There’s a misguided notion among many gamers that titles on Nintendo consoles don’t offer up much of a challenge. Well, I would invite these naysayers to have a crack at Curve Studio’s Stealth Inc. 2, a game that relentlessly tests players platforming chops, as well as their puzzle-solving abilities – usually at the same time.
If you’ve played the first Stealth Inc. on PS3, PS4 or PS Vita, then you’ll be familiar with the concept. You take on the role of a brave little clone, who must avoid a myriad of lasers, spikes, killer robots, and more lasers, all while solving puzzles, activating terminals, and getting your tiny clone butt to the exit without dying.
Unfortunately, dying is something you’re going to be doing a lot of. While the game has a pretty decent learning curve, once things heat up it beings nonchalantly tossing new ideas and mechanics at you in almost every level. By time you reach an exit, you will have racked up more deaths than the average series of Game of Thrones.
Naturally, all these deaths would feel nothing short of cheap if the controls were off, but your little clone mate controls like a dream. This essentially serves to make you feel even more useless when you mistime that jump, or fail to dodge that nasty laser. You have at your disposal the standard walk and jump controls of all platformers, but no means of attack. This means stealth is key (surprisingly for a game called Stealth) and as it happens, you’re actually a clone in a facility designed to test state of the art spy gear.
An average level has you thrown into a room with some manner of puzzle, and an accompanying threat. Gameplay flawlessly combines stealth and platforming as well as puzzle solving. Each level becomes a choreographed dance across the room, as with every death you learn where not to tread, and which switch you need to press. While this formula might have gotten stale sooner or later , you eventually get access to all kinds of cool gadgets to help you along your way, including a portable inflatable buddy, and a device that lets you hack into the robot guards and use them to go on the attack. As soon as you’re comfortable with one particular mechanic, the game takes it away and puts you into new, stranger scenarios.
Of course, keeping players on their toes by means of new ideas is no bad thing. Stealth Inc. 2 brings up and then almost immediately throws out ideas that lesser developers would use to fuel an entire game. Each specific zone on the map gives you a new gadget to test in their challenge chambers, and each challenge forces you to use the gadget in a different way – often encouraging you to think outside the box and rewarding you for figuring out the many uses they have. I found myself stuck on one level for longer than I am proud to admit, before I realised I could use my new inflatable buddy as a human shield. These eureka moments provide enough incentive to continue playing, and make you feel particularly clever when you crack the conundrum that’s been teasing you for the last god-knows-how-long.
Fittingly for the Curve Studio’s move to the Wii U, there’s more than a little bit of Metroid in Stealth Inc. 2‘s DNA. Whereas the first Stealth Inc. simply gave you a menu to navigate each challenging room of overkill, the sequel offers up an open world which you must traverse to get from one level to the next. Complete a level, and a little more of the world will open up. Along the way, you can pick up the gadgets which were once restricted to the challenges, that can then be used to reach previously inaccessible areas.
For the most part this is a nice idea that not only sets it apart from its predecessor, but allows for all manner of secrets to be hidden away for players to find. However, the open world sections are packed with just as many puzzles and traps as the levels. If the open world simply offered some challenging platforming and exploration, and held back on the puzzles, it would have broken things up very nicely indeed. As it stands, there are only so many switch puzzles the average brain can take before it starts to turn to pudding. That said, with regular breaks instead of playing through it one sitting as a reviewer, you’ll find it a lot easier to deal with than me. There’s a whole lot to be getting on with in this game, and even you aren’t a 100% kinda chap, it’ll take you a good while to solve the entire game. Even then, you’re gonna be roped back in by the prospect of speed running levels (after you finish a level, you can get to it at an time in the menu).
There’s also a Co-Op mode which is good for a few laughs, as well as an incredibly in depth level editor. The gamepad offers some great uses such as being able to swap out items, customise your character, and refer to your map if you get lost, all without stopping the action on your telly. There’s certainly plenty of content on offer for the asking price, and that’s certainly welcome in an era where players are being asked to constantly pay more for less.
Visually, Stealth Inc 2 has kind of a SNES era feel going for it, only with better lighting and subtly sexier textures and effects. To put it another way, it’s basically how SNES games look in your head. The gore might be a little jarring with the cutesy look of the rest of the game, but it serves to make every death that much more impactful when you know you’re gonna paint the room with your pancreas. The music isn’t exactly anything you’ll be whistling along too, but the gritty electronic tunes, combined with some sparingly-used atmospheric sound effects, helps to establish the game’s sinister and shady vibe.
Stealth Inc 2. is very much a continuation of its predecessor, rather than providing anything revolutionary. But that’s just fine – the core gameplay remains just as addictive as it was, while the visuals are as charming as ever. It can certainly be challenging – and some might find themselves getting frustrated – but if you’re looking for a Wii U game to really challenge you this year, you could do a lot worse than Stealth Inc. 2.