Have ice-sliding puzzles always been this popular? I’ve been reviewing Xbox games for some time now, but I don’t remember a sustained period of sliding games like this one. Every week it feels like I’m playing a new one: from Rytmos to sCATch: The Painter Cat, all the way to Webgeon, Cronostase, Super Ninja Miner and The Blind Postman. Maybe I’m just unlucky. Or the ice-sliding puzzles seem to naturally slide towards me.
We can toss Tricky Thief onto that pile. To its credit, though, it’s attempting something different. Because rather than simply slide about on the ice in the cardinal directions (which it definitely does), Tricky Thief throws in some enemies to make things devious. You’re not just finding an exit in Tricky Thief; you’re avoiding the po-po as you do it.
Imagine the situation. You’re a crim, and the police are on the hunt for you. You can see the exit, but the police are walking backwards and forwards on the same patrol routes. Now, here’s the problem: you’ve got a very particular hindrance that means you can’t just hide in a box and Metal Gear Solid-your-way out of the situation. You can only move north, south, east and west. Plus, whenever you move, you keep going until a wall stops you. You’re on rollerskates, effectively.
That makes thievery difficult, no? So difficult, in fact, that you wonder whether a life of crime was the right option for Mr Tricky Thief. Maybe a career with Deliveroo would have been a better bet.
Worse still, Tricky Thief can’t just skate to the exit. Oh no. For some reason, the exit is barred until ALL of the treasures in a room have been robbed. Which is the opposite of how security measures should work, right?
You will need to leave your critical faculties at home with this one. But Tricky Thief does create a rather compelling scenario. You’re sliding from wall to wall, picking up coins until the door opens, and then you’re skitting through the exit as quickly as you can. Meanwhile, cops and weird beacon/CCTV things are on the hunt for you.
Puzzles start with some simple coins to pick up. But then the levels start to mix in the cops, who walk on routes that are helpfully painted on the floor (not the best crime-prevention idea). Then circular, pulsing entities (CCTV? Turrets?) get thrown in too. These throb, with a field-of-view that grows and shrinks over time. Finally, there are levels that are in the dark, only allowing you a limited view, and crates that explode as soon as you slide into them. Once they’re popped, they won’t stop you any more. Which is a bit of a mangling of the Pringles catchphrase.
Tricky Thief doesn’t try anything more complicated than that. It’s an extremely simple game which uses only the tools that we’ve described to you. There are fifty levels to play, and you’ll stop getting achievements after about twenty-five of them. That means 1000G after, ooh, forty-five minutes and very little difficulty, which might perk up a few ears.
It’s your quintessential cheap indie game from Eastasiasoft, then. A twist on a traditional genre, a gimmick thrown in for good luck, and it’s all over before you can say ‘1000 Gamerscore’. But it’s also functionally robust and missing the depth and interest that would really make it a true recommendation.
Don’t get us wrong, we enjoyed our time with Tricky Thief. Ice-sliding puzzles have become second-nature to us, so we slipped into its shoes with ease. But by adding in enemies, it feels like too much gets compromised.
The maps aren’t really puzzles any more. That makes sense: if there were both enemies AND a complicated maze to navigate, then it might get too much. But it means that the levels aren’t a challenge in the puzzling sense anymore – which kind of rips the heart out of an ice-sliding game.
What it becomes instead is a ‘time your run’ game. You’re waiting… and waiting… for the right moment to zip across the level, once the patrol routes coincide with each other. That’s fine in theory, but is a little tedious in practice. Too often, we were nestled in the corner of a room like the Blair Witch had got us, waiting for the right moment to move. Which isn’t particularly thrilling.
There are a few levels, particularly later on, when it feels like the enemies are secondary to the puzzling, and they are when things get interesting. The destructible crates, in particular, are a sign that things are getting more intricate. But we realised that we were hankering for a basic ice-sliding game, which erases the reason why Tricky Thief exists in the first place. We could have been playing Rytmos, sCATch: The Painter Cat, Webgeon, Cronostase, Super Ninja Miner or The Blind Postman.
Tricky Thief is fine, if a little unremarkable. We appreciated that it makes the effort to spice up the ice-sliding recipe with some enemies, but we spent so long waiting for those enemies, that we got wistful for simpler, gimmick-free ice-sliding puzzlers – and there’s a fair few of those on Xbox.
You can buy Tricky Thief from the Xbox Store