|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Fun Bits|
|Release: February 22, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p||Blood Suggestive Themes Violence|
by Josh Wirtanen
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.
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.
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.
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.