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review

Mr Shifty

Team Shifty's top-down beat 'em up has landed on PC and Nintendo Switch.

One of the games taking advantage of the relative lack of heavy competition on Nintendo Switch is Mr Shifty, a top-down beat 'em up that mixes up Hotline Miami-style action with a Nightcrawler-esque walk-through-walls trick that gives players plenty of room to express themselves as they traverse increasingly complicated levels, punching enemies in the face as they go.

There are guns in Mr Shifty, but you won't get to hold any of them. Instead, you're smacking your foes at every turn, dodging bullets in bullet-time slow motion, and trading blows with muscle-bound henchmen from start to finish. Actually, that's not strictly true; you can pick up melee weapons, and these are certainly more effective than a plain old knuckle sandwich, but they're limited-use items and you won't get too many whacks out of that stick you just picked up. Weapons are, therefore, best saved for special occasions, and they can certainly help when you're trying to clear some of the more challenging sections.

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The shifting ability from which the game derives its name has you instantaneously jumping short distances, which in turn lets you flank enemies with ease, appearing behind them so you can bash them in the back of the noggin until they don't get up. Better still, you can use the ability to move through walls, jumping between rooms and confusing your dim-witted AI-controlled opponents. Each stage is a series of rooms filled with a mix of enemy types and the odd environmental challenge, with the player tasked with advancing to an elevator so they can go to the next stage and start the process all over again.

Mr. ShiftyMr. Shifty

It's actually very accessible, and it won't take you very long to get to grips with the control system, and the core mechanic is simply and elegantly implemented. That said, overall it didn't feel as challenging as Hotline Miami (a comparison that we'll come back to again no doubt, what with the top-down, quick-restart gameplay loop that characterises both titles), although the difficulty does ramp up after a while. Naturally, this intensifies towards the end, when lasers and turrets appear to spice things up, giving you more to think about as you progress towards your ultimate goal.

As you would expect, the challenge peaks during the final levels, however, it does so here in the worst way possible. As more powerful enemies appear on screen, and in greater numbers, the frame-rate starts to tank, which is a major problem in a game based on reactions and skill. In amongst all of the explosions and rapid movements, the nuanced detail that you need to read on-screen in order to succeed can get lost in the chaos. For example, the stop-start gameplay brought about by the dropped frames makes it harder to track certain enemies, even more so when there are lasers and explosions everywhere you turn.

Mr. ShiftyMr. Shifty

It's probably not just the explosions that slow it down, though, it's also the simulation of the otherwise fantastic ragdoll physics. Hotline Miami went for pixel-perfect top-down brutality, whereas Mr Shifty swaps out artistic gore for a more sterile 3D style. There are pros and cons to this decision, the positive being that punching an enemy through a plate glass window and watching it tumble off-screen is as satisfying as hell. The negative comes in the form of a lack of detail, with homogenised environments that fail to inspire, repeated as they are throughout much of the game.

The story also failed to really capture our attention. Mr Shifty is in this strange building full of bad men, and he has to hit each and every one of them, moving from the basement up to the penthouse, and visiting every floor in-between (including a brief meander through accounting). It's all very perfunctory, and while this keeps the action flowing, it won't be winning any excellence in narrative awards.

There are certainly some exhilarating moments to enjoy during the adventure, and overall we found the quick-restart setup had us playing more than we probably wanted to at times. It's easy to pick up, intuitive to control, and some of the setpieces are great. On the other hand, it lacks the brutal style and challenge of the game that it so clearly mimics, to the point where it can't really be considered an upgrade on Dennaton's indie classic. The frustrating technical stutters we found in the latter stages of the Switch version (we can't imagine it being a huge issue on a decent PC) also dampened our overall experience, but at least it never got so bad that it was unplayable. There's a solid game in here, and if you're looking for something a little different to play on your Switch then this is worth a look.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
+
Some great moments, satisfying core mechanic, ragdoll physics are fun.
-
Environmental design on the bland side, uninspiring story, frame-rate drops on Switch during chaotic moments.
overall score
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