Developer: Humble Hearts
Publisher: Humble Hearts
Genre: Action, Stealth
Rating: E10+ for Everyone
From developer Humble Hearts, the creators of Dust: An Elysian Tail, comes a love letter to anyone with a soft spot for the Metal Gear franchise in the form of Never Stop Sneakin’. Clearly inspired by the pioneering series from the acclaimed Hideo Kojima, Never Stop Sneakin’ manages to cut out much of the confusion of its inspiration and instead, focuses on immediacy and fun to varying degrees of success.
Violence: The protagonist slices, shoots, or stuns patrolling guards with none of the violence ever appearing graphic. When an enemy is taken down, there’s flash of light and they disappear on the ground. No blood or gore is present in this title.
Other negative themes: You could say the protagonist is breaking the law by sneaking into other establishments, but he is a secret service agent and he infiltrates hideouts where evil resides.
Never Stop Sneakin’ is a top-down action/stealth game that revels in the fact that it’s a love letter to the Metal Gear franchise, particularly Metal Gear Solid. The blocky PlayStation 1 era graphics are recreated beautifully, and this is without a hint of sarcasm. I always appreciated the look of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid and the way his face was up for interpretation by the player. In a way, what was originally a compromise due to the hardware limitations has in a way become an art style in and of itself. Splashes of highly saturated color pop off the screen, while the jagged pixelation adds a gritty texture that stops the environment from appearing too cartoony.
As you play through Never Stop Sneakin’ you’ll unlock a variety of playable characters, weapons that serve as costumes, ranging from ninjas to secret agents, from construction workers to even helicopters. Yes, you can in fact be a helicopter with a sword and a gun and it’s awesome. It also does not shy away from referencing other entries in the Metal Gear franchise either. From recreating Naked Snake’s halo drop from Metal Gear Solid 3 and its intro, to creating their own musical theme for the Snake Eater theme.
Without a doubt, the best part of Never Stop Sneakin’ is the music, and it absolutely steals the show. I cannot believe how much this sounds like an original soundtrack from Harry Gregson-Williams from Metal Gear Solid 3, and these tracks would be right at home in any Metal Gear Solid game after Sons of Liberty. It’s absolutely some impressive work, and you have to give the developer credit for taking this aspect of the title to the next level.
A solid cast of voice actors round out the package with the highly acclaimed Arin Hanson as Major Milestone, among other standout performances. Never Stop Sneakin’s sense of humor is unapologetically silly, and while it never had me laughing out loud, it did get a chuckle out of me from time to time. Never Stop Sneakin’ knows what it is, and executes its tone gracefully.
Now, in spite of the endearing aesthetic, excellent soundtrack, and tongue-and-cheek humor sense of humor, unfortunately where Never Stop Sneakin’ begins to disappoint is in its gameplay. You would think this is a stealth game, but in fact that’s probably the wrong description. Yes, there are vision cones and you wait for enemies turn around so you can take them out, and there are security cameras that can be taken out with EMP flash grenades; all of these things make it seem like a stealth game, but sneaking by isn’t your main goal here.
You first realize the gameplay is basic when you take part in the first tutorial and all you need to use is the left stick. Unless you are standing still to unlock doors or hack computers, the only real gameplay mechanic in Never Stop Sneakin’ is attacking. You attack everything and that is done by simply moving up to an enemy, drone, or camera with the left stick. As you make your way through the levels, there are tiny neon chips scattered on the ground called Espionage Points or ESP. It’s the currency you collect and it’s sprinkled across every stage, and freed from lockers, computers, and boxes when you destroy them.
You use these points to further build up your base with upgrades, and each structure gives you new perks, similar to how leveling up can be in many RPGs. The base-building system is another neat reference to the Metal Gear series, especially the Peace Walker and Metal Gear Solid 5 base building features. After every stage, you will face off against one of a handful of the same basic boss types over and over again. The bosses are well designed after the first few times you encounter them, but they slowly grow repetitive due to the simple nature of the gameplay.
If you’re spotted by an enemy, you automatically shoot them provided you have the proper ammo, and if you are spotted by a camera, your EMP goes off automatically. If you don’t have any of these safety nets in your inventory, you will lose a heart point. When all of your hearts are depleted, you get kicked out of the mission and have to start again.
All actions are triggered by simply moving your character to a certain location and triggering an action they’ll perform automatically. It’s just not very compelling for long-term play, and instead is better suited for short and casual gameplay sessions. In a lot of ways, Never Stop Sneakin’ feels like a mobile game that has been ported to the Switch. Is it a coincidence that it can be played entirely on your touchscreen and all the buttons and menus are strangely large, making it easy to tap with your finger? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I would totally play this on an iPad.
For the record, I don’t have anything against mobile games; it’s just when you have competition from so many other great Switch indie titles it’s a tough sell. While Never Stop Sneakin’ may have Metal Gear Solid references coming out in almost everything and even mention sneaking in its title, you would think it would play more like an arcade style bullet hell game than anything else.
This all seems negative, but after some considerable time with Never Stop Sneakin’ I began to appreciate what it was trying to do with the gameplay even with being a little disappointed. The further in the title I played, the more dangerous and populated the levels became, with missions getting much longer and raising the stakes, making death much more devastating. After grinding away at it for so long, I began to zone out and play almost on autopilot, clearing crowded rooms effortlessly while raking in points and keeping my combo going.
Overall, Never Stop Sneakin’ is somewhat uneven in execution, but fun when played in shorter sessions. The visuals are charming, the music is top notch, there’s a playful sense of humor that you can’t help to smile about, and plenty of unlockables to attain. However, at its core, the gameplay needed some more complexity. Having the option to lure enemies towards you would have been a game changer and made the title more strategic than simply waiting on patrol routes.
The Bottom Line
Humble Hearts has managed to create a fun little title with Never Stop Sneakin’. While far from perfect and lacking the complexity to make the gameplay memorable, the fast-paced combat is addictive and the Metal Gear Solid references are fantastic.