It isn't often that a videogame features a plot about trying to save the main character's humdrum office job, but the premise of Level 22: Gary's Misadventures indeed revolves around that very goal. After a raucous birthday party the night before, hugely bespectacled Gary is late for work and given that this is far from his first offence, he has to sneak up to his desk (situated on the 22nd floor) without being spotted by anyone, let alone the big boss. Gary's good friend Marty is available to give him hints and tips over the phone but aside from that, he's on his own.
So, stealth is the absolute order of the day and there are a whole host of ways and means to get through the puzzle-filled levels and to the next staircase. Played out in a top-down pixel art style, Level 22's individual stages aren't the longest ever to be found in a game, but there's plenty of scope for head-scratching. Early on, you simply have to avoid the gaze of your colleagues as you sneak around to try and find things such as access cards in order to open a pathway to the stairwell door. If you're spotted, you'll generally get a second or two to get out of the person's line of sight if you're out towards the edge of their viewing range. However, if you're closer to them, it's an instant fail and you're back to the last checkpoint. Fortunately, that checkpoint system is somewhat generous.
As you progress, more colleague types are introduced, as are an equal number of ways to stay undetected. A well-placed donut might pull a security guard out of his movement pattern and allow you to dart through before he returns to his beat. A cardboard box can be used – Metal Gear Solid-style – to hide in plain view of certain eyes, whilst a newspaper can be used in a similar manner. There's even scope to combine items. The old "laxatives in the coffee" trick might get some beady-eyed employee to jump from his seat and make a dash for the facilities, but what if he doesn't have a brew to hand? Well, how about combining those laxatives with a donut? Clever stuff.
Not only is the game relatively smart in what it does, it's also smartly presented. That pixel art is backed by a cracking throwback soundtrack by Morusque that really fits the bill and could have been pulled right out of an authentic 8 or 16-bit title. Controls are simple, with the sticks playing host to movement and camera control, the D-pad being used for using items, and the A button being brought into play for activating various things around the levels. It's all remarkably simple and a breeze to get used to.
That isn't to say that Level 22 doesn't have a couple of gameplay problems. The main one is that there are a couple of spots in which you'll be stuck because you simply don't know that you're able to do something. We've helped you out by mentioning combining items, but the game doesn't say a word about that during normal play. Not only that, but in scenario we mentioned above (putting laxatives on a donut), you can't place the donut on the floor and then add the laxatives. You have to go to the box of donuts and sprinkle the laxatives on them there, then take the new laxative donut and use that. So, while you probably worked out what you needed to do, there's a good chance that you'll have run into the issue of not knowing exactly how to do it. On occasion, you seem to be able to get mightily close to certain enemies without being seen, too. Later on in the game, you'll have to make your way past a scientist that patrols back and forth down a corridor and there's seemingly no way to do it, until you realise that you can march up and stand directly next to him. Then it's a matter of just waiting for him to turn around and walk away, before you carry on.
But these are relatively minor issues and once you've worked through them once, you'll know what to do next time. Each of Level 22's 16 regular stages contain safes to crack and a hidden toy to find. Often, the toy will be somewhere that requires you to deviate from the standard route and take an extra risk or two. It's worth it though, given that every toy you find rewards you with an achievement and 30G for your trouble. These additional tasks do add to what is a relatively short experience. Some of the stages can be completed in just a couple of minutes – although later ones obviously take a lot longer - and the four boss levels on offer will be an absolute breeze to get through for anyone with the remotest bit of skill. This may leave some feeling that there's not enough for the asking price, but the general quality that Level 22 exhibits does make up for that somewhat.
Level 22: Gary's Misadventures is a fun puzzler that doesn't take itself too seriously. Even with that in mind, the developer has obviously lavished love and attention on the game and produced a product that, while not the longest or most challenging game in the world, is enjoyable enough.