It has been a slow start to 2012. Sure, we’ve had some quality games here and there, but for the most part it has been a little quiet. To be honest I was starting to get a little worried, thinking that maybe, just maybe the iOS gaming revolution was starting to wane.
Every now and again though, a game comes along for iOS that knocks you for six, and re-ignites your passion for not just iOS gaming, but gaming in general.
Well, Beat Sneak Bandit is one such game.
Last year a beautifully crafted platformer called Bumpy Road hit our touch screens. It was delightful, but as with all continuous running (or in this case driving) games you soon lose interest. Thankfully, the creative minds behind it (Simogo) have not been sitting on their hands, and instead have been busy with Beat Sneak Bandit.
If Bumpy Road was the appetizer, then this game is very much the entree! A sumptuous feast of puzzle platforming, garnished with beautiful handcrafted artwork, and a side order of funky beats.
Like a plate of fries with a good steak, the music is integral to this game. One simply cannot work without the other. On starting up you are warned that Beat Sneak Bandit must be played with the sound ON!
“Why?” you may ask. Well, as the title suggests, you must sneak to the beat.
You play as a bandit, though not your typical bad bandit. Here you play a good guy, tasked with stealing back all the clocks that have been stolen by an evil scientist called Duke Clockface. He is ‘supposedly’ creating a time-stopping device, so he himself can become a successful bank thief… As well as stealing candy from children (A man after my own heart).
Each level sees you edging closer to a showdown with the duke as you progress room-by-room through his huge mansion. These rooms contain clocks to collect. There’s a main clock which must be collected and acts as a key to unlocking the next level; plus there are four other clocks which act as bonuses. Like the stars in Cut the Rope and other puzzle games, they are not required, but do allow you to unlock bonus levels in the game. However, to really make the most of this game and truly beat (no pun intended) each level, then you should aim to collect them all.
Levels are made up of four platforms, which are interconnected by various stairways. The clocks are scattered around the level, as are a number of obstacles designed to catch you out. Early on in the game it’s mainly spotlights you’ll have to contend with, but later you’ll come against security guards and even bandit-catching hoovers.
To move the bandit, you tap on the screen for each step. His direction can’t be directly controlled and can only be changed by moving him into a solid object. This is one of the key elements to the puzzles, where some sections can only be accessed when facing the right direction. Often you will have spent a while getting near the master clock, only to be facing the wrong direction and drop all the way back to where you started. So far it sounds pretty straight forward right, well not quite.
Remember I said how the music is integral to the gameplay. Well, the reason for that is that everything in the level moves to the beat of the music. So, to successfully complete each level, you will need to time the bandits step in time with the beat. Tap and move out of time, and there will be consequences. Not only will the bandit be frozen on the spot, but if there are any clocks on the same platform at the time of a miss-beat, then they will explode. It doesn’t end the level, but it stops you getting your full quota of clocks.
It’s not just a case of keeping a constant tap going either. Much of the challenge to a level comes when you must tie the timings of the bandits movement with the activation of switches, trapdoors, spotlights, transporter pads, and when a security guard is looking away. When later levels throw all these together at you, it gets pretty hectic to say the least.
Thankfully, levels do not have a time limit. This allows you to study each level and how the objects react to the music, before making a move. It is possible to get lucky by just going for it, but like I said before, to fully complete the level and collect all the clocks, you’ll need study the timings in more detail.
No where is this more important than in the final stages. As the story implies, the Duke has been creating a time-stopping device. This device eventually appears in later levels, and when activated will stop everything in its tracks for a few seconds. This allows you to sneak past security guards easier, or travers trapdoors that were otherwise opening and closing too fast. The twist though is that all the clocks disappear when time is frozen, as they seem to power the device. So it is hard during this time to remember their locations so you are in the right position when normal time resumes.
The game is split over four chapters, culminating in a final showdown with the Duke. I won’t spoil what this showdown entails, only that it took me a while to beat. Once finished you unlock a bonus chapter of remixed levels, where the beat is changed affecting the timing of, and flow of, once familiar levels.
Perhaps my favourite part of the game though, are what are called the shadow levels. These can only be unlocked by collecting a set number of clocks. They are pretty much the same as the main levels in layout, but stylistically they are very different, featuring a silhouetted visual style and slower jazz like music.
Speaking of visuals, Beat Sneak Bandit looks gorgeous. The art-style reminds me of the 1960′s work from Hana Barbara, particularly the backgrounds and textures seen in their opening credits for Bewitched. It’s a style made popular more recently with the opening credits for Catch Me If You Can. It really doesn’t look like your typical games graphics at all. With a hand drawn and cutout look to it, it’s almost tactile. I love the fact that everything is moving to the beat, including characters and even background elements from furniture to wall hangings. Adding to this is the way each level is built up on screen which is most evident when it all falls away like bits of paper when you fail.
The music too is excellently produced. It doesn’t try to be modern, with techno beats like many other rhythm games. Instead the music is very much in keeping with the art style, offering up a funky flavour of horns and drums. The shadow levels are a highlight, changing the pace with a more slinky jazz vibe. When the bandit falls from a platform it’s perfectly timed with a symbol and snare beat.
Like many success stories on the AppStore, it’s the simplicity that makes Beat Sneak Bandit shine. On the face of it it looks like any other platformer, with elements from classics such as Donkey Kong, Manic Miner and Mario. But by injecting it all with rhythm, Simogo have created something truly unique. The fact that it can be played with just one finger, and one beat-tapping action, is a testament to the excellent game design.
Beat Sneak Bandit is out now as a Universal App for £1.99 ($2.99). Get it on the