Never Stop Sneakin' isn't a game that's shy about showing its influences. If anything, it wants you to know right from the title screen--with a fully voiced, self-referential theme song blaring in the background--that you're in for a parody of Hideo Kojima's absurdly over-the-top, yet narratively earnest Metal Gear Solid. Out now on the Nintendo Switch, Humble Hearts' Never Stop Sneakin' (the same team behind Dust: An Elysian Tail) goes a lot further than you'd expect with its bizarre but loving sendup to Konami's already strange stealth-action series.
The original Metal Gear Solid is one of my favorite games, but even I can admit that it's starting to look its age as it approaches its 20th anniversary. Never Stop Sneakin' seems to agree, and goes all in when parodying the game and the era it came from. As a throwback to games from the era of the original Playstation--complete with a low-res aesthetic and focus on elaborate if somewhat jarring story beats--Never Stop Sneakin' sticks pretty close to the source material that it's lampooning, but goes a bit further with its own story. When former Vice President Amadeus Guildenstern builds a time-machine to kidnap all of history's presidents--vowing to become the president for all of eternity--it's up to the best Sneakin' agents to invade his island headquarters, amass resources, and create a counter-time machine to stop the evil madman's plans before it can be set into motion.
As your agent comes to blows with Guidenstern's army, they'll encounter the villain's evil cabinet--which includes Vice President Helicopter (a sentient helicopter holding a political position), and the vampiric health secretary, Dr. Acula. While it may seem like low-hanging fruit to poke fun at MGS, Never Stop Sneakin' does it in a way that tells its own story effectively, while still coming off as endearing and tongue-in-cheek. It pokes fun at the inherent ridiculousness of Kojima's homage to western action-films, such as scenes with characters making elaborate and absurd introductions, and poking fun at over-long cutscenes. But above all, it celebrates--in its own weird way--what makes Metal Gear so beloved.
When you're not waxing poetic with your handler--you'll head out into the field to raid Guildenstern's island bases for supplies and POWs to flesh out your operation. As the title suggests, Never Stop Sneakin' is a stealth-action game, where movement and timing are key. While you'll dash through each floor of the base and get the drop on your enemies in the broad sense, this game simplifies many of the more nuanced mechanics found in traditional stealth-action games. Using only the control stick or touch screen, you'll move your agent to evade enemy vision and sneak up behind them for an attack--triggered automatically when in close proximity. Despite the number of things to keep track of, such as enemy cones of vision, security camera and turret blind spots, and procuring keycards to open locked rooms, Never Stop Sneakin' keeps things pretty simple. Each level is done at a brisk pace, only lasting a few minutes each, with your performance graded right after.
It can be very satisfying to clear several straight missions without failure, where pulling off chain kills and amassing an arsenal of randomized perks--which offer buffs to hacking, stealth, and gaining bonus points--can make you feel all kinds of skillful in your mission. Unfortunately, the core gameplay can oftentimes come off as a bit one-note. To put it plainly, the game you play during the first hour is the same game you'll play after the many more hours it takes to beat the main story. Moverover, Never Stop Sneakin' isn't that difficult. Along with AI that doesn't really react much to your behavior--sticking to its patrol routes even when nearby guards are sacked-- there are a number of support items like smoke grenades and your pistol that will instantly get you out trouble when you're discovered.
The lack of scaling difficulty can make the longer stretches of the game, where you'll have to clear 12 consecutive floors without failure, feel like a chore. It can be fun battling Vice President Helicopter and the rest of the cabinet early on, but encountering the same bosses numerous times thereafter can turn them into tedious, routine affairs--which misses a strong part of the series it's trying to parody.
The core gameplay of sneaking and looting enemy bases struggles to have the same lasting charm as its story, which remains one of the high points. The story remains a fun and amusing sendup throughout--which made me want to continue playing, just to see what sort of dumb plan the main villain has up his sleeve. It's just a bit disappointing how the core gameplay peaks early, and that the game doesn't show any growth beyond character and weapon skins, and additional perks found after story missions.
Never Stop Sneakin' feels like it overstays its welcome at times--but as a whole, it manages to evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for one of the PS1's most iconic games. Despite how much ground Never Stop Sneakin' retreads, I still found myself enjoying parts of its replication of a bygone era where games were just starting to tell grander and more elaborate stories with growing tech to back it up. While this parody may be best experienced in small doses, it still has its heart in the right place, and knows exactly how to make fun of the series it has tremendous respect for.