There's a brief message at the bottom of every game page on the Switch eShop. In short, it's a disclaimer that is designed to protect Nintendo and other developers from liability in the event that players suffer from a seizure caused by gameplay. You've probably seen the message, and you've probably ignored it. You probably also haven't played the stuttering Mr. Shifty on Nintendo Switch.
This is something that we need to get out in front of right away. Mr. Shifty might not cause seizures, but its framerate and skipping issues at launch are problematic and gave this reviewer a headache. We're not Digital Foundry, but at a glance it's pretty obvious that this game is consistently running under 30fps, though the issue of stuttering goes further than raw numbers.
During later stages that are filled with enemies and hazards the framerate has a tendency to come to a screeching halt, skipping chunks of the action and often resulting in player deaths. It might be unrelated, but the game also managed to crash twice in our review period. We tested the game both docked and in handheld mode and found similar results. There's no two ways about it – Mr. Shifty does not perform well on Nintendo Switch in its original form, with the developer promising an update that, at the time of publication a week+ after release, is yet to roll out.
Technical problems - and their notable impact on gameplay - aside, Mr. Shifty has the framework of a very interesting and enjoyable game. The premise revolves around a heist as you attempt to break into a high security skyscraper and steal something called Mega Plutonium to stop an evil plan. The plot doesn't get much deeper than that, but the character dialogue is funny enough to keep it entertaining, and it sets the gameplay in motion.
It's difficult to talk about Mr. Shifty without making direct comparisons to Hotline Miami. What we have here is a top down action title that allows you to pick up weapons and use environmental hazards to take down your foes. So, it's Hotline Miami. The major difference is your titular character's ability to "shift," causing him to disappear and reappear about five feet away. It's a powerful ability that dynamically changes how you explore stages and really opens the game up. Being able to disappear and reappear on the other side of a wall directly behind an enemy before taking them down is a deeply satisfying, and it works well with the game's simple control scheme.
One of the true joys of Mr. Shifty is how well the game plays when it successfully reaches full flow. Movement is tied to the left stick or D-Pad and the right stick is used to pan the camera and explore your environment. You can pick up weapons by pressing A, while punches and projectiles are thrown with Y. There is a small dot that works as a reticle constantly floating in front of Mr. Shifty; this dot can be teleported to by tapping B. This is all covered in the first stage that acts as an extended tutorial, but mastering the controls is exceedingly easy and the combat flows well once you've got the hang of it. For how well it controls, it's a real shame that this game performs poorly on the hardware.
One of our bigger gripes with this game – outside of its performance – is the lack of variety throughout its 18 stages. While there are some missions that require you to find an item or survive an onslaught of enemies and environmental traps, the primary goal is almost always to kill all of the baddies to unlock the door to the next area. This is all well and good, but the core mechanic of shifting is almost completely wasted on this basic objective. Being able to move throughout stages undetected should be implemented as an interesting stealth mechanic, a la the Dishonored franchise for example, but is instead used as a combat gimmick.
Shifting works well to avoid enemy attacks and get the jump on a group of thugs, but when the goal is to take everyone out without the option to subdue, the whole concept feels like a missed opportunity. Fighting your way through each stage without taking a single hit should be rewarding, but without a combo meter or high score system the experience falls flat. It took us just over 4 hours to button mash our way through the 18 stages, with no real incentive to return - the game could have certainly done more with its solid core idea and concept.
We want it to be clear that the version we played for this review was the full Switch eShop release. We've been told that the game runs much smoother on PC in the launch period, so you might want to make that your platform of choice if you want to check this one out – and honestly, you should. There's nothing groundbreaking to be found here, but it's a decent game with interesting ideas that unfortunately aren't fully fleshed out. We just can't fully recommend the Switch version in its initial form, and it's disappointing that this one falls under the category of games released in a sub-par state that leave owners hoping that promised updates will save the day.