Originally released in 2014 for PC, Unfinished Pixel’s Spy Chameleon was a refreshing take on stealth. For a genre that prides itself on complicated systems intertwining to create something nearly inaccessible to new players, this lighthearted game instead boils down these ideas to just their essentials. Now the game that helped put the Barcelona-based studio on the map has been ported to PlayStation Vita and Sony’s handheld and it might be the best fit for the color changing lizard.
There are no vents to crawl through or targets to assassinate in Spy Chameleon, as it really is as simple as it can possibly be. Players must lead the titular character from one room to the next without getting spotted. However, it’s more difficult than it sounds. Robots, fish and insects all have vision cones that players must avoid or it’s an instant game over.
It isn’t always possible to sneak around foes, but thankfully the reptilian agent has a special trick up his sleeve. Using the controller’s face buttons, players can transform the lizard into different colors and thus blend into the background. It actually doesn’t make a ton of sense since the game takes place from a top-down view and enemies are viewing you head-on, but it’s best to not think about game mechanics like this too much as they tend to unravel quickly.
The colors all correspond to the DualShock 4’s button pattern, so circle corresponds with red and so on. It’s a nice touch using the colors on the controller, although it did confuse me at first as I had played the game previously on Xbox One. There’s no way to remap the controls, so I often pressed the wrong button out of pure reflex (despite there being an on-screen guide). Still, color shifting’s a unique gimmick and one that is solid enough to base a game around even if it isn’t truly innovative.
Just like on PC and Xbox One, there are five sets of different levels to play, totalling 75 in all. Spy Chameleon does a good job of introducing new mechanics throughout each set of stages, so it stays pretty fresh throughout. By the end of the game, I was crawling in cardboard boxes (almost as if I was another “reptile”) and activating switches in order to succeed. The puzzle solving never crosses the line into truly devious, but it’s just challenging enough to feel satisfying.
While 75 stages may seem like a lot, levels typically take less than 30 seconds to complete. Sure, there’s some trial and error involved, but it only took me a little over an hour and a half to finish the game. That’s not to say that there isn’t enough content, though, because the levels offer up plenty of replayability if you are up for the challenge.
Each level has three additional goals other than just completing it. This includes: beating a level quickly, eating all of the optional flies within a level (which typically serve as a guide trail), or finding the hidden ladybugs. That means each level will be replayed a minimum of three times if a player wants to do everything (and earn trophies for doing so). While I’m not really much of a completionist myself, I still found these challenges fun to do. They forced me to play levels in ways I normally wouldn’t, and that was rewarding to me as a player.
If there is one thing that’s great about the PlayStation Vita version, it’s that its portability just seems like a great fit for the bite-sized levels. Sure, it won’t last much longer than a week or two of commutes, but the gameplay translates so well to the small screen. It also runs just as smooth as the console versions, as I didn’t notice any framerate issues and the cute art style pops nicely off of the original Vita’s OLED screen.
The only real disappointment in the package is that nothing new has been added. There aren’t any new challenges for players to take on, and there isn’t a colorblind mode to make the game more accessible. That’s disappointing considering it’s a port of a two year old game, but there is a teaser for Spy Chameleon 2 upon completion, so it shouldn’t be too long until gamers get new levels to play.
Spy Chameleon is best played on PlayStation Vita. Its simple gameplay fits well on a handheld, and its short levels are complimentary to the system’s strengths. While it’s ultimately hurt by its short length and ends up feeling simple to a fault, Unfinished Pixel has built a solid stealth game worth checking out.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita version, which we were provided with.
Unfinished Pixel has simplified stealth into its core essence and have created a very satisfying experience with Spy Chameleon. It's sadly over before it really hits its stride, but there's plenty of incentive to replay levels. The short levels are also a perfect fit for handheld gaming.