Review – Never Stop Sneakin’ – Sneakin’ Your Way To Victory
This past summer, when new games were being announced by studios both big and small, one little title caught my eye. It was a espionage spoof game, developed by indie studio Humble Hearts. With all the news and hype of other things in the months that followed, the game slowly faded from my memory. Imagine my surprise then, to check the Switch eshop and find it had finally arrived.
Never Stop Sneakin’ (NSS) is just as ridiculous as I remember. You play a spy working for the government, tasked with infiltrating an island ran by a madman named Gildenstern. Appointed President many years ago when the other White House staff went off grid for about thirty minutes, Gildenstern created a time machine and kidnapped all the Presidents in history (even the bad ones.) Your goal is to infiltrate and retrieve enough data to build one of your own and stop his plan from happening.
This happens by pushing into an area of his base and collecting info. These are staged in tiers of three floors, at the end of which is a boss encounter. As you progress your presence on the island and build new structures, you can go even deeper in, unlocking more tiers that are added on. Now that you know some of what is entailed, let’s see how it really works.
Back in Time
Don’t expect some high end detail in this. Never Stop Sneakin’ is, in many ways, a throwback to games from the PS1 era. Character designs are blocky and very static. While some may see that as a deterrent, I feel it only added to the experience as a whole. NSS wants to tug the nostalgic heart strings from game veterans who experience games like Metal Gear Solid (the original one), and it does that quite well.
Most of this is only abundant during cutscenes, which are often times silly and hilarious. Gildenstern frequently exchanges banter with your team and rewinds time on his island to undo the progress you’ve made. Even so, the voice actors and writing for this game are top notch, and even in the depths of an infiltration mission, I still found plenty to keep me chuckling.
Speaking of, missions in the game are played from a bird’s eye view, not unlike many of the classic Zelda titles during that time. This serves two purposes. First, it keeps the dated graphics from feeling too overabundant. Second, it lets you look at the immediate area and plan your strategy accordingly.
The School of Sneakin
Humble Hearts did something a little uncanny with Never Stop Sneakin’. For a game revolved around infiltration and collecting data, the gameplay is extremely simple. Essentially, all you are required to do is move. When your agent finds himself in position behind an enemy soldier, he automatically takes them out. Likewise, should he be spotted by a drone, camera or soldier, he will automatically act accordingly, given what equipment he is carrying.
This can be both good and bad, depending on how you look at it. In some areas, you’ll burn EMP grenades to take out cameras, even if there are no more enemies on the floor. When things get overwhelming, however, this can be a blessing in disguise.
More impressively is that NSS, when you really dive in, has something of an arcade feel to it as well. When accepting a mission, you find yourself on a tier of floors (bundles of three), each of which has a particular theme. Beyond that, the layouts for them are completely random. Scattered throughout these floors are particles, called ESP, that can be collected and used as currency. They are scattered around the map in a way that feels a little like Pac-Man. While collecting these, you will encounter soldiers and drones to kill, who also drop ESP and items to help you on your mission.
Some even drop keycards that can access locked areas on the floor, which hold terminals that can give you active perks for the mission. These can do a variety of things, such as make it easier to find health or ammo, boost your hacking speed or increase the value of the ESP you collect.
Also scattered throughout each floor are locations of interest. These are indicated by a green circle with footprints in the middle of them. Standing on these will cause your agent to hack terminals or search desks or cabinets. Most floors have package objectives, and collecting them all will boost your score when completing a floor.
Every so often, you’ll find a point of interest that has a hidden ally waiting for you. Inside, you can trade some of the ESP you’ve collected to purchase upgrades, like restoring your health or buying ammo clips (highly recommended). These make it easier for you to keep pushing into Gildenstern’s base.
Beyond this, ESP can be used to create new structures and increase your presence on the island. Essentially, this is how you also advance the game. New structures sometimes require special items or agents to run them. I quite enjoyed the concept of taking a mission to steal screwdrivers because we couldn’t build something without them, or how a survival expert was needed to help feed the team so no one resorted to cannibalism. Things like this kept the game fresh and entertaining, especially when things started feeling repetitive.
Unfortunately, that is one of the major drawbacks. Despite the randomized maps, NSS does lose some of it’s luster the longer you play it. Given that Gildenstern rewinds time after each mission, you are only ever fighting off of a handful of bosses every three levels, most of which aren’t terribly difficult. Thankfully, each map isn’t that lengthy. Most of them can be cleared in about five minutes or less.
Thankfully, like any classic arcade, the challenge increases the higher you go. While the early floors seem pretty simple, pushing through the third tier is when things really start heating up. Cameras swivel at incredible speeds and soldiers move a lot faster. This makes it easy to miscalculate, and in some instances, you know a point of instance will require burning a bullet or EMP to investigate. This adds some challenge of resource management.
Even for the casual player, Never Stop Sneakin’ is still very forgiving. At the end of each floor, the ESP you have collected is tallied and added to a mission pot, so to speak. If you are defeated, you simply return to base with whatever you’ve collected. The challenge really comes from pushing in long enough to complete objectives for certain structures to be unlocked, but even those aren’t that difficult. It’s a game that can be played at your own pace. Hardcore players will clear most of the content in only a few hours. Those who are more skilled at casual games may find it taking longer.
Outside of ESP and unlocking structures, NSS also has a lot of skins that can be unlocked. As new agents are recruited, their skin can be selected, sending them in instead of one of the default agents. This doesn’t affect your gameplay whatsoever. It’s purely cosmetic. Beyond this, you can also change the look of your loadout, which is essentially a melee weapon and a handgun. Some of the funnier moments take place when you realize you are taking out bad guys with a drill and wrench or with a plunger and squirt bottle. You can customize your agent to be as serious or as silly as you so desire. What’s more, you can apply any of these changes at any time through the pause menu.
Never Stop Sneakin’ gave me plenty of chuckles throughout my experiences with it. It teaches you very quickly not to take it too seriously, something that I easily kept in mind over the course of the campaign. When all the banter has passed, however, the million dollar question is was it worth it? NSS is currently a Switch exclusive, selling in their eShop for about fifteen bucks. There’s no real simple answer to that question. The best answer is, it depends.
Personally, I enjoyed the experience of the game. Given that I played many espionage titles over the years, I consider NSS to be a fun, nostalgic experience. They tug my heart strings with the banter and endless nods it makes to the genre. It also does so with the random maps and Pac-Man feel to it. That was something I didn’t expect. My only major drawbacks is that sometimes, I wanted a little more. I wanted it to be a little harder, and I wanted a slightly larger pool of boss fights to work with. Having something else other than sentry turrets, soldiers and cameras to contend with would have been nice, too.
Despite this, I still like the game, and for me, it was a good investment. I highly recommend it to veteran gamers who lived in the PS1 days, or even before. Younger players, however, will miss a lot of these moments, which may sour their opinion of the title. In creating something that is meant to feel dated, it risks isolating those who didn’t experience what it’s paying tribute to. Players like these may still find something to enjoy about it, but not to the extent that I did.