Shift Into Gear
One game I never expected to like was Hotline Miami. When it first came out, I wasn’t really a fan of its bloody, pixelated graphics and its high difficulty. But when I actually sat down to play it, I fell in love. The controls were tight, the game play was like an adrenaline rush, and though the game was difficult, it never felt punishing, so I was excited when I found out about Mr. Shifty, a Hotline Miami-style game that features a teleportation mechanic. It was developed by Team Shifty, a recently-formed Austrailia-based game company made from former developers of Halfbrick Studios, who are most famous for creating Fruit Ninja. They’ve had quite a bit of experience making games, and after playing what the beta of Mr. Shifty has to offer, I honestly can’t wait for the final product when it releases later this year.
You take control of Mr. Shifty, a thief who has the ability to warp around like Nightcrawler from X-Men. We don’t know how he can do it; is it a teleportation device on his belt? A superpower? Smoke bombs? It’s never told, and besides, it’s not really important. The point is that he can warp to avoid bullets and enter closed-off rooms, which are qualities I think makes a good thief. As a thief, your objective is to infiltrate a building owned by some rich guy so you can steal this substance called mega plutonium, which I’m assuming does evil stuff. The plot doesn’t take itself seriously, which I’m all in favor of. It’s almost like a cheesy action movie, and I mean that in the kindest way.
The controls are similar to Hotline Miami, at least on a keyboard. You move your character with the WASD keys, attack with the left mouse button, and warp with the right mouse button. It’s intuitive and works quite well, though the game does recommend you use a game pad, and I can agree. While keyboard controls are fine, I think a game pad is just more comfortable, but whatever you’re using, the warping mechanic is easy to understand and very fun to use. This is the type of game where you’re encouraged to blaze through the level and be reckless, and warping over and over again is the best way to get some speed. You need to pace yourself with warping, however, because if you run out of warping power, you’re stuck having to recharge, and that’s no fun when you have a ton of enemies staring you down.
Like in Hotline Miami, Mr. Shifty dies in one hit, but if you build up enough kills, he will go into a second wind mode where time slows down and he gains a bit of strength. This is especially useful in situations where you have to face off against a big group of enemies in one compact room. That’s really my problem with Mr. Shifty, though; there are plenty of times where you have to beat up on a huge crowd of enemies in a small area. While the combat is fun when you have more room to breathe, these sections make you feel more constricted. It reduces the game to more of a mindless beat ’em up, and it makes me miss the more “pick off your enemies one by one” style of Hotline Miami. That’s probably just me nitpicking, though.
Enemies can range from mooks with shotguns, mooks with machine guns, and big mooks that punch you. Your only weapons are your fists and any weapons that you can find in the environment. The combat is incredibly simple—you only have one basic attack button, which is enough to knock out most enemies after a few punches. The ability to warp makes what might have been sluggish combat much more fast paced and frantic. You also aren’t allowed to use guns, which I actually think is a good thing. It forces you to get up close and personal with the baddies, taking potshots at them and then quickly warping away. I feel like guns would make the game way too easy, and an emphasis on melee combat better integrates the teleportation mechanic.
Your objective in each room is almost always to eliminate all of the enemies on screen. Thanks to the warping mechanic, you have some freedom with how you decide to go about killing everyone. You can make a quick escape into another room if you find yourself in a pinch, or punch a wall to distract an enemy. Occasionally, there are some rather simple puzzles involving activating and deactivating lasers, a few auto-scrollers, and utilizing explosive barrels to your advantage. There’s enough variety on each stage to keep the game play from getting stale, and it’s also the sort of game that I think could really benefit from a level editor and Steam Workshop integration. I imagine this wouldn’t happen for a while, but I’m just thinking ahead here.
The presentation is rather simple, but I think it works. The graphics have a cell shaded look that I think makes everything pop out. It gives the game a kind of comic book feel to it; I’m not sure if that’s what Team Shifty was going for, but it’s effective. The music also helps in that regard. It’s upbeat and energetic, and really adds to the action. The game seemed to run fairly smoothly on my laptop, even on the higher graphical settings, and only chugged a bit when there was an onslaught of enemies (though that’s probably just my rig and not the game).
The bottom line is that Mr. Shifty is damn fun to play, and I’m very much looking forward to the full release. The controls are tight and responsive, and mixing that with fun and engaging game play centered around a unique mechanic creates a game that I think has a ton of potential. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can check out the open beta here, and I highly recommend you do so, especially if you liked Hotline Miami. It’s an action-packed experience that I heavily enjoyed—warps and all (sorry for the pun).