll still just shift behind them or into a room to avoid them. There is the odd section that changes it up a bit, but generally, instead of new and interesting level or encounter design, you’ll simply be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The game could have done with some more variety beyond ‘kill the 20 enemies in this room to continue’ and ‘dodge the lasers and rockets to get to the end of the hallway’. By the end of the few hours it will take you to complete the 18 stages in Mr Shifty, the game starts to wear out its welcome.

This sense of tediousness that sets in later in the game could have been avoided with some interesting environments or an engaging story, but Mr Shifty doesn’t really have either of these. You find yourself going through inner-building hallways and rooms at all times, with the only real variety coming from the architecture and furnishings of that particular floor. This fits in with the story line of the game, which sees you infiltrating an inner-city skyscraper in an attempt to steal a valuable item from the building’s owner. You’ll hear from said owner from time to time, as well as your partner on the outside who is guiding you through the building, but these snippets of conversations aren’t particularly well written and don’t really create an engaging plot.

Mr Shifty is a game that feels like it’s almost there. It has the makings of an excellent and enjoyable experience, but falls just short of being a good game. A more engaging story and a larger variety of encounters and mechanics would have completed the game, which doesn’t hold together purely on its fun weapons and shifting powers. By no means is Mr Shifty a game to avoid, but I wouldn’t necessarily shift to buy it straight away.


- Shifting is fast and fun
- Weapons are varied and visceral


- Not enough variety in encounter design
- Story isn't engaging
- Environments are largely the same

Overall Score: