Developer RudeGhost and publisher Skymap Games team up to present the multiplayer subterfuge stab-em-up Thief Town. Friends may gather around the Nintendo Switch to deceive one another by blending into a crowd and trying to figure out which person needs to be stabbed. The simple premise and local competition aim to create a unique environment where what’s happening onscreen is just as important as the player fidgeting next to you.
Thief Town is an attempt to translate the recent popularity of online deception games like Spy Party or Town of Salem into a console environment. Two to four players start by naming their thief and strolling out onto the killing field. Each player looks identical to the other and has to figure out who is controlling a specific target then stab them. If correct, then the player earns some points and bragging rights. If incorrect, they’ve exposed themselves and all the other players have a powerful hint about who they can go after. The simple sprite graphics lend to automatic confusion as each player’s sprite resembles the other and can get lost in the crowd of identical figures. The key loop becomes a social game of reading the other players in the room first, hoping that the read is correct, and stabbing swiftly.
Gamers of a certain age will remember the pain, or joy, of “screen looking.” You’d be playing a game against your friends and split your attention to see where they are in the map to figure out where they are to better destroy them. Thief Town forces its players to share the same undivided screen, so those “screen looking” glances aren’t an option. Instead, what you have to do to win is more interpersonal. You’ve gotta read your friends, like a deadly game of poker, while considering how figures are moving onscreen and keeping control of yourself.
I like this approach. Couch competitions in video games are a sadly dying breed and RudeGhost was smart to create a simple gameplay loop that focuses squarely on that. So if one player acts too hastily, and ends up stabbing one of the NPCs that is not an opponent, that’s an opportunity. An opportunity to learn a new tell from your opponents while being mindful of what you’re communicating with your own body language.
In this way, Thief Town is more about full body video game control than any of those dancing titles or motion controlled titles. Instead of learning a rigid system that your body has to match, it’s going to be a constant battle between twitch reflexes onscreen, controlling your body, and reading your opponents in the meantime.
This doesn’t change that Thief Town is a simple game that can only work with sympathetic opponents. There’s no option to play online and, considering the necessity of sussing out the target by reading people in the room, no way to play solo. A few options are available to spice up the experience when playing with others but don’t offer much in the way of interest. The different power ups are a different matter, altering the read on other by providing a decoy to see who bites or taking a risk on a long-distance opponent by shooting them. They’re tiny changes, but enough to potentially throw off someone’s impenetrable facade if they don’t know how to react to new elements.
Finally, the simple throwback graphics are a double-edged sword. They serve the gameplay loop well by keeping everyone guessing, but it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for the game after staring at the same sprites for long. That puts Thief Town‘s art in the unenviable position of being good enough for the job, but not varied enough to sustain interest. You’ll really need willing opponents in order to get much out of this already simple game.
Game was played and reviewed using a provided review code for the Nintendo Switch
Assuming you already have the console and additional controllers, Thief Town will serve as a nice synthesis of party and social deception games. Unfortunately, there's also no reason to play it if you're a solo gamer or prefer your match-ups to take place online. But for those who maybe want to get a drink and see who starts to crack under the pressure of being found out, it could be the ticket to a fun time.
- Simple deception-based gameplay loop offers fun in controlling not just the character onscreen, but your own motions while reading those of your opponents.
- Sprite graphics aid the deception by making it easy to get lost in the sea of figures that look like yourself.
- By nature of the game, no online multiplayer or single-player is possible and further necessitates sympathetic opponents to get the most out of the game.
- The simple graphics also mean Thief Town gets dull to look at in quick order.
Prognosis is Good