Friday, 16 March 2012

Beat Sneak Bandit: Review - iOS

'Sneak?.. Sneeaaaak!!'

In the densely populated landscape of iOS gaming, spending a penny more than absolutely necessary, can be quite a commitment. Good job, then, that fiscally well-endowed tap-em-up Beat Sneak Bandit is a game with the shelf life, art style, and just-one-more-level gameplay that will turn it from something to kill time with, on your daily commute, to a full-time obsession.

The town of Pulsebury (that's right) is under threat from the maniacal Duke Clockface. In a turn of events that probably should have been foreseen, the Duke has made off with all the clocks, leaving the townsfolk without any way of knowing when the hell it is. In order to prevent the Duke's crazy conceit – using the clocks to whip up some kind of time-freeze device, you'll don the mask of titular hero Beat Sneak Bandit and his unplayable companion Herbie.

Beat Sneak Bandit is a game of throwaway simplicity. At first glance, it might appear as if little effort was ever required to sew together the cogs and dials that are its make-up. The more time spent with BSB, however, the clearer it becomes that, in truth, it is an intricate network of precisely crafted interior components. Beat Sneak's controls rely on simply tapping any part of the touchscreen in time with the music, each press will move Bandit one step forward, and hitting the screen's walled edges will cause him to flip around, facing the other way. Each level offers a perpetually more awkward array of potential pitfalls. Security guards, searchlights, and hovering vacuums attempt to derail your progress, while manipulating time-stopping levers, pressure-pads and teleporters properly, will help smooth your passage to each, multi-tiered level's end. Every note is relevant, should you fail a level, stuttering piano keys will clunk to a halt. The timing of a portal, or the moment a security guard will turn around, are all tied to the relevant musical note in the track. The game forces you to learn the tune and time your move based on audio cues, rather than what can be seen on screen.

Beat Sneak Bandit is a bastion of accessibility and addictiveness. Each level holds five clocks, scattered at various longitudes and latitudes, each one collected just by stepping on top. Four of them are entirely optional, you might choose to take the easy route, ignoring some in pursuit of the larger, level-ending timepiece and driving your progress forward. Each of the smaller clocks act as collectibles, the reward for their successful assimilation, is the unlocking of shadow stages at the end of each of BSB's four level-heavy chapters. These deviate nicely from Beat Sneak Bandit's bright, colourful, pitch-perfect pastel aesthetic, heavy with head-banging background artefacts -picture frames and candlesticks nodding along to the tune. These are replaced instead by stripping away the bracken and smoothing it out with ice-cool silhouettes.

There are one hundred ways to muck it up amid the mire of rhythmic booby-traps BSB has on offer, one push too many might leave you one step either direction from where you intended, and renavigating or even restarting the set piece might prove the quickest option. In spite of this, Beat Sneak Bandit possesses the caution-to-the-wind enjoyment of games such as Super Meat Boy or Joe Danger. Restarts might mean a longer haul back to your objective than these games, but delivering a press-perfect passage through a given level, is more often than not, just too juicy an offer to turn down. Beat Sneak Bandit's real joy is one of discovery, moments after being confronted by a fit-inducing canvas of flashing security lights and teleportation devices, at a glance, seemingly impassable, you'll afford yourself a self-satisfied grin as the rhythmic brick-road to clocks four and five unravels.

Equally impressive is Beat Sneak Bandit's sheer quantity of content. Four chapters, containing ten stages with four shadow stages each, that's fifty six stages. But wait, there's extra stuff too, without spoilerising (not a word) proceedings, there's more. Even if BSB is a relatively costly iOS experience, value for money is something it does very, very well. Its not as if its more of the same, either. Aesthetic, challenge, and audio, evolve nicely as each level passes. The go-to funk of the early mansion stages is replaced by upbeat, yet comically spooky echoes in the clockwork mansion's basement. The static humming, and clinking of test tubes in the laboratory levels, escalates into the whimsical tick-tock clock chimes, of the clock tower phase, and the unlockable shadow stages pulse with finger-snapping bass.
There are very few gripes to be had with this game at all. To nitpick, the music throughout is not for everyone, and while it stops short of being the same, most of it plays out to variations of the same eight-bar beat. There's not much in the way of story, either. That said, Beat Sneak Bandit doesn't need one. Clock-loving extrovert steals clocks, sneaky bandit steals them back, big fight, end. At times, Beat Sneak Bandit can be merciless, too. Usually though, it stops short of frustration, in spite of plenty of grimaced, wry smiles.

Beat Sneak Bandit is as unforgiving as it is self aware. At regular intervals, you'll be invited to pick up the phone and exchange dialogue with Duke Clockface – an unapologetic narcissist and typical wealthy super-villain. At other times, you'll chew the fat with your bandit buddy, Herbie. Aside from explaining the method behind the madness in the early stages, Herbie drops in by phone, every now and then, to offer some largely useless words of advice, more often than not, he serves as a witty commentator on events, as they unfold. From the opening frame, where he references the collectible smaller clocks as something 'like in a videogame' to the preamble to the end game, pointing out how it would be awesome if there was a 'big freaking boss battle' around the corner. The final fight in question is typically unforgiving, but stays true to BSB's pause-for-thought dynamic.

All of this is really just seasoning for, what at the centre of it all, is a cute, simple, engaging, joy of a title to behold. All you'll need is one thumb and a few minutes, actually maybe a few hours. It's more than likely that Beat Sneak Bandit will go from your go-to on-the-go game, to play-at-home game. From foot tapping on the train, to racking your brain, Simogo's Beat Sneak Bandit is a stylised, addictive, stealth-em-up, unlike anything creeping around your iOS device.

Mecha Score 9.0

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