Since the initial release of Hotline Miami back in 2012 there have been several games that have looked to build on the popularity of the top-down room-clear genre, often with mixed success, and that’s pretty much the category that Mr. Shifty falls into.
You play as Mr. Shifty, an elusive thief who is on a job to steal a rare material from a high rise tower. Although this isn’t the most original idea for a gameplay loop, it works well, which is mostly due to the genuinely funny comments some characters will send you; in fact, I often felt like I was playing through an 80’s action movie with cheesy tougne-in-cheek dialog.
The game boasts originality through its gameplay, Mr. Shifty is no ordinary thief, instead he has the ability to blink short distances, allowing you to flank unsuspecting enemies or quickly evade an overwhelming situation. It’s no doubt that the gameplay in Mr. Shifty is its strongest attribute. As you play through the different stages you’ll be challenged with new enemies to take on, each bringing a new dynamic; from quick firing machine gunners to oversized multi-hit goons, most enemies require a unique approach to safely take them down.
If you combine the variety of enemies with the games puzzle elements, then you’d think developers Team Shifty are on to a winner, and for the first half of the game they are. Mr. Shifty plays out over 18 stages, the first 8-10 each feel different, despite the the regurgitated dull office environments you play through. This is no doubt due to the continuous increase in both difficulty and balance between combat and puzzle mechanics.
Unfortunately the second half of the game does not carry the same exciting pace the first half sets out. On to many occasion Mr.Shifty the tries to ramp up the difficultly by simple throwing more and more enemies, which just feels like a cheap way of creating a challenge. Also the excellent puzzle elements that regularly pop-up in the first half are almost redundant in the latter stages, which, in turn end up making the combat feel like a real grind. My first play through took around three hours, but felt more like 5-6 hours.
Upon finishing the game their is little reason to return to slick, evasive and enjoyable combat. I was genuinely amazed to see the absence of leaderboard in the game; with it’s arcade style stages I cannot believe developer Team Shifty didn’t include some sort of scoring system that combines your stage time with the amount of deaths, providing you with a score to compare against friend or the rest of the world. This may come later in an update, but at the moment it feels like a real missed opportunity.
The first half of Mr.Shifty’s fast and fluid gameplay is seriously fun to play. The addition of simple but challenging puzzles creates a perfect rest-bite between the strategic and over-the-top combat. However, the excellent opening to the room-clear action game ends up becoming the games own worst enemy. The second half has a very tough time keeping up with the pace previously set, and it doesn’t take too long for gameplay to start feeling stale. Combine this with the surprising absence of a stage scoring system or any type of leader boards and their very little reason to return to Mr.Shify after finishing it’s mediocre campaign.