Review: Sneaky Sneaky

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Not to be confused with the strikingly similar in appearance (and equally fun) Road Not Taken, Sneaky Sneaky is a new stealth puzzle/strategy game from indie studio Naiad Entertainment. Guess what? It’s about sneaking. A lot of sneaking. But, in a break from the more hardcore stealth games, this one doesn’t get bogged down in the die and retry trial and error cycle that tends to turn some gamers away from the genre.

After pulling off a dream heist, Sneaky, the cute rogue starring in the player character role, otherwise referred to as a vile scoundrel or the hooded devil, has lost the precious stash of rubies he just lifted and must sneak through a series of approximately 15 stages to reclaim his loot. Now wanted for stealing from the Sultan of the Serpent Sands, Sneaky’s quest for treasure has suddenly become a whole lot more dangerous. Especially when the bounty on his head could be one of many wonderful prizes advertised on wanted posters throughout the lands, such as a 20 minute backrub, five camels, or royal gratitude. Who wouldn’t turn snitch for rewards like that?

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Imagine what would happen if The Legend of Zelda–one of the old ones played from a top-down view–was turned into a stealth game. That’s essentially what you get with Sneaky Sneaky. Each stage is plotted out a whole lot like a Zelda dungeon, with a series of square rooms, each containing a different set of enemies and challenges laid out on a tiled playing area, connected together by seamless transitions leading, eventually, to a final room with an exit. Within each area, enemies patrol the environment–some follow scripted paths, some randomly roam the entire map–while you carefully point and click the masked stealer to the door to the next area, preferably without getting caught in a hostile’s glowing red field of vision.

During stealth mode, enemies only move a certain number of steps at a time, but the gameplay runs at real-time speed. However, when you attack without killing an enemy in one hit or leave poor Sneaky out in the open to be spotted, the game switches into a turn-based combat mode sort of like a mini strategy RPG, in which the enemy has three action points to move a number of spaces or attack in succession before you get the same number of action points on your turn. Single enemies can typically all be killed within three successive dagger or bow strikes, but if hearts are low or multiple enemies are in pursuit it’s safer to break line of sight and find a bush to hide in until the bad guys return to their normal patrols routes, and the turn-based mode switches back to real time.

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By hiding in bushes, enemies can either be altogether avoided or stealth killed with a dagger stab to the back as they step into an adjacent square. A bow with limited arrow ammo, which can be replenished by chopping down trees or wooden barrels, as well as a variety of other assassin tools are picked up to expand your arsenal. Over the course of the game, you gain access to special items like monster bait to lure enemies out of position, vials of nightshade oil to turn arrows into sleep darts, hammers to break through otherwise impenetrable stone barriers, and a wooden barrel to deploy as moving cover à la Solid Snake’s trusty cardboard box. But these items all have a limited supply and cost gold coins to purchase between missions from Squeaky, Sneaky’s mouse in crime and resident shopkeeper. Therefore these items must be used judiciously. You can go through most areas without killing, but the gold drops from slain creatures are hard to pass up, particularly with extra goodies to stock up on.

Even though the game is currently only available on Steam, you can tell that the interface was designed to be universal with touchscreen play when the game eventually comes to iOS devices. That’s not a bad thing at all, because mouse clicking and tapping on a touchscreen aren’t all that dissimilar as methods of control. Even the bow and arrow combat mechanic, which requires clicking and holding while pulling back on the mouse to nock an arrow and then scrolling the mouse to adjust the aiming arrow before releasing, feels smooth and adds a touch of skill as you attempt to line up long range shots on moving targets. The whole control scheme is very lightweight and easy to immediately pick up and play. As long as you can scroll a mouse and have a spry left-click finger, this game’s a snap.

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For a small, straightforward game, the developers did a wonderful job packing in a lot of variety of enemies, environments and puzzles that steadily builds from one stage to the next. The treasure hunt begins in a forest teeming with imps and slimes and wolves. A treacherous canyon comes next, featuring sandy terrain that slows down movement and hides subterranean skeletons and serpents that are alerted by sensing movement vibrations like Tremors. Then it’s on to a city environment guarded by human archers, knights, lancers, and harmless little bugle boys whose only job is to sound the alarm when an intruder is spotted. You will also cross paths with flying pig-bats, agile skeletons that evade every attack unless they’re pinned down with no space to jump-dodge directly backwards, and ornery Ham Trolls capable of bulldozing through trees and boulders when ticked off.

The main drawback is the limited number of levels. Completing all stages should take most players no more than three hours. Each stage has three optional ruby collectibles to find, as well as a medal scoring system that rates performance on a scale of bronze, silver or gold determined primarily by going undetected and piling up sneak kills. Finding all rubies, earning all gold medals and completing 100% achievements provides another hour or two of play time, but that’s the extent of the replay value. This isn’t the type of pure stealth game that has rewards for doing ghost runs or anything like that. An RPG-lite progression system is provided for leveling up and earning stat points to increase Sneaky’s health points, attack damage and movement distance (for turn-based mode), but due to the brevity of the adventure you wind up leveling at such a rapid pace that the game loses balance. The difficulty curve builds nicely through the first 10 stages, but tails off a bit over the final handful as Sneaky’s abilities max out and become slightly overpowered.

No, this is not a particularly difficult or involved game, but it is a fun, snackable puzzle-oriented variation on the stealth genre that you won’t mind letting lift $5 from your Steam cash vault. So come on, y’all. Sneak into Sneaky Sneaky and have yourself a sneaky good time!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Cute art, animation and humor
+ Clever mix of real-time stealth, turn-based combat
+ Good variety of enemies, environments and puzzles

Cons:
– Not very many levels
– Difficulty becomes uneven

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC via Steam, also coming to iOS
Publisher: Naiad Entertainment
Developer: Naiad Entertainment
Release Date: 11/12/2014
Genre: Stealth/Puzzle
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!