Review: The Marvellous Miss Take

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Proving that stealth games don’t just have to be about super spies, special ops agents, deadly ninjas, and cloaked assassins, The Marvellous Miss Take masters the art of video game sneaking and thievery with a lighthearted, non-violent approach that is as fun to play as it is a joy to behold.

Indie developer Wonderstruck’s fresh take on stealth gaming stars the eponymous Miss Sophia Take, whose inheritance–a collection of valuable artwork left behind by her great Aunt–has been taken. To quote Robin Hood, as played by Kevin Costner: “Then by God, we take it back.” And that’s exactly what she sets out to do with help from an unlikely pair of partners in crime.

This art gallery caper takes place over the course of 25 levels fashioned in an arresting Saturday morning cartoon style. (Think Carmen Sandiego meets Sly Cooper.) It’s unfortunate, though, that the characters don’t have rich and colorful personalities to match their charming appearances. Brief, text-only speech bubble conversations and newspaper front page clippings between heists are as far as this game goes in terms of characterization and storytelling. Not that a game like this should have a complex narrative, but some animated sequences or maybe even a little voice acting could have helped jazz things up and make the characters more identifiable and memorable.

Good old fashioned isometric point and click (or gamepad/keyboard direct control if you prefer) sneaky sneaky action is Miss Take’s forte. As she breaks into various galleries around toon-shaded London that have claimed her precious family heirlooms, guards roam the premises on unscripted patrols, their sight lines and awareness level indicated by the usual cone-shaped field of vision and a circular, color-coded alert meter. Her goal is to quietly sneak from room to room, snatching paintings off the walls and sculptures from their display pedestals as she goes, and then reach the exit door just as quietly as she entered. There is a clock, but its presence is only to incentivize speedruns and in no way penalizes playing at your own pace. You’ll probably need a good four or five hours to clear the game on the first pass, but optional objectives and achievements double or triple that time. (It took me a little more than 12 hours to achieve 100% completion–well, everything but the unlockable speedrun pro times.)

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Before long, guards become only one of many obstacles standing in Sophia’s way of reclaiming what rightfully belongs to her. As the levels advance, a well-paced difficulty curve steadily begins to throw security cameras, guard dogs capable of picking up and following scent trails, and laser tripwire alarms into the equation. Thanks to the unscripted AI, deftly navigating a level rewards skillful cat and mouse tactics (loud footsteps as well as coughing/knocking/whistling attract attention within a pulsing circle originating from the character model) as opposed to the rigid level layout and pattern memorization typically associated with stealth games. Although the layouts remain the same, the experience changes in subtle ways every time a map is loaded (or reloaded), so you always have to be on your toes ready to alter your plan at the drop of a hat. The only time the AI becomes somewhat obstructive is during speedrun attempts. When you’re up against the clock and simply don’t have the time to manipulate an unfavorably generated map, success becomes a bit too reliant on failing and retrying until at last the patrols break your way. When dumb luck and trial and error trump skill, frustration tends to set in. Especially towards the end when the smallish levels become increasingly crowded.

Speaking of dropping hats, if she’s spotted Sophia will lose her floppy lid as guards give chase. Deft evasion techniques may allow you to duck behind cover quick enough to break sight lines and avoid getting caught (you will need to retrieve her hat in order to carry on with the heist though), but in most cases raising the alarm to red alert status results in getting busted. And apparently Sophia is a pacifist, so stealth takedowns or any other methods of physical violence are not in her thieving repertoire. This is a pure stealth-puzzle game in which the path to success lies in luring guards out of position, creating distractions and reacting instinctively, something ghosting specialists will surely appreciate. (For those not hip to stealth-game lingo, ghosting refers to clearing a level without being seen or arousing suspicion.)

As eluded to earlier, Miss Take isn’t this game’s only master of sneaking. Eventually she teams up with two other playable characters, the suave former artist named Harry and a teenage pickpocket named Daisy. Depending on the selected character, the mission objectives and play styles change in interesting ways. Harry hobbles around on a cane and thus is not able to sprint, so his levels require ploddingly limping between cover points, using his handy bouncy ball to cause distractions, and lifting only a few choice paintings before getting the hell out of dodge. Given the nature of his disability, his levels are not clocked but do offer bonus rewards for ghost runs.

Nimble Daisy is the speedrun specialist of the bunch, and her mission objectives are also very different from the other two. Instead of stealing art, her objective is to stalk right up behind guards, pick keys from their pockets, and then crack wall safes to nab the deeds for the inherited artwork. Opening the safes triggers a large alarm radius that is likely to draw in one guard if not two or three in some cases, which means you better break in and hightail it to a safe hiding place until the heat dies down.

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Sophia’s missions are more straightforward, requiring you to steal a target number of art pieces (normally in the range of 6-9 per floor) and escape unscathed. As the thieving crew’s Jill-of-all-trades, she periodically gains access to various gadgets like noisemakers, deployable teleport pads, smoke bombs, and glue traps. (While not a big deal, it would have been nice to have these tools available in a permanent inventory rather than only appearing in specific levels predetermined by the developers. Maybe that’s an idea Wonderstruck will consider should a sequel ever get made.) Sophia, like Daisy, has an optional speedrun time to beat for every stage, but her unique bonus objective involves stealing a prized masterpiece secured inside a glass case somewhere in each level. The catch is that everyday gallery goers who normally don’t pay Miss Take any mind will turn tattletale and report her dastardly deed to the nearest guard. If only they knew her cause was actually just.

Overall the game is tricky yet forgiving. Stages consist of two floors of prized loot to steal. The short elevator ride between floors serves as an auto-save checkpoint, so as long as you clear the first floor there is never a fear of having to replay an entire stage from scratch. The clock even resets to where it was at the time of the checkpoint, which means if you’re on a speedrun attempt and nail a fast time on the first floor, that time is preserved should you make a mistake and decide to reload from the beginning of the second floor. And the same goes for ghost runs.

Given the genre, it’s only fitting that The Marvellous Miss Take is the type of game that sneaks up and totally catches you off guard by just how delightful and inventive it is. It’s a seemingly simple game at first that becomes increasingly challenging and diverse as the levels progress, ultimately revealing itself to be a stealthy masterpiece. Give her the chance and Miss Take will steal your heart. This new stealth heroine may even have a few things to teach Snake, Sam Fisher and the boys.

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Pros:
+ Randomized AI pathfinding is great for dynamic stealth play
+ Three playable characters offer different mission/play styles
+ Bonus objectives like speed and ghost runs provide meaningful replay value
+ Wonderfully charming art style

Cons:
– Unscripted AI brings trial and error more into play when attempting speedruns
– Personalities of the characters and story don’t measure up to the visuals

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Developer: Wonderstruck
Release Date: 11/20/2014
Genre: Stealth
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!