Escape Plan Review for PS Vita

Escape Plan Review for PS Vita

There Will Be Blood

One of the quirkier titles in the PlayStation Vita’s launch lineup, Escape Plan brings a unique take on touch-based puzzle-solving. In it, you take on the roles of two loveable creatures, Lil and Laarg, who are attempting to escape from a factory run by the evil Bakuki. Yeah, the story is straightforward, but then again, it’s basically just an excuse to throw players into a series of deathtraps.

The most interesting thing about Escape Plan—and definitely the feature that gives it its personality—is the visual aesthetic. The whole game is black and white, and carries with it an old-time film vibe to it. Now, I realize some might be a bit skeptical of a game without color, but trust me, Escape Plan’s visuals don’t suffer a bit for it.

Escape Plan Screenshot

The protagonists follow the old “fat one and skinny one” pairing that goes all the way back to Laurel and Hardy, though they have a very Tim Burton-ish look. Particularly, they look a bit like a mashup between Jack Skellington and the numbered creatures from 9 . Everything else, though, is cartoony but still manages to carry a sinister aesthetic. Bakuki is a pretty nasty-looking figure himself, and even the sheep in the game—which are just as harmless and naïve as you’d expect—have a creepy look to them. On top of all this are the various deathtraps—a clever assortment of razor-sharp blades, spike pits, acid, electric beams, and even a giant hammer at one point—that players are asked to traverse in the name of freedom. All of these are delightfully twisted, perhaps even expressionistic in style. It’s a great aesthetic, and one that makes the game a treat to look at.

To continue the old-timey film trend, Escape Plan’s soundtrack is made up of various classical songs, French-style accordion tunes, and some other randomly jazzy pieces. While this may sound like an odd choice, when you actually hear the way it meshes with the art style, it all makes sense. In fact, it works brilliantly.

Escape Plan Screenshot

Players begin their journey with a simple scene: Lil, the skinny one, is sleeping on a beat-up mattress in a depressing, sparsely decorated room, where tally marks are crudely etched into the walls. The first puzzle is ridiculously straightforward; wake up Lil and make him walk out the door. Now, it’s such a simple scene, but the combination of the background art and Lil’s waking animation and disgruntled sounds makes it a surprisingly powerful opening.

Of course, the puzzles begin to ramp up in difficulty after this opening—well, “ramping up” is actually not a very accurate phrase to describe the difficulty curve here. Escape Plan’s puzzles have this weird flow to them. In most puzzle-type games, each encounter will be slightly more challenging or complex than the previous, eventually building up to the puzzles that require players to combine all the skills they’ve learned throughout the game. Not in Escape Plan. Here you’ll come across a particularly difficult and complex puzzle that might take you twenty minutes or more to properly solve, which will be followed by two or three simpler ones. Oddly enough, this works, and the easier stages spliced in between the harder ones keep the game from ever staying too frustrating for too long.

Escape Plan Screenshot

Even though much of what was shown of this game involves Lil and Laarg working in tandem, you’ll actually spend a majority of the game with one or the other. Sure, there are several sections where you’ll need to escort both of them through a particular set of obstacles, but the two end up separated often. In fact, some of the stages will have one character go through them one way, while a later stage will bring the other character to the exact same stage, which must be navigated using that character’s particular skill set.

Oh yes, each character has his own skills for solving puzzles. For example, Lil can inflate himself and float around like a balloon, while Laarg can crash through weakened areas in the floors and ceilings.

The control scheme here is gimmicky, yet incredibly functional. The game takes advantage of both the Vita’s touchscreen and rear touch panel, as well as the gyroscopic tilt controls. Mostly everything will be accomplished through tapping or swiping, though you’ll need to tilt the Vita during a few segments. Additionally, the right analog stick can be used to move the camera around the 2D stage layouts, while the left stick zooms the camera. You probably won’t be using the sticks during the beginning portion of the game, but later on when the stage layouts become longer and more complex, you’ll be thankful to have them. It’s all surprisingly intuitive, and should feel pretty natural to anyone who’s ever played games on an iPad.

Escape Plan Screenshot

Now, I did have a few minor nitpicks about the level design. There were a few instances where a character will have to be escorted to a platform that is simply too small, or where the game is overly finicky in its design. Lil, for example, tends to back up slightly when getting up after a fall, and there were places where a platform was so small that he’d back himself off the edge into a spike pit due to this animation. Instances like this can get frustrating, especially when they come at the end of a fairly lengthy stage. Thankfully, these are pretty rare, and I can only think of two or three places off the top of my head where it actually became a problem.

Escape Plan has a very clever method of keeping track of how many lives a player has spent. Lil and Laarg each have a number painted on their chest, and this shows you the amount of times you’ve died. For example, if Lil has died five times and is thus on his sixth life, he’ll have a 6 painted on him. However, there are only room for two digits, and once you surpass 99, your character’s number will be replaced by a skull and crossbones. I absolutely love this. It gives players a way to keep track of their lives without cluttering up the UI, and it fits in perfectly with the game’s already quirky visual style.

Escape Plan is a puzzle game that, if not for the rear touch panel and analog stick controls, would have been very comfortable on iPads. In fact, it’s a little odd that the developers chose the Vita platform over iOS. Still, it feels great on the Vita, and the art direction is enough to get lovers of puzzle games excited. There’s just a cleverness to the whole thing that completely sells the experience, even if it may be a tad short for the fifteen-dollar price tag.

The whole game is black and white, but the incredible art direction makes it work wonderfully. 4.5 Control
Gimmicky, yet incredibly functional. My only complaint is that the rear touch panel didn’t feel as accurate as it could have. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A great mix of music paired with some delicious sound effects. There are no real speaking parts here, but Lil and Laarge’s grunts and cries are a lot of fun to hear. 3.3 Play Value
You could probably get through the entire game in a few hours, and there’s very little incentive to go back and replay the puzzles once they’re over. That said, the first time through is an absolute blast. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Guide Lil and Laarg to safety by using your influence, skill and brainpower to help them escape from a dark labyrinth of irreverent puzzles and traps.
  • Help these two hapless heroes by using the front touch pad, rear pad, motion sensor and more to find a plan of escape.
  • Breathe a sigh of relief as they scrape through to freedom…and giggle if they come to a deliciously messy end. Luckily, helping Lil and Laarg is as fun to play and watch in victory as it is in the hilarious agony of defeat.

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