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Game Review: 'Beat Sneak Bandit' Has A Rhythm From The Past

The look of Beat Sneak Bandit was inspired by the work of Saul Bass, whose style was synonymous with the beatnik era.
The look of Beat Sneak Bandit was inspired by the work of Saul Bass, whose style was synonymous with the beatnik era.

For much of the past decade, music video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero have let millions of aspiring rockers live out their dreams of stardom, waving fake instruments and mimicking their favorite music icons. Jamin Warren, founder of killscreendaily.com, says iPhones and iPads have inspired game designers to re-imagine the music game.

Beat Sneak Bandit has players tapping along to the beat of a different drummer. The creators are the Swedish duo of artist Simon Flesser and programmer Gordon Gardeback, who were inspired by tracks like James Brown's "Cold Sweat." The result is jazzy, hepcat overtones, a sharp art style and a lot of syncopated fun.

The game play is simple. You are tasked with retrieving the stolen timepieces from the sinister Duke Clockface but can only move through his castle by tapping along the beat. Each level features a different song to match the mood. At the top of the screen sits a tiny metronome to help you keep time.

The Bandit can only move if you touch the screen in rhythm. (Half steps are thankfully allowed.) If you are out of sync, the Bandit is frozen and vulnerable to guards, searchlights and flying robot drones.

The art direction is impeccable and pays homage to the geometric, sanguine work of Saul Bass. You may know Bass best for his creating the poster for Alfred Hitchcock's thriller Vertigo, and Bass' trademark style is synonymous with the beatnik era. Beat Sneak Bandit picks up where Bass left off with the deep reds of the Bandit's bandana and the jarring blacks of the villain's mansion.

The organic rhythm of the tunes may sound like the work of trained musicians, but Simon Flesser says he only ever learned "a little bit of harmonica."

The entire score was cobbled together piece by piece from CDs filled with music samples. Flesser then used an old music editing program from the '90s to piece together the final product. He told me that the mathematical nature of music made it easy for him to create each level, even as a novice music maker.

Behind the captivating sax tones, though, lies deceivingly complex game play. The levels look simple enough, as each only has four floors for you to move through.

But the Bandit can only move one direction at a time and must still maintain rhythm. Find yourself stuck behind a security guard? Too bad. The one-direction approach means players have to plan their routes accordingly and think quickly under pressure. Several levels require you to retrace your footsteps multiple times to collect each clock.

Flesser and Gardeback, whose studio is called Simogo, are part of a long tradition of using music to create new types of play. Rhythm games have been a staple of Japanese arcades for decades, and in 1996, PaRappa the Rapper, which allowed players to punch buttons to say rap lyrics, was a hit for the Sony PlayStation.

But unlike the most recent era of music games such as Rock Band that required dexterity and speed, Beat Sneak Bandit only asks for precision. This game is perfect for young children hoping to play the drums someday or the types of adults like me who are looking for a reason to nervously tap their fingers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jamin Warren