Simogo Games's App Store debut Kosmo Spin was a breezy bit of throwaway silliness. Follow-up Bumpy Road was something altogether more potent, a touching story bolstering solid mechanics and gorgeous audiovisuals.
Beat Sneak Bandit, Simogo’s third game, continues the Scandinavian developer’s upwards trajectory. From the early preview code we’ve played, this could be the first essential iOS title of 2012.
Even in its unfinished form, Bandit is an incredibly polished, smart, and fun game that expertly blends elements of rhythm-action and stealth to make something refreshingly new.
You play as the titular bandit, charged with entering the mansion of a duke to pilfer a series of clocks. There are four to collect on each stage, with a fifth timepiece draped in a pink flag marking the end of the level.
To move around you simply need to tap anywhere on the screen. Sounds simple, but timing is crucial. Everything within the duke’s mansion moves to a certain rhythm, be it sliding doors, spotlights, or security guards. You need to avoid being spotted or you’ll be busted and forced to start the stage again.
You tap to the beat to advance, climb stairs, and to turn around when facing walls or doors in order to reach your destination. Get the rhythm wrong and you’ll remain where you are, with one clock disappearing.
Time is on your side
You can complete levels without picking up any clocks, as long as you reach the final one, but figuring out how to grab the lot is a big part of Beat Sneak Bandit’s appeal, the intricacy of the level design only becoming truly apparent when you’re chasing them all.
After a while you’ll be stepping on switches to lift doors or bridge gaps, while avoiding hovering vacuum cleaners that start inching towards you the second you step onto the same floor as them.
Then Simogo introduces teleporters that pulse along with the rhythm – you’ll need to carefully watch the order in which they crackle to life and time your entry so your exit doesn’t leave you exposed.
Sneak to the beat
It’s a bit like rubbing your tummy and patting your head as you simultaneously try to keep the beat while watching the hazards. After a while you rely less on visual cues and more on sound effects, as it should be with a good rhythm game.
Each object has its own associated sound, and learning the rhythms of these percussive effects is key to mastering the game.
The music might be repetitive, recurring as it does over the ten stages in each chapter, but it’s necessarily so, drilling the beat into your skull until the timing becomes second nature. The various effects, meanwhile, make you feel like you’re listening to ten remixes of the same song, some markedly different from others.
New ideas are introduced at just the right time, and they arrive courtesy of an amphibious sidekick. Your froggy friend delivers brief tutorials by telephone, while the duke also calls occasionally to add a smattering of story context, adding to the game’s already rich character.
It almost goes without saying that it’s beautifully presented. The four storeys of each level appear in order with a metronomic intro beat, while each level appears in miniature silhouetted form on the menu.
There’s a more angular, almost comic-book feel to the art than the cuddlier, rounded surfaces of Simogo’s previous work, but it’s every bit as attractive as Bumpy Road. The music, meanwhile, segues from squelchy funk into something that wouldn’t sound out of place in an episode of Scooby Doo.
With a clever surprise in the later game that we’re sworn to secrecy about, and plenty of extra content besides, Beat Sneak Bandit is shaping up to be not just Simogo’s finest so far, but one of the best games on the App Store full stop.