Mr. Shifty reminded me a whole lot of Hotline Miami when I first played it. I came away from my E3 demo amazed. Developer Team Shifty took the exemplary gameplay from Hotline Miami, tweaked a few things, added a new warping ability to the character to make the game unique, and ported the game to Nintendo Switch. Surely, this would be an excellent indie release on Nintendo’s newest platform?
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be as great as I had hope. An hour into the full download version, the novelty of Mr. Shifty wore off. The game features top-down punching gameplay with intuitive warping mechanics. Yes, warping around levels was immensely satisfying for the entirety of the game, as was knocking out dozens of enemies in each level, but the game came up short in both design and performance.
Through the beginning levels of the game, Team Shifty does well to introduce new mechanics and enemies. By mid game, players face off against regular gunners, flamethrower-wielders, swordsmen, and a variety of other enemies. Unfortunately, after this point, the developers run out of new mechanics and ideas. For the remainder of the title, it felt as if each level was harder only because of an increasing number of enemies, not necessarily because of a higher difficult skill curve. Mr. Shifty is not a particularly long game, perhaps a four-hour playthrough on average, but the title still felt like it could be about 30 percent shorter and still show off everything it has to offer.
There were some other jarring decisions the developers made that prevented it from reaching its full potential. For example, on occasion, Mr. Shifty can pick up melee weapons enemies drop to use against them. At one point, Mr. Shifty can use everything from a katana to a broom to decapitate enemies. However, I never understood why picking up enemy weapons was only limited to melee items. It seemed that if the player were allowed to pick up a gun, flamethrower, or any one of the myriads of weapons in the game, it would not only make the title more diversified and fun, but it would open an avenue for so many new gameplay opportunities in later levels.
Moreover, Mr. Shifty regrettably runs very poorly on the Switch. I tested the game in both handhelds and docked mode, and throughout the game, I experienced significant slowdown and framerate drops. Surprisingly, though the game requires quick impulses and reactions, the framerate drops did not affect my ability to complete levels. However, it was a huge nuisance that got in the way of me enjoying the game. I also had the game crash on me once in the most inconvenient place: the final boss.
From a presentation standpoint, Mr. Shifty looks like a relatively generic indie offering. The art style simply gets the job done and the music quickly grows repetitive when running through levels, especially after dying a few times. The sound effects, a standout in the game, are incredibly satisfying, as they must be, which made me feel much more like a badass when knocking out a hundred enemies at a time in the later levels.
Mr. Shifty had a really unique spin on the Hotline Miami formula, and I really enjoyed playing through the game at first. It’s unfortunate that simple design decisions and technical problems prevented the title from reaching its full potential, and ultimately Mr. Shifty amounts to an okay Switch indie title. However, that’s not necessarily terrible. There aren’t a whole lot of games right now on the Switch, and $15 isn’t that much to ask for an indie game nowadays. If you’re hankering for a unique action game on Nintendo’s new platform, Mr. Shifty might be just the game to quench your craving.