It finally happened: Never Stop Sneakin’ ($2.99) from the creator of Dust: An Elysian Tail ($5.99) hit mobile. The announcement was a surprise, but the game ever getting a release on mobile was an inevitability. This parody of Metal Gear Solid felt like a mobile game that just so happened to release on the Switch before mobile, probably because people would actually pay $14.99 for it as opposed to $2.99. For one, the game’s control scheme was simple enough to use a single joystick, and touch controls were in the game. All sorts of actions are handled automatically, to where I’d say that the game was designed to be played with a single hand in portrait mode. Even the game being in widescreen felt like it was showing a lot of unnecessary information. The structure of the game felt based around playing it for a few minutes a day, as long sessions could become repetitive. As well, the progression system is all about completing objectives and spending currency, in a way that feels entirely like a mobile game. And amazingly enough, Never Stop Sneakin’ on mobile feels just like a native mobile title! I was right!
The aesthetic is one that deliberately takes from the low-polygon era of PS1 graphics, with the top-down view of Metal Gear Solid. In fact, if you couldn’t tell from the everything about the game, it’s a massive parody of Metal Gear Solid. Everything is ridiculous and meant to evoke that era. The game nails its inspirations stylistically. The iOS version also looks just like it did on the Switch. It makes my iPad Air 2 run super-hot, though (not to be confused with making my iPad Air 2 run SUPERHOT) so don’t expect great battery life from lower-spec devices.
The gameplay of Never Stop Sneakin’ involves sneaking through procedurally-generated levels, executing stealth kills on enemies. You have to stay out of the line of sight of guards, but if they see you, you automatically use a bullet (if you have any) to kill them, and keep your combo going. Other items like smoke grenades and EMPs will help in different circumstances, but all are done so automatically. The entire game is just about moving your character, walking up to enemies to attack them, and letting the game handle any actions. It makes the game playable with one hand, though there is landscape orientation support, and you can use an MFi controller. The touchscreen works well for movement, so you don’t have to use a controller.
By simplifying down all of the actions, Never Stop Sneakin’ becomes about resource management as well as smart planning. You have a combo meter to keep going, as it awards you more points, and more opportunities to get the game’s currency, used both mid-level to buy items and to unlock further parts of the game’s progression system. So at times, you might want to act intelligently and get all stealth kills. But then you might need to make a decision to just walk into the light and let your items take care of your foes for you really quickly.
What really disrupts the flow of the game is the computer hacking. You have to stand in front of a terminal for a few seconds to hack a terminal for more intel, or to find chests with items. These cause your combo meter to drop, so you have to time your hacks well. Also, your combo meter drops faster the more you wait, so you can easily lose a combo if you get into an empty section, or decide to eschew some items. It just doesn’t feel satisfying at all.
The problem with the game’s structure is that it’s very repetitive, because the game’s progression is not about completing levels, but earning currency, and completing certain objectives to advance the meta-game. And it’s that which takes away some of what makes the game special. Bosses like Vice President Helicopter are amazing…the first few times. But when they become a recurring foe you might randomly face at the end of combat, it’s a bit less meaningful. Procedurally-generated levels tend to lack a certain character to them, especially when you see the same chunks of levels again and again. And it also means that scenes like being on an airship lose any kind of emotional resonance, they’re just a randomly-chosen theme. Perhaps this is the point, but it feels like a decision that backfired.
Also, the game just does not work for long play sessions. The game feels too same-y, especially as many of its tricks are revealed. Even a single play session becomes a bit grating as you have to complete several sets of levels in a row. The variety’s just kind of lacking, especially because the number of tools you get to handle situations are so limited. You can unlock new characters over time, but their differences are all cosmetic.
It’s not all so bad, as Never Stop Sneakin’s concept is still pretty clever, and the story manages to both pay homage to Metal Gear Solid while also mocking it in a loving way. And I was always amused to find out what tricks Amadeus Guildenstern had up his sleeve. I’m glad I played this, even though it’s very easy to hit a point where you just kind of stop playing.
Never Stop Sneakin’ is best enjoyed maybe once or twice a day. Play it, complete an objective, set it down, move on with your life. Beat it over the next few weeks or months. Let its surprises keep surprising you. But if you’re looking for a brilliant Metal Gear Solid parody that you can sink a few hours into, you’ll find the game numbingly repetitive. Want a game with a goofy premise you can pick up and progress in steadily? Never Stop Sneakin’ has way more character than the average daily “pick up and play" mobile game, that’s for sure.