With so many excellent games coming out these days, it’s tough to decide what to play, let alone devote time to. Feels like most of what I’ve played this year have ended up being large time investments. From the massive open world of Breath of the Wild or the stressful time-management of Persona 5 to traversing the labyrinthine caves of Hollow Knight or the struggle to survive in Rain World, this year feels like it’s been dominated by games that demand your undivided attention.
Mr. Shifty provides a nice break from all that. Developed by Team Shifty, it’s a top-down action game in the vein of Hotline Miami. Only instead of playing some mindless murderer, you’re a thief with the ability to teleport. It’s a breezy game that provides a good deal of fun in short bursts, which makes it a perfect fit for the Switch’s portable capabilities, on top of being just an all-around good time.
Mr. Shifty follows the titular thief on a heist to retrieve a plutonium stone that’s being used as part of some diabolical plot. The game sees you running through a series of levels swiftly dispatching foes while teleporting around to avoid gunfire and such. That teleportation move is the crux of Mr. Shifty. With the press of a button, Shifty can warp a few feet ahead of his current position. You can only use it a few times before it needs to recharge, however, so careful management of this power is necessary. Though it’s generally not a problem since it recharges almost instantly as long as you don’t run the shift meter dry.
That’s often easier said than done during some of the more frantic combat encounters, though. Skirmishes end as quickly as they begin, the action often playing out faster than you can process it, as plans quickly give way to pure reactive impulse. Once the bullets start flying, you don’t have much time to think about your next move. You have to adapt. What could start as a carefully orchestrated plot to clear each room without alerting the entire floor to your presence can suddenly turn into a brawl that leads you all across the level. It’s fast, frantic, and satisfying. No matter how each encounter plays out, it never gets old.
Once lasers are introduced, Mr. Shifty sometimes leans a touch too hard on them. In one late-game scenario, you’re stuck in a small room dodging two lasers while fighting off a steady stream of guards. Cover constantly phases in and out of existence, steadily falling apart as you knock foes around and as the lasers slowly wear them down. It’s very tough, borderline maddening even. By the end of the game, you’re typically facing off against so many foes that it’s hard to keep up. While it does emphasize the puzzle aspect a lot of the game’s fights carry, it also sometimes becomes too overwhelming for its own good. Those cases are relatively rare, thankfully, as the majority of the game strikes a good balance.
Mr. Shifty works well on the Switch in particular due to the short length of each stage. Every level lasts no more than 10 minutes apiece, maybe a little more depending on how often you die. It makes the game perfect for quick play sessions, especially when played in handheld mode. Every time I loaded the game up, I’d play a level or two whenever I had a free moment then put it back down to resume later. Out of the (admittedly few) games I’ve played on the Switch, Mr. Shifty feels like one of the better use cases of its mobility.
Above all, though, Mr. Shifty acted as a nice break from the marathons that most other games I’ve played this year have been. Moving from one 40-plus hour game to another takes its toll quickly. Having something small and quick like Mr. Shifty was a nice change of pace. In a season swamped with ridiculously long games, something quick and simple like Mr. Shifty is a welcome respite.