Mr Shifty: review

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  • Format: Switch (version reviewed), PC, PS4, Xbox One, Mac
  • Unleashed: Out Now (Switch & PC), TBC (others)
  • Publisher: tinyBuild Games
  • Developer: Team Shifty
  • Players: 1
  • Site:
  • Game code provided by the publisher

Gotta love that name and, yes, it is the name of your character. For better or for worse, this isn’t a cockney geezer simulator. No dialogue wheels with choices such as “Don’t ask, don’t tell mate”, “Fell off the back of a lorry, dinnit”, “You won’t get many of them to the pahnd mate”, and “Don’t worry, safe as hahses, sweet as a nut”. Nope – you play as a chap who spends most of his time teleporting short distances and punching people in the face.

Watching or playing Mr Shifty, you’re quickly put in mind of the Hotline Miami games (well, presuming you’ve played at least one of them, anyway). It’s a fast-paced top-down kill ‘em up. Team Shifty’s game has a smoother aesthetic though, largely forgoing the retro pixelated look. Another, much more important, difference is that Monsieur Shifty doesn’t use guns. Most of his enemies do, but this doesn’t put him at the significant disadvantage that you might reasonably assume. Remember the teleporting thing?

Oh, so that’s why he’s shifty!

Your character can ‘shift’ through time and space across small, but important, distances. This allows him to pass through enemies, bullets, objects, and even walls if they’re thin enough. Brilliant for a quick getaway when things get too hectic, or for popping into existence behind an enemy before pummelling them to death – and then zipping to safety behind a nearby wall before his mate puts a hole in your head. There’s a cap on this, of course. You get five charges, and each one is replenished extremely quickly. However, should you use all five in quick succession, you’ll have to wait several painful and extremely vulnerable seconds before you’re able to Shift again.

“How many times do we have to tell you, motherlover? We don’t want to change energy suppliers. Now stop ringing the frigging doorbell!”

The flow of the game, generally speaking, is to punctuate patches of intense action (where you have dozens of enemies thrown at you in an enclosed space, often in waves) with calmer door-to-door journeys with few or no people or things trying to kill you. There’s a checkpoint at the start of each room, which you’ll be grateful for. There’s no health bar, meaning a single bullet or punch (or, indeed, explosion) is instant death. Just one mistake will see death come faster and harder than a freight train full of elephants dropped from a great height.

Careful use of your Shift ability, therefore, will see you escape otherwise-certain-death and overcome initially overwhelming odds. But! As you progress through the game, anti-Shift fields are introduced which disable your powers. These fields are relatively few, and fairly brief (anything else would’ve killed the game at their introduction). They do help keep the experience fresh though, and force you to think and act a little differently.

The Shiftser has one more ability. In keeping with the risk & reward gameplay, where you counter bullets and explosives flying all over the place with just your fists (and, er, your magical teleportation powers), there’s a gauge that fills by continually landing punches on enemies. Take enough baddies out without pausing for breath, and you get a single automatically triggered use of bullet time in reserve. If you’re careless/unlucky enough to get into a position where a bullet is mere milliseconds from ending your fun, time will slow to a crawl. You can still Shift during this time (outside of anti-Shift fields), allowing you to get free hits in during a few precious moments. We can tell you from experience though that it’s still possible to walk/shift into the slowed-down bullets and die if you’re stupid enough to do so.

Smashing up scenery is always good fun, and here it’ll sometimes give you a weapon good for a few whacks.

It’s hectic, it’s fun, and there are some neat ideas and surprises that we haven’t already spoiled. We were holding out for the Switch patch that addresses the frame rate issues, but decided to publish given that it’s not due for another fortnight at time of writing. Besides, slowdown is extremely rare, never more than a second or two long, and never game-breaking. It shouldn’t affect your fun – but there’s another important consideration.

To put it bluntly, Mr Shifty is too short. There are eighteen stages, and on average each will take you roughly 15 minutes to complete. As fun as the game is – and it is fun – it’ll all be over for most people in about four hours, five if you really struggle. Some may be tempted to go back for no-death runs, and to shave as many minutes as possible off their initial times. With no leaderboards, though, there’s little incentive to do so.

No unlockables and no multiplayer mean that only a minority of people will come back once the final stage is done. It wins bonus points for the amusing dialogue sprinkled throughout, and it’s that special kind of game that can at times convince you that things are totally unfair – yet keep you playing until you realise that, actually, they’re not. Mr Shifty is a short, sweet, and slightly overpriced gem.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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