I'll admit, I'd never heard of Stealth Inc. before. When I took the assignment to review Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones, I didn't have much of an idea about what I was getting into. I had a vague inclination of the concept, given its title. It was going to involve sneaking around and... clones, I assumed. I was quite excited to stumbled upon one of the best side-scrolling platformers I've ever played.
The story is quite simple. You must help your fellow clones escape from a laboratory while a scientist tries his hardest to kill you in order to win the coveted Employee of the Month award. The story is simplistic and uncluttered, though it is integrated quite well. The cutscenes are decent but what really sells the atmosphere are the sarcastic messages projected (a la Splinter Cell: Conviction) onto the walls. In some cases, these messages give you hints on how to get past a puzzle. After a death, they caustically, but humorously, berate your inadequate performance.
Visually, Stealth Inc. 2 looks like it puts the Despicable Me Minions in a 2D version of Splinter Cell: Conviction. The characters are, dare I say, quite cute and contrast nicely against the sadistic frequency with which the game lasers, crushes, minces, explodes, slices, and rockets them to death. The graphics are crisp and clean—it looks right at home on Xbox One and as a 2015 title. And... man, are those little clones kind of adorable with their button-up overalls and Sam Fisher-esque goggles!
The levels are generally well designed and give off a sort of Portal 'test chamber' feel because the developers use early levels to teach basic necessities-jump, keep to the shadows to avoid detection, and try not to get eradicated by giant pink lasers and automated sentries—before leaving you to figure out the rest. After a while, the game tosses in gadgets that, at first, are used in predictable, straightforward ways. The Inflate-a-Mate, for example, is used to reach new, higher platforms. In later test chambers, you're encouraged to experiment and beat puzzles using what you've learned and a little bit of creativity. For example, dropping the Inflate-a-Mate on an enemy robot will crush it, or use it to 'push' a robot into activating a switch.
These test chambers flawlessly integrate with the larger world, which is itself a giant puzzle. Certain areas of the larger map are inaccessible until particular gadgets are unlocked. Scattering gadgets throughout the main world—which you must travel to unlock new test chambers—is great and helps to reinforce the main plot.
Barring a few very specific instances where near-perfect precision or timing is required, A Game of Clones' controls are as sharp as the game itself. The controller input doesn't seem to have any noticeable lag and the thumbsticks are precise enough for easy navigation and puzzle solving. It would be easy to blame the controller for errors and failures, but most of them are designed with enough leniency that a few small mistakes on the player's part are not particularly game-ending.
Really, there is only one criticism I have of Stealth Inc. 2. While a solid majority of the puzzles are intuitive and can be figured out with a little forethought, there are some puzzles or parts of them that are frustrating. In those few instances, a puzzle is usually solved through trial and error: either the game requires ultra-precise timing or movement, or you can't see where you are supposed to go. As an example of the latter, one puzzle requires evading a large laser that chases you through holes. Unfortunately, your timing has to be quick, and the floors beneath you move when you jump on them—but the only way to determine which direction the block will move in is, as I said before, through trial and error.
Overall, Stealth Inc. 2: A Game of Clones is a clever, well-designed puzzle-platformer. Its color palette may be a little bland and washed-out, but the gameplay certainly isn't. With some planning, a little patience, and a plethora of ruthless death animations, Stealth Inc. 2 is a fun and rewarding experience.
I don't think I ever won a single fight in Soulcalibur II. Thankfully, I'm marginally better at reviewing than I am at fighting games.