Mr Shifty – tinyBuild PAX South Hands-On

tinyBuild, Mr. Shifty

Indie publisher tinyBuild had a huge booth at PAX South. After finding myself unceremoniously dumped into a shallow grave in Hello Neighbor, the next thing that caught my eye was a gorgeously cel-shaded top-down action game called Mr Shifty.

Part stealth, part action, part high-speed puzzle solving, Mr Shifty places you at the controls of the titular character battling through room after room of gun-toting enemies. You are armed only with your fists, creative use of the environment, whatever melee weapons you can lay your hands on, oh, and the ability to instantly shift in a straight line from one position to another about ten feet ahead of you, through walls and other impediments. Think Nightcrawler from the X-Men with his ability to BAMPF across a room.

Gameplay is fast-paced, sometimes frantic in its intensity. Shifty can be killed by a single hit, so you need to quickly learn to use the environment as your weapon, surprise enemies by coming through the walls, suddenly move behind them, or cause them to shoot each other. Time your dodge of a bullet just right, and you’ll enter a brief moment of “bullet time” where everything else slows down and you can really do some exciting damage!

Mr Shifty, tinyBuild, PAX South 2017

Mr. Shifty has made a bit of a mess, here.

Controls in Mr Shifty are simple, but efficient. The Left Analog Stick controls your movement, one controller button (or the right trigger) makes you shift forward, and another button (or the left trigger) attacks. The PAX demo showed off a good variety of room designs, as Mr. Shifty progresses his way up each floor of some massive industrial building to steal some sort of McGuffin.

During my time with the demo, I found the core mechanics easy to understand, with a visceral thrill in combat from finishing an especially difficult floor, or simply from managing to kick a door into a cluster of three enemies simultaneously. For example, I solved one room by kicking the door into the face of one guard, shifting between two more and waiting before shifting again to get them to shoot each other, then waiting until a fourth guard passed by on the other side of a wall to investigate the noise before I shifted through the wall to get behind him and take him out.

By the time the game is released, I hope that they’ll have a proper speedrun mode implemented. Much like Hotline Miami, this game screams for a nod to the Speedrunning community. And unlike some of the other top-down shooters of this vein, I very much hope they don’t get carried away enemies that can shoot you from off the screen. That’s a design problem that can easily take games like this from fun/challenging to frustrating/maddening in the span of a few levels. Based on the levels I saw, though, Australian developer Team Shifty, is well on the right track.

Mr Shifty is expected to be available in Spring 2017.

Aaron is proof that while you can take a developer out of the game industry, it’s much harder to take the game industry out of a developer. When not at his day job, Aaron enjoys teaching Axis & Allies to his kids, writing sci-fi stories, playing classic space sims on Twitch, and riding around the American Midwest on his Harley.

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