Sponsored By: Certis
Time Shifted: 41 Minutes
Imagine you had super powers. Imagine you had the ability to warp ten feet in any direction, and the strength to kill anyone in three punches. Would you take upon yourself the awesome responsibility to protect the weak? Would you become a superhero?
Heck no. You’d go rob a bank and steal some Mega Plutonium!
How do you describe a game like Mr. Shifty? Usually, you describe a game like this by listing a bunch of other games that the first game seems to be influenced by. For example:
Mr. Shifty is Hotline Miami meets Bulletstorm and goes to a dinner party at Portal’s house.
That’s fine, but what if one or two of the games are less well known? Like so:
Mr. Shifty is like Nuclear Throne and Sly Cooper met up with Stealth Bastard to get a pizza.
So far, so good. Chances are pretty good you know at least one of those, and you can infer what the rest are like. But what if you haven’t heard of most of them, as in:
Mr. Shifty is what you get when Death Goat and Aaru’s Awakening get jiggy.
This is significantly less helpful, and you’d start to suspect I was making things up. But all of those comparisons are equally valid.
The trick, then, is for me to either pick games that I know the majority of my audience has played and fill in the gaps, or describe everything from scratch. The former way is easier and offers a lot of opportunities to show the audience how clever and eclectic I am (Boy, how about that Bloodbath Kavkaz? Is it top-down or what?), while the latter is a lot harder to do skillfully. Descriptions of mechanics are boring, unless the author throws a few unexpected twists in there (BARIUM COBALT EINSTEIN KOOLAID!), and making jokes about the left analog stick are, well, bound to go in a bad direction – much like a loose left analog stick, come to think of it.
It gets harder if you set the rule that you can’t even assume your audience is familiar with certain gameplay conventions. How does one talk about a top-down action game to someone who has only ever played, say, Japanese Visual Novels? Can we assume the term is descriptive enough to warrant no further explanation? Or do we have to explain what a top-down action game is?
It’s even harder to be pithy under those circumstances. Where do you draw the line? Is the person familiar with the notion of attacking things in video games? I think you see my point, and I think we can both see I’m getting a little bit ridiculous and very close to climbing up my own rectum on an extravagant ladder crafted of my own words.
So let’s crank this review into Nightmare mode and try for the description for people who are not only unfamiliar with certain, similar games, but unfamiliar with games at all.
In Mr. Shifty, you play as a master thief whom you view from above as you move through complicated levels with the left analog joystick. Guards try to stop you, and you must attack them by aiming with the right analog joystick and using the two attacks at your disposal: a punch, and the ability to teleport a distance of about ten feet.
Ok, so it’s informative, but bland. However, I’ve (hopefully) surrounded it with lively prose about how bland the prose is, which I’ll admit is a bit like making fun of people who like fart jokes by making a lot of fart jokes, but it’s a tried and true method of punching up material. So let’s at least try to be standalone entertainment:
Mr. Shifty is a burglar with superpowers and a tenuous grasp on the word “sneaky.” He can teleport in whichever direction he’s facing and appear ten feet away, which is super handy and hilarious when he warps behind enemies who thought they had him in their sights only to find his fist meeting the backs of their heads.
See the difference? I do, but then again I’m a writer and thus predisposed to think whatever I put down is brilliant.
Keep playing, Mr. Shifty?
Mr. Shifty is the kind of game you want to keep playing. I has that one-more-level compulsion factor going for it, much like… another game that has that sort of compulsion. (Thought you had me there, didn’t you?) The levels are, for the most part, quick and satisfying, and there are achievements for using your powers in fun ways. I don’t know that I’ll finish Mr. Shifty, but I look forward to finding out.
Is it the Dark Souls of top-down Dishonored clones?
Oh, I can see potential here. In forty-one minutes of play I’ve already met some real nail-biters and controller-throwers. Thus far, there has been nothing insurmountable, but the game is young. The discussion threads on Steam, if you care to venture to such places, suggest that level 16 may have the darkness of souls that this question always seeks, but I’m only on level seven, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.