Teleporting is underrated.
Maybe it’s because it’s costly when it comes to special effects. Maybe because it’s hard to track and follow for a theater audience. Or maybe it’s because having a character whos most spectacular ability is essentially a fancier method of running away doesn’t make for the most interesting action sequences. But whatever it is, I’ve always found teleportation to have a bad representation in movies depicting those with supernatural abilities.
We had the character Nightcrawler in the original trio of X-Men films, except he used his teleportation abilities about once every eight years (Because it was expensive for the film) and was a very uninteresting character. We had the film Jumper, which showcased a better version of the classic power but was a pretty terrible movie. And we had a bit of teleporting in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which had what was easily the best, fastest, and most intense depiction of the ability yet… It just so happened that the character to take advantage of it most was universally hated by comic fans everywhere.
So you’d think games would do better, right? To a certain degree, they do: Dishonored featured the best representation of first-person teleportation gamers had ever seen: A clever use of a grounded targeting reticle that showed players exactly where they’d be moving. But this title’s limited mana system made the teleport more of a stealth/navigation tool than anything that could be used to go on the offensive.
All this searching is what brought me to Mr. Shifty, a top-down arcade-style action title where players play as the title character “Mr. Shifty”, a man whose only special abilities are to teleport and to throw objects real good. The game adopts something of a “Hotline Miami Style”, or a style of gaming commonly attributed to Hotline Miami, a game that did it really, really well: In this style, levels are short and take less than three minutes to beat, but everything is hyper-lethal: Most enemies go down in one or two hits, but so do you, and getting hit forces you to restart the level.
This design is intended to mix the action and puzzle genres: Not only do you need to act swiftly and accurately once the action gets moving, but you also need to use your top-down perspective (and the full-map vision it grants you) to plan your movements before you make them. If you don’t, you’ll wind up in a hopeless situation, and then dead, and then at the start of the level. It’s a formula that offers a lot of possibilities if done correctly.
So Mr. Shifty had two things going for it from the get-go: One, it fell into the super-niche of fast-paced teleport-based action gaming that I’d been seeking out for some time, and two, it uses elements from Hotline Miami, a style that I personally enjoy. However, this also raised my expectations for the title, since I had so much hope riding on it. So did it live up to the hype?
Yes. And then no.
Mr. Shifty feels very good to play: Impacts are flashy and explosive, action is quick, bullets travel just fast enough to seem like bullets but just slow enough so you could possibly react to them… That sort of thing. The UI is well-done as well, with a small reticle not only showing which direction you’re facing but also how far you’ll travel if you take a jump. And you’ve got four jumps max which quickly regenerate when not in use: Just enough to make you feel like a badass in the right situation but just not-enough to put a bit of fear in you if you find yourself in a bad way with no leaps remaining.
The good thing about Mr. Shifty is that it seems to understand what you want to do with the teleport, and gives you plenty of opportunities to do those things. If an enemy shoots a shotgun blast at you, you can teleport past the bullets and punch him in the face, which is one of the more basic (but still satisfying) options available to you.
On the more advanced side of things, you can throw a pool cue at a baddie, wait for it to strike them, teleport up to the pool cue, catch it out of the air, then use it to strike two more guys to either side of you before throwing it once again to send a final opponent sailing out a window.
And then you can realize you’ve put yourself in a terrible position, run out of teleports, and die. And restart instantly. Sure, you failed. But you failed with style.
Mr. Shifty does get appreciably hard towards the end. There’s no-teleport zones (though not too many, thank god), tougher enemies, death-beams, and the like. But with those instant respawns, the game can’t punish you further than the loss of 2-3 minutes if you say “screw it” and decide to blow all your resources for something that looks cool. It’s an interesting built-in stress reliever that kept me hitting “retry” far past the point where other games would frustrate me past my thin level of limited patience.
With one disclaimer: The final levels kind of suck.
But the no? The game has a very disappointing (borderline-crushing) lack of content. This is a game that could REALLY do with some kind of level editor, and the top-down style means something of the sort wouldn’t be too hard to implement either. There are no additional modes, no unlockable skins, nothing to keep you playing past that first win.
Maybe I’m spoiled in asking for more, but I can’t help but notice the potential in this title. Mr. Shifty’s core experience is really, REALLY fun. It’s probably up there with the core mechanics of titles like Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, both of which are indie titles with outlets for the community to create additional content.
What I’m basically saying is I want to play this game forever. It’s pretty fantastic. But for now, I’ll stick to stalking the developer’s social media pages for updates. Come on, tinyBuild, don’t let me down.
Featured Image Via Mr. Shifty on Steam