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Released: Feb 15, 2012
Developer: Fun Bits Interactive
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Escape Plan is one of the first games I played on the Vita, months before its release, and it instantly became my most anticipated game for the system. The arresting art direction that utilized gorgeous saturation and stark, black and white contrast, coupled with a Looney Tunes-esque classical soundtrack and some hilarious moments – comedy always seems to be lacking in games – had me sold. While the game ultimately delivers on these points, the final product doesn’t come together entirely contiguously.
Escape Plan tasks the player with abetting the escape of Lil and Laarg, compatriots fleeing their captor, the menacing Bakuki. Lil, the smaller of the two, is incredibly frail and so much as tripping over a brick on the floor can result in a splattered death, while Laarg is the burly muscle, capable of breaking weakened doors and floors. The two work in concert on a large percentage of the levels, but frequently forge different paths more suited to their abilities, separating them.
The puzzles mostly center on interaction with the environment, as Lil and Laarg shamble on ploddingly: moving obstacles, lowering walkways, spinning fans, and causing gas leaks are all common occurrences. Lil in particular has some interesting abilities. Downing some caffeine, aside from making him hilariously jittery, lets him sprint short distances to clear otherwise insurmountable gaps, for example. Bakuki also has some blow dart wielding minions scattered about in certain levels ready to pop Lil and Laarg, and there are inexplicable sheep, which have a variety of uses, abound. Adding to the gameyness, collectible stickers are also hidden in some levels and you’re awarded one to three stars at the end of levels, based on how long they took to complete and how many gestures you used.
Traditional controls are eschewed in favor of taking advantage of all the new bells and whistles of the Vita. A swipe sends Lil or Laarg moving in either direction, the rear touch pad and front touch screen are used to interact with the environment, and Lil can even fill himself up with air and float like a balloon controlled with the gyroscope. They mostly work and even instances where it feels they’ve cost you a life can’t be damned too much. Death is treated flippantly, usually resulting in a whimsical, entertaining Rorschach splattering of ink; Lil and Laarg even keep a running death count on their chests. Additionally, the levels are all quite short, so dying isn’t much of a setback, more a cathartic or guilty pleasure.
The problem is that each room tends to feel disparate, only connected by the atmosphere (the music, aesthetic, etc.). Though it may be necessitated due to the restrictions of working on a two-dimensional plane or compiling enough bite-sized levels fitting for a portable experience, Bakuki’s lair feels inorganically strung together, pitfalls arbitrarily placed. This discordant nature works against Escape Plan’s overall presentation and personality.
Still, that personality is wonderful. Bakuki has an impeccable sense of comedic timing, sporadically popping out of a window to let out a garbled, frustrated scream, or to wring his hands mischievously with a villainous laugh. The lumbering Laarg and languid Lil are adorable, even in death. Oh, and the Escape Plan has one of my favorite ending credit sequences. The whimsical musical score, hilariously hapless protagonists, strikingly saturated art style and comedic undertones are all wonderful, even if the gameplay occasionally follows clumsily behind.