Price: £15 Developer: Team Shifty Publisher: TinyBuild Platform(s): PC, Nintendo Switch Version Reviewed: PC
What if Nightcrawler was kind of a dick?
That's the question posed by Team Shifty's Mr Shifty. You play as, ostensibly, a teleporting thief who skipped all of the 'with great power comes great responsibility' and is using his abilities for evil, breaking into the most secure building in the world. Really though, Mr Shifty is a psychopath with apparition powers, teleporting through walls to beat down private security guards with a broom.
The elephant in the room is the title's similarity to Hotline Miami, and Mr Shifty does have a few strands of DNA in common with the top-down beat-'em-up, but they're less brothers and more ultra-violent cousins. While the end result looks fairly similar —a lone warrior beating a level full of opponents to death to gain access to the next — the game's core feels like something else entirely.
For a start, you're the predator here. While Hotline Miami certainly casts you as the aggressor, you've never felt quite so powerful as you have here. Armed guards with laser sights are nothing, provided you can teleport behind them quick enough to deliver a beatdown. You teleport into roomfuls of guards both as a way to thumb your nose at the horde of assailants but also to bait them into attacking you, to force them to gun down friends in their vain hope of stopping your onslaught.
Where Hotline Miami is a stealth game, this is a horror. Just not for the player. The comparison between the two does both games a disservice too, and not just because in terms of soundtrack, graphics, and 'feel', Mr Shift just doesn't have the charm of the bold, brash Hotline Miami.
Still, it's a great game, and I could barely put it down during the review. The combat is tight and chaotic with the game helping you out a little bit. The assists are appreciated, as they ensure Mr Shifty doesn't teleport into his chosen target, grafting internal organs with theirs in the most brutal body-horror game imaginable, and also that when he does teleport behind them, the player's first punch is at the gun-toting villain and not a pathetic flail at the nearest wall. It makes you feel powerful, and that's when the game really excels, when you're weaponising mugs, cans, oars, and, for one particularly fun early level, a series of tridents to try and stem the tide of vicious killers assaulting you from all sides.
It's absolutely full of ideas, and the act of trashing an entire floor of guards with a sword, teleporting around them lightning fast, is really satisfying. You're limited to five teleports at a time, which adds a bit of tension when you try to string a group of BAMFs together and come unstuck just as a guy fires a shotgun at you. To help with that, there's a slow-motion system. Batter enough goons in quick succession and a yellow bar will fill. When it's full, any bullet going near you will send you into a slow-motion mode and let you teleport as much as you want. It's powerful, and when used right you can make an entire room of bad guys take a steel pole-induced nap.