Thursday, February 23, 2012

REVIEW - Escape Plan.



Escape Plan is a pleasant, petite amuse-bouche of a game.  Structurally, and in terms of entry barrier, it is Sony's attempt to show that the Vita can easily be home to the next Angry Birds.  Indeed, this launch title rips much of Birds' staccato rhythm and enticement, as each bite-sized challenge grades you on how long it took and how many gesture commands you required to succeed (out of three stars, no less).

Each tiny, done-in-ninety-seconds level is a puzzle of lethal traps to guide your adorable wards through.  You learn early on just how fragile and clumsy they are - Lil (pictured above) will trip over a two-inch brick, land flat on his face and splatter his black little brains halfway across the room - to the applause of some hidden audience.

Its charming presentation and addictive structure could take up a very great deal of your time, if you aim to get three stars in each level and master its optional challenge modes.


Whether or not you'll want to depends largely on how seduced you are by the game's unusual grayscale styling and its near-constant insistence that the last room you defeated can actually be overcome with much greater efficiency - which would be more enticing if it weren't so liberal with what it considers gestures.

The rear touch pad is the offender, here, for as you grip the Vita, swiping and tapping Lil and Laarg through their lethal world, your fingers on the back of the unit are constantly registering as control gestures.  You do often have to use the rear touch pad - to frighten sheep, to knock platforms into the foreground, to squeeze a fart out of an inflated Lil, which sends him shooting forward - but it's no less disappointing to discover you received a low grade on a level because you used forty-three gesture when you only meant to use five.

That said, the title does an excellent job of leveraging and showcasing the Vita's touch and tilt functions.




"Escape Plan uses every single motion control in the Vita's arsenal - touch screen, rear touch pad, and giro - and none of them feel wrong or awkward as you make requests of them.  Given the amount of objects you have to interact with in a given level - pushing objects, tapping walls, shoving Lil and Larg, squeezing them (by pressing on the front and back of the Vita) - just wouldn't work with a standard physical control method.  It wouldn't feel as good.  
The only option with traditional controls would be to use a pointer - which has never been more than halfway decent in any strategy or puzzle game that doesn't use a mouse.   
If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know how I feel, as a general rule, about motion controls.    
I hate motion controls.  I have never played a game with any degree of motion control - from Ratchet And Clank Future: Tools of Destruction to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and not found myself thinking "this would be so much more intuitive and fun if everything was just mapped to a goddamned button."   
Until now."
-from a Game Diary-


Escape Plan further endears itself to you by way of its adorable presentation.  For some reason, getting Lil hopped up on coffee and watching him trip balls (pictured above, which grants him a dash ability) never gets old.  The soundtrack is a comforting mix tape of classical tunes, and between their dopey, expressive animation and cheerily oblivious exclamations - hollering "weee!" as they plummet to their doom - it's hard not to become rather fond of Lil and Laarg.

Once you sit down to run through one of Escape Plan's rooms, you may look up to notice a half hour has gone by as you find yourself in the clutches of its mildly addictive, just-one-more-room temperament.
"The fact that [the load times are so damned short and] there's no punishment for failure only compounds the problem.  It's hard to stop playing - it's hard to feel that you've really failed at all - when Lil or Laarg gets splattered all over the scenery and a laugh track plays."
-from a Game Diary-

By the time you're two thirds of the way through the game, however, it begins to have less fun coming up with ideas than it does subjecting you to ever-more-complex use of the touch screen.  One puzzle had me holding my fingers over five leaks in a toxic pipe, so as not to let the gas harm my precious duo - which may sound bad, but it's nowhere near as frustrating as having to make precision taps on the rear touchpad with very exact timing.

It's great when it's taxing your mind, and tedious when it tasks your fingers with too much to do.

Near the end of my time with Escape Plan fatigue had set in, and I was anxious to return to the Vita's higher-caliber offerings.  This is by no means a bad game, but fifteen dollars is somewhat steep for such a small experience.

The price tag will likely prove well worth it for those prepared to take their time with Lil and Laarg, and nibble away at the title over the course of a month.  It's a strangely beautiful, very endearing title - and a great tech demo for the Vita's motion controls - but its only a little nosh of a game.

A pleasant, petite amuse bouche - but not very filling.


THE GOOD
  • endearing overall presentation
  • the funny, wordless sounds of Lil and Laarg 
  • the animations are full of character and charm
  • bold, sharp, minimal art style
  • lovely orchestral music
  • the use of the Vita's touch and tilt is actually better than analog control would have been
  • often clever puzzles
  • a very addictive structure.  It's Angry Birds by way of Tim Burton on St. John's Wort. 
  • ultra-short load times
  • a great game to hop into for five to ten minutes

THE BAD
  • the puzzles become less puzzle-y and more "let's see you tap all this!" as the game goes on.
  • not a particularly good value for the money -  ten dollars would have been a more reasonable price
  • my inability to hold the Vita without hitting the rear touchpad totally screwed up my score on 90% of the levels
  • for some reason I could never bring myself to play it for more than thirty minutes at a time

THE VERDICT
A pleasant, petite amuse bouche - but not very  filling.

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