Oh my god, a somewhat timely review! Stealth Bastard Deluxe was released last November, so this time I'm only (a little over) a year late. Gunpoint, on the other hand, was released just this June, so that makes this even less untimely! Yes, this time I am doing a combined review, because I think there is something to be gained from comparing these two games.
Stealth Bastard is something new to me: it's a puzzle platformer that's also a stealth game, a stealth puzzle platformer. It's a puzzle platformer in the sense that the puzzles largely revolve around pushing blocks, flipping switches, riding floating platforms, and jumping several times your height; and it's a stealth game in the sense that you have to avoid being spotted by cameras, turrets, etc.
Although, it certainly feels more like a puzzle platformer than a stealth game. Not that there are any strict definitions of the terms. When I think of a stealth game (a 2D stealth game, that is), I think of Art Of Theft or Gunpoint, where you have to sneak around and avoid guards and cameras, rather than push blocks around, flip switches, depress pressure points, and hop around like a hyperactive six-year-old. This by no means makes Stealth Bastard worse, only different.
The turrets in the Portal games didn't make those games stealth games, but if there were turrets that could not be disabled, then there would be a significant stealth element to the game. Stealth Bastard takes this further by having a lot of turrets and sentries you have to avoid, some that even patrol and pursue you.
Also somewhat like Portal, the setting is a series of tests (although just referred to as “tests,” not “test chambers”), but unlike Portal there is no malevolent character messing with you, but instead a snarky supervisor delivering comments on your progress in the form of messages projected on the walls, even bluntly insulting you when you fall for obvious traps. One of my favourites was after running into spinning spikes on the floor, being told to “JUMP, CRETIN.”
Stealth Bastard is great fun, and the boss levels are exactly what a boss should be: a culmination of the game mechanics learned so far with a little something extra to make it a more intense challenge. The only disappointment is in the unlockables: completing a set of levels unlocks special equipment, such as a cloaking device, for those levels, but you can't use it to beat your best score (and unlock more), because the game keeps a separate best rating for “with equipment,” so the unlockable equipment is really only good for faffing about and adds no replay value.
Moving on to Gunpoint, we have a game with much more sneaking around, and you can't... oh wait, you can still jump several times your height and take no fall damage, but this time it's because of a gadget; it's also less of a core gameplay mechanic than in Stealth Bastard. Gunpoint goes for a slightly more realistic setting and actually has a story: you play as a freelance spy in an unspecified England city, whereas in Stealth Bastard, you are a nameless clone (no, really) running through a series of tests. For the first few missions get you familiar with the basics, and have you avoiding or knocking out guards, but very early on you get a hacking tool that lets you rewire the electrical wiring for the entire level regardless of where you're standing and the game becomes half hacking-simulator. It's still a challenge, because you still have to sneak around the guards to flip the switches you have rewired, and later on you have to get yourself to certain points before you can rewire certain parts of the level, but it stops feeling as much like a stealth game when I find myself spending a lot of time standing around playing connect-the-dots. But the game is still great fun, and the “hacking” is certainly fun, challenging, and complements the stealth mechanics rather than getting in the way.
Setting aside the pointless pigeonholing, Stealth Bastard Deluxe and Gunpoint are great fun, and do what they set out to do quite well.