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Some games make grand use of bullet time mechanics; zipping through swarms of enemy agents as a maelstrom of metal darts towards your body. You can land blow after blow without breaking a sweat. Mr. Shifty breaks a sweat, and unfortunately crumbles under its own game engine.
Top down shooters have seen a resurgence of late. Much of this can be attributed to the huge success of titles such as Hotline Miami. What Mr. Shifty brings to the table is a daring tale of a solemn hero on a mission to save the world from a maniacal CEO. A simple control scheme allows the titular character to break the fabric of time and space by shifting from one spot to another. Couple this with ungodly strength and a bullet-time ability, and you’ve got yourself an interesting hero! Guided by his sassy comrade, Nyx, Shifty must fight through hordes of enemies and steal some “Super Plutonium” from the evil Chairman Stone. This simple premise leads you through multiple levels of Stone’s skyscraper, which is inconveniently littered with multiple enemy types and some questionable environmental hazards. Clearly this workplace has no health and safety protocol in place!
“…before too long, you realise that shifting between cubicles is about as fun as working in one…”
At first, I found the combat immensely satisfying. Darting around enemies and landing killing blows gave me a sense of power. The use of HD Rumble on the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons was an added bonus. Impressed by Shifty’s power, I zipped through the first few levels with relative ease. The introduction of new enemy types that wielded different weapons was a challenge to begin with, but as with any game, you quickly learn their movement and weaknesses. The inherent issue with Mr. Shifty, is that this seems to be the only way in which the game attempts to ramp up the difficulty. There are no intense boss battles, a puzzling lack of difficulty options, and little in the way of creative level design. The office setting initially feels tactical and dangerous. But before too long, you realise that shifting between cubicles is about as fun as working in one.
In fairness, the final levels renewed my intrigue. Environments chaotically pop in and out of existence in a frantic fight for your life. If only this mechanic was introduced earlier in the game, I may have been more forgiving. Luckily, this experience won’t sap you of your time for too long. I spent all of three and a half hours in Shifty’s physics-defying shoes. A quick campaign, but it proposes an interesting title for speedrunners to sink their teeth into. Each level completion will display both a time and death counter, bringing a sense of replayability for the competitively minded. I, however, couldn’t feel less compelled to have another pop at it. This is mostly due to the biggest issue with Mr. Shifty: graphical slowdowns of an unforgivable magnitude. And no, I’m not talking about its bullet time mechanic.
Let this be a lesson to game developers (as if it wasn’t already grossly obvious), do not tie your game’s physics to its frame rate. When the action becomes a little too hectic, the Switch has trouble comprehending the large amount of on-screen particles. In order to combat this, the frame rate is dropped to allow the GPU to take its time to process the action. Because Mr. Shifty‘s engine is tied to the FPS, the game would often slow to a halt. It makes for ugly viewing and was the cause of many of my deaths. Unintended slowdowns are inexcusable and game-breaking; there were many times I was so frustrated that I felt the urge to research Nintendo’s refund policy.
Patching out the FPS drops wouldn’t be enough to save Mr. Shifty from its repetitive gameplay. Later levels begin to feel like reversed versions of previous rooms. Instead of providing new challenges, the game aims to simply throw more enemies at you. I quickly became numb to Nyx’s attempts at injecting light humour into a mundane situation. As the frantic pace of the latter levels combined with my dwindling motivation to continue playing, I reached my end goal. All hopes of redemption rested on the final battle with Chairman Stone. I gritted my teeth and expected this to be a turbulent ride through an ever-changing office full of dangers, destruction and death. Instead, I received a fight that lasted no more than two seconds. There was no big pay-off. Nothing unlocked. More importantly, there was no salvation for a below mediocre title. In a world filled with masterpieces such as Hotline Miami, I’m still searching for a reason for Mr. Shifty’s existence.