Judging a game can be challenging. On one hand you might reflect on how much fun the game was by discussing the mechanics and how they create a fun and cohesive experience. On the other hand you must decide if a game is worth purchasing when faced with frustrating problems that dampen the experience. Sometimes these problems aren’t worth mentioning because they’re inconsequential but other times these problems can significantly drag down the experience. How much should nitpicking out problems determine our ultimate view of the game if it has a lot of fun and has great ideas?
This is precisely the conflict with reviewing Mr. Shifty, Team Shifty’s over-head-perspective beat ‘em up. On paper Mr.Shifty is brimming with potential and from the moment the game began it was easy to tell that Mr. Shifty was going to be a frustratingly good time, akin to playing a classic platformer.
Mr. Shifty’s frustrating qualities are part of the overall charm of the game. In many ways it feels like going back in time to a gaming past where one mistake meant the end. Mr. Shifty is killed with a single shot and on the journey you will face conflict with a plethora of enemies ready to put you down if you don’t think quickly. You will die a lot.
The key mechanic in Mr. Shifty is teleportation. You must master this skill to reach the goal and best all the enemies and won't stand a chance without using it.
You must be able to jump into a room, swiftly beat up an enemy, and teleport back out, dodging any foes who might notice your presence. Often you must teleport as this is the only certain way to avoid enemy attacks and to progress. Teleporting opens the door to many strategies, each as fun as the next. It’s ingenious how well this mechanic works and how it can be utilized to deal with deadly obstacles, level progression and, of course, enemies.
Part of Mr. Shifty's charm is that it starts off simple. You are given some basic enemies to defeat as you learn how to harness your teleportation skills in order to quickly dodge bullets and take out foes with a swift punch or two. As the game progresses more challenging enemies are added to the mix. While the early foes were slow to react, these new enemies shoot on sight forcing you to think more quickly and to teleport to safety.
At the same time smaller mechanics are added that teach you handy skills for quickly dispatching foes. Everything in the early game works cohesively so you learn your skills and limits but at the same time learn how to handle the tougher late-game situations. For example, if you see a pressure mine the game will teach you that you can pick it up but must dispose of it. You can throw it at a wall or enemy and cause a reaction. This will be useful knowledge as you delve deeper into the game. It is impressive how the game teaches you techniques without explicitly telling you them.
With your knowledge of the mechanics in tow, Mr. Shifty becomes a stunningly fast-paced experience. It is always satisfying getting through an intense combat situation using all the tools available to you. Resourcefulness and ingenuity are key. Most rooms you enter have weapons obtainable through minor destruction or that are just laying around. You might be able to find a staff, among other weapons, which can be used to swiftly defeat foes with a simple swing. In one fell swoop you could pick up a shield on the ground, throw it away quickly as you cross the room, and pick up a stick on the ground to use as a weapon. The game requires fluidity.
As noted earlier, you will die a lot. In some instances there are things you don’t see coming and in others there is a mechanic you must use with perfect timing but mistime by a hair. In addition the new enemy types (that are frequently added) can interrupt your flow. It is almost certain that you will die on a first encounter because of how their attack styles constantly change. The challenge born from this consistent evolution is satisfying in the long run.
When all is said and done it is easy to recommend Mr. Shifty, but there is a set back: the game's technical issues.
In most games noting technical shortcomings is being nitpicky but in Mr. Shifty they are a major concern. Throughout this game you need to be quick and precise but are hampered by frequent framerate drops. These often mess up your precision and may leave you dead from a random enemy shot.
This is not the only frustrating downside. Throughout the game you are going floor to floor in a huge tower. Each floor classifies as a stage wherein you meet with a plethora of enemy forces each more challenging than the last. The problem is that Mr. Shifty has no save system beyond a checkpoint after each completed stage and it crashes a fair bit along the way. This issue becomes even more frustrating when you are close to the end of a stage and the game randomly crashes. Being forced to restart the game is particularly aggravating on the more difficult, later levels which you can easily spend half-an-hour or more playing.
Mr. Shifty is a game that mechanically works well. Its core ideas are handled with precision and are fun to use. It was hard not to have fun with the fast-paced action and quick-thinking of Mr. Shifty and, as such, it’s a game that can be recommended. If only the game had been ironed out and had the technical problems squashed Mr. Shifty would be a near-perfect experience, but they hold the game back.