It's rare that I come across a game I can honestly describe as an unredeemable waste of time and money. However, it does occasionally happen. Recently, I had the misfortune to receive a copy of Sneakers in my play pile, and if there's ever been a game that was destined to pull coaster duty underneath frosty beverages, it's this one. Rather than groping to connect this pile to some tangential topic, I'm just going to cut to the chase here. There's no need to prolong the suffering any more than I have to.

In a half-empty nutshell, Sneakers is the story (hold onto your seats, now) of a group of mice who've had some food stolen by rats. See, there's a big party coming up and everybody knows that mice can't get down without some munchies. Of course, they need to get the eats back and eject those foreign rodents, so I'm sure you can imagine where this is going. It's safe to say that there won't be any prizes handed out to Sneakers for achievements in interactive literature, so let's move on.

The game takes place in four domestic-type stages that are supersized to simulate a tiny mouse's-eye view. Chairs are the size of large houses, and a refrigerator could pass for a repainted Empire State Building. While these environments are rendered in full 3D, movement is limited to 2D "rails" that allow you to tour the scenery without any bothersome exploration or freedom complicating things. You'll constantly be going from left to right, and at certain junctures colored arrows will appear and give you a choice of different routes. (Picture an old-fashioned railroad track switch like in every minecart level since the dawn of gaming and you've got the idea.)

As you lead a troupe of jerky, palsied mice through this invisible Habitrail, you've got to keep beady eyes peeled for the bad guys. Once you see one, you dispense furry justice not with rocket launchers or even sharp teeth, but by looking at them. Yes, looking at them. The cheese thieves just sort of hang out and chill at various locations in the house. Once you spot one, players can click a button to bring up some crosshairs. Center the rat until the crosshair changes color, and poof! The pest dissolves in a puff of smoke. A lot less messy than a traditional spring trap, but also less satisfying.

As easy (and lame) as this might sound, don't get too cocky. In savage displays of cunning, the rats actually hide behind objects like umbrellas or bookshelves. If that doesn't sound intense enough, you'll occasionally have to click and search the inside of the occasional wicker basket. Don't worrythis kind of high-intensity action is wisely spaced out in order to prevent players from being overwhelmed. (Suzuki, Naka and Miyamoto I hope you three are taking notes.) However, the game quickly becomes frustrating and tiresome. After finding 97% of the rats in the first three minutes, you'll wander and backtrack for an eternity trying to find last few. The game's restrictive planes of movement combined with some inappropriately placed rats turns something bland and boring into something infuriating and boring.

The other element to Sneakers' "gameplay" is the occasional free-for-all brawl that occurs every time you locate a certain number of baretails. After meeting a quota, you'll be summoned to a specific part of the level to have it out en masse. The camera then switches to a mostly-overhead view and players can move in full 3D. Devastating moves like "Punch," "Wind-Up Punch" or "Tail Swing" are available and (not quite) guaranteed to make fighting game fans green with envy. In addition to simply slugging it out, you can also pull up a screen that assigns commands to the other mice in your gang. This must have been a designer's idea of sarcasm since the fights are slow-motion mash-fests that have no need for something so anally strategic. Trying to give commands to your fellow mice is not only pointless and cumbersome, but it actually takes longer than it does to take on the rats by yourself.

Since the game has no redeeming value and flubs every single aspect of play, I don't even understand why it was released. I'm forced to assume it's aimed at kids since I doubt anyone snapping up copies of Halo or Unreal Tournament would willingly spend more than four minutes with it. However, since the majority of Xbox owners are in the late teen/early 20's demographic, I have a hard time believing that there're a significant number of kids with an Xbox in the first place. For the sake of argument, let's assume that there are. In that instance, slapdash second-rate software like this wouldn't be close to acceptable for young ones due to the boring content, confusing structure and built-in frustration level.

It's almost insulting, really. The quick cash influx from this kind of cut-and-run hack job can't possibly be worth the ill will it's inevitably going to create with consumers who are unfortuate enough to buy it. After playing Sneakers, I don't think the package declaring it's "Only On Xbox" is such a bright idea. They'd be better off keeping that sad fact a secret and quietly dumping all remaining copies of the game next to the steaming pile of E.T. 2600 cartridges rotting in the desert.Rating: 1.5 out of 10

Brad Gallaway
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