Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: Tiny Thief

Note: This review is based on the PC version of Tiny Thief available on Steam. I have, however, played the mobile version, and can say that the versions are not significantly different.

Stealing things in games is just plain fun. Thief: The Dark Project taught us that all the way back in 1998, and while there have been many stealth games since that offer experiences ranging from assassination to international espionage, it’s hard to beat the thrill of just sneaking through a place and swiping everything not nailed down. Tiny Thief from developer 5 Ants offers a surprisingly compelling pilfering experience with a charming aesthetic and some clever puzzles.

Tiny Thief blends the genres of stealth and point-and-click adventure games. Each level is a self-contained challenge where you, as the titular small burglar must acquire a certain treasure while avoiding detection. Every level has three stars to acquire, and finishing the level will only get you one. The other two are acquired by obtaining extra treasures from the level and finding the petite pilferer’s ferret companion, who is hiding in every level. Levels are set up adventure game style, which is to say that every puzzle has exactly one correct solution, and stealth mechanics are extremely rudimentary; if a guard is on the same horizontal plane as you and looking in your direction, he will see you unless you are hidden in certain specific hiding places. You must wait for them to turn their backs before venturing out to do your thieving.

In practice, Tiny Thief leans much more toward puzzle-based adventure game than true stealth game. The stealth largely exists as one omnipresent puzzle element that ties all of the other puzzles together, and to that end it works well. What might otherwise feel like a simple collection of puzzles is unified by the stealth element, and the game feels very cohesive as a result. Still, since the game is more focused on puzzles than stealth, it can get weary just sitting and waiting for a guard to turn his back when you’ve figured out the solution to the puzzle at hand.

The puzzles themselves are wonderfully put together. They’re mostly clever and intuitive, though a small few had me banging my head in frustration when I looked up the answer and found it to be something I never would have thought of. Still, such puzzles are the exception rather than the rule. Most feel clever and chaotically funny without being hard to follow. It helps that everything is context-based. If you can use an item you’ve picked up, then a bubble showing that item will appear when you stand next to the place you can use it. For this reason, puzzles definitely tend toward the easy side, but I found that I never really minded because of the level structure. Tricky puzzles make sense in a more traditional adventure game with large, explorable environments and contiguous gameplay, but in Tiny Thief, getting stuck on any given level would be frustrating. If you need some help on the puzzles, though, there’s a hint book available that has illustrations of the solutions. Delivery of hints might rub some people the wrong way, however, as hints are dispensed on a timer, with the option to purchase more for real money.
The clever puzzles and unifying stealth mechanic combine to give the game a surprisingly compelling feel. It feels good to guide your diminutive purloiner in outsmarting the dimwitted guards in every level. Sometimes, the puzzles get too contrived, and when that happens, it can pull you out of the experience, but it’s delightfully fun to sneak around a level, evading and playing tricks on the guards as you make your way to your eventual goal. Despite being light on stealth elements, Tiny Thief often does a good job of emulating the feeling of cleverness and superiority I get from good stealth games. “Look at those fools,” I find myself thinking. “They don’t have any idea what’s going on. I’ll just be taking that [insert valuable object] now, if you don’t mind.”

The game is also presented very well. The limited story is conveyed only through brief comic book style cutscenes at the beginning of every level, all completely wordless. The character design and animation are charming. It’s the little things that bring the miniature larcenist to life, like the way he plays with every item he picks up before stuffing it in his pocket. He'll toss a key in the air, put on a hat, or squeeze a rubber ducky. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds a lot to the game’s charm. The music sets the tone well, being a good mix of subdued and whimsical, and it avoids being repetitive for the most part.
All in all, Tiny Thief does a lot of things right. More hardcore stealth and adventure aficionados may balk at its bare-bones stealth mechanics and simple puzzles, but the game has so much charm and character that even those players might be won over if they go in with the right mindset. The small, discrete levels are well suited to the mobile platform, and real frustrations are few and far between. I would solidly recommend Tiny Thief.

Tiny Thief currently has six chapters. The first three are available for free, with each subsequent chapter costing $1.99.

Get it on iOS | Android | (or PC if that's your thing)

Developer: 5 Ants
Publisher: Rovio Entertainment


Post a Comment