“Hotline Miami meets Nightcrawler.” That’s how Mr. Shifty was initially pitched. Does it live up to that claim? Yes and no.
First things first, let’s talk about what Mr. Shifty is. The resemblance to Hotline Miami is there, if only just. It’s a cel-shaded, top down action game. You’re playing as the titular Mr. Shifty, and you go from floor to floor dealing out death. That’s about as much as the game has in common with Hotline Miami though.
The game’s main feature is the teleporting ability. It adds a lot to the gameplay, initially, with the combat being fast and frantic. Really, the first few levels of Mr. Shifty, after the obligatory tutorial, are exceptionally fun. Each level adds new enemy types and leaves it to you to figure out how to fight them. You use melee combat only, with the addition of found weapons such as wooden beams, swords, and more.
The problem is that the teleportation is really all the game has going for it, and after a while the impact of it is lost. There are puzzle areas that feel slow and boring. The combat becomes repetitive after a while. They even introduce a mechanic that disables the ability to teleport, revealing just how slow the movement in the game really is. After a while, the levels just become an endless string of horde fights, where you’re pitted against waves of enemies, just to clear the room and head to another one. As the game progresses, what was once fun becomes a chore.
The game’s aesthetic is great. The cel-shading, combined with the comic book style dialog boxes, really shines. The game features a tongue-in-cheek story full of lame one-liners that you can’t help but smile over. The problem though, is that unlike Hotline Miami, for example, the story doesn’t pull you in. It doesn’t make you want to get past the next level to find out what happens.
So how does the game run? Well, the performance isn’t quite up to snuff. I played the game on the Switch, and while it ran smoothly for the most part in hand-held mode, it ran noticeably slower while docked. In the later levels, the game also slows down as more and more enemies are on screen at once.
Mr. Shifty had a lot of potential. It followed in the footsteps of some great games, but failed to embrace what actually made those games great.