|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Fun Bits|
|Release: February 22, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Blood Suggestive Themes Violence|
by Scott Nichols
The PlayStation Vita is launching with an impressive lineup full of new entries in top franchises. Uncharted, WipEout, ModNation Racers, Hot Shots Golf—the list goes on. With so many bigger titles to choose from, it's easy to overlook the not-yet-established names like Escape Plan. That could be a big mistake for puzzle game fans, since Escape Plan might be one of the most interesting games to show up for the launch of Sony's new handheld.
So what exactly is Escape Plan? Well, it's a puzzle game where players must guide the appropriately named Lil and Laarg safely from one side of a room to the other. Sounds simple, right? Not quite, as each room is littered with deathtraps that can make the diminutive heroes pop like balloons.
The game is controlled entirely with the Vita's touchscreen—no buttons necessary. Swiping over Lil or Laarg will get them moving in the desired direction while tapping on them stops them in place. Each character also has some unique traits. Laarg is the muscle of the pair, and can crash through certain cracked floors with a downward swipe. Meanwhile, Lil can interact with gas canisters, inflating his body so he can soar over obstacles while players move him by tilting the system. For the most part, controlling the duo is kept fairly simple, allowing players to put their real focus on the puzzles.
The game's deathtrap puzzles can come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more obvious, like giant swinging mallets of death and electrified panels to avoid. Others, however, force the player to pay close attention to their surroundings. For example, a simple misplaced brick could cause Lil to trip and do a faceplant of doom. But through use of the touchscreen and rear touch panel, the brick can be pushed harmlessly out of the way and into the background. Yes, players can interact with the environment directly, both the foreground and background using the touchscreen and rear touch panel respectively. Even in the early levels, this allows for some unique puzzle solutions without putting the fragile protagonists in harm's way. Pushing a brick into the background is a simple solution to a simple puzzle, but it's hardly the first thing most gamers would think to do. Trail and error will factor heavily across Escape Plan's 85 levels, with the blow of each failure lessened by a comical death reward.
In addition to the puzzles, it's the art style that will either sell you on the game or creep you out completely. Everything in the game is in black and white, giving it a distinct look and making shadows play a big part in finding trap triggers. Lil and Laarg themselves are an odd pair; with off-kilter waddles in their steps and almost skeletal masks for faces, they wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton movie. While many will find the look endearing, I can just as easily see it being a little creepy.
The big question mark about the game is how much of a story there will be. The striking art style and devious puzzles could easily lend themselves to a Portal-caliber tale. Small details in the levels and the evil minions sometimes seen controlling the traps hint that a story may pull it all together and give the puzzles some weight. But, at the same time, with Lil and Laarg following in the long tradition of silent video game characters, the storytelling options are fairly limited.
A series of puzzle rooms this long, no matter how clever, is sure to drag on without some context behind it, so that unknown area could be the deciding factor in whether Escape Plan is a hit or not. In terms of potential, however, Escape Plan has it in spades. It seems positioned to be a puzzle game that actually uses the Vita's hardware for gameplay rather than gimmicks. We'll find out the full story when it launches as a downloadable title along with PlayStation Vita in February.
Date: January 26, 2012