The open-sourced nature of Android’s marketplace opened the floodgates for a bevy of glitchy, half-hearted, digital billboards disguised as apps and games. For every classic game (i.e Dead Trigger), there’s a dozen clones. The entertainment value of many games has been lost amidst greedy investors and developers looking to squeeze money from consumers by inundating us with ads or forcing us to pay extra money in-app purchases. Often these games are unfinished, and it’s the player that suffers. This free-for-all environment allows for unscrupulous apps to transform your smartphone or tablet into a puny pilferer. It’s not all bleak, though – out of the chaos comes Tiny Thief, a point-and-click stealth platformer from developer 5 Ants from Barcelona publishing through Rovio Stars Ltd.
In Tiny Thief, you control a thief (known only as Tiny Thief) in a medieval adventure who sets out with his ferret companion to save a princess and live happily ever after. The Mario-esque plot is quite thin, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The original Super Mario Bros didn’t have much more going for it either. As you progress through the game, it’s best not to think about how stealing a picnic basket or a piece of smelly cheese will help you rescue a princess – instead, focus on the Assassin’s Creed-style espionage. Despite the weak plot, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with this pint-sized pirate.
The mechanics in Tiny Thief are a mash-up of Donkey Kong and Metal Gear. Each level takes place on a static, unmovable screen. You tap anywhere on the screen to move where you want to go, and a button appears as you pass certain objects, signaling you to tap your Android screen to interact with the object. These simple controls make for an intuitive playing experience as you guide your small swindler stealthily through the objectives of each level, which stay pretty consistent: distract the guards, sneak past them, and steal up to three items. Each stolen item (or each time you recover your ferret companion) grants you another star. Like the perennial mobile favorite Angry Birds, you can earn up to three stars in each level.
5 Ants does a great job of varying the difficulty required to solve each puzzle in Tiny Thief, but like many point-and-click adventures, you’re often able to complete a level using the brute-force method of tapping random objects all over the screen. It’s not the most efficient way, and it’s akin to the Wii Remote cheats posted all over YouTube. Sure, you can trick the sensors into thinking you’re actually doing yoga while you’re sitting on the couch, but that’s kind of missing the point.
The game is easy to pick up and play for any level of gamer, but you’ll have a different experience, depending on your level of patience. The short levels make each level feel like an isolated episode or skit. Quite often, your interactions with objects you’re not meant to interact with (quite yet, at least) are accompanied by humorous animations – I grew particularly fond of half mounting a horse before repeatedly getting kicked back by the animal. Sneaking around, hiding in barrels, and crawling through pipes is fun, but the pace of the game is very slow. If you’re looking for a fast-paced, nail-biting adventure, this isn’t it.
If you’re spotted while plundering your way through a level, you instantly fail the level and must start all over. This got a little frustrating at times, but overall I found it to be a fair mechanic. The pain of failure was lessened by the adorable character animations, where the thief would hang his head in shame, bury himself underground, or any number of hilarious outtakes. Successfully completing a level has its own set of animations, with my personal favorite being a quick “Gangnam Style” dance.
The replay value of Tiny Thief is minimal. Once you’ve completed three stars on each level, there’s nothing else left to do. The achievement system is straightforward, but it doesn’t motivate players to keep this app on the front page of their Android device, nor does it inspire you to continually access it and guide the miniature mugger. 5 Ants is rumored to be offering an expansion for 99 cents sometime in the near future, but without those updates, this game, although highly enjoyable, is a single-play experience.
The graphics in Tiny Thief are crisp and cartoony, sharing stylistic elements with console favorites Castle Crashers and Little Big Planet. There are six chapters, each divided into five levels. The levels tend to share similar environmental themes and color schemes. The variety is enough to keep everything feeling fresh throughout your bitty burglar’s adventure. Music and sound effects, while certainly acceptable, don’t stick out as exceptional.
Overall Tiny Thief does nothing to reinvent the wheel but it is a solid offering from a solid development team. Instead of delivering yet another watered-down game, 5 Ants swung for the fences with a polished casual effort that makes for an entertaining experience for gamers of all ages and skill levels. The game is borderline casual but it keeps just enough depth and strategy to propel it into Hardcore territory. While it doesn’t satiate my craving for a Mario- or Contra-style adventure, Tiny Thief does a great job of utilizing mobile touchscreens for a simplistic and dialed-down puzzler.