The various online marketplaces have been an amazing source of creativity and risk taking, away from the safety of the run and gun third person greyscales of more recent 'full' releases. This attitude is evident from the second you start Escape Plan, a gameworld coloured in monochrome and set to a soundtrack of well known classical music. You take charge of two blobs with masks for faces, Lil and Laarg. The puns may be obvious but the style that it lends the game sets a sombre tone. You direct these two prisoners with no weapons away from the evil Bakuki amid a series of ever more challenging traps, tricks and sheep based experiments.
Direct is the appropriate term because you do not have control over any character in this game. Swipes across the screen move characters along, prods move things out of the way, tilting the device moves one of the characters as a bubble. All these control methods are fine when they are the only control options available but when there is a suite of button controls available it feels like Escape Plan was created to use the Vita's other control schemes rather that the one Sony are so keen to promote, if it is a serious handheld console for the hardcore market then why are we lumbered with iPhone controls in one of the stars of its new app store marketplace.
It is this design choice that will alienate, frustrate and in the end dent the enjoyment of many players and the culprit is the host hardware itself. The Vita may be an awesome handheld machine but it shows distinct evidence of design by committee. Apple have had great success with touch screen and gyroscopic controls. Sony have gone a half a step better (or sideways depending on your perspective) and included a rear touchscreen. It is here that you will see some genuine flashes of inspiration despite the forced inclusion of non-traditional control methods but it is always at the cost of precise control. If Escape Plan featured a mixture of button and touch controls it would have been a far more accessible beast and a far more enjoyable one.
The levels themselves drip with their unique and morose style and will require some thought and skill to complete with the lowest number of control inputs. Lil has more unique moves than Laarg, (s)he (the two heroes are arguably gender neutral) can inflate herself with air in order to float and fart her way around as well as downing coffee for quick jittery movement. Laarg can smash things. A lot of the levels will see you direct only one of the pair around but some will task you with looking after both at the same time. Real planning and well timed instructions are required to complete these missions and not everyone will have the patience for them. Helpfully the developers have given players the option to skip tricky levels so that you can experience all of the game at your own pace.
Despite anything said here, there is a worthwhile experience available. If you can overlook the over reliance on gesture based control and forsake proper control over the prisoners then simply pottering around the unique levels is a journey worth taking. To discuss any particular challenge in detail would spoil them but enough of them are unique enough in their execution to provide food for thought. To add longevity there are challenge modes and rankings for each level but there really isn't any need to take the time more than once or twice.
Strong investment has clearly elevated Escape Plan from a simple puzzle game to a simple puzzle game with an elegant ball gown to wear. As a game it could be considered reminiscent of a fine foreign film. It is worth putting the effort in but over indulgence may result in frustration or even worse, a close enough analysis to reveal the cracks in the foundations.
+ Excellent design aesthetic
+ Some brilliant puzzles
+ Genuine humour in places
- Over reliance on unique controls spoils the experience
- Could have been longer
- Control method makes precise challenges more difficult
Other Versions: N/A
Version Reviewed: Europe