Within the first few months of the Vita’s release I expect we’ll be seeing this sort of thing a lot. What, artsy black and white puzzle games? No, that would be fine; I mean games with overly-reliant touchscreen and touchpad inputs hampering a potentially enjoyable experience. These aren’t the only flaws behind Escape Plan, but they certainly tip the scales towards indifference.
The premise is simple; controlling two characters you must escape a long series of 2D challenge rooms. A sideways screen swipe makes them walk and a tap stops them. Interacting with the environment on their behalf is the key to their freedom. Drawer-like platforms can be pushed out from behind for a limited time, so timing your walks (they can’t be called runs) across them is of vital importance. Not being able to use the X button to start/stop walking is a miserly and foolish omission as the touches don’t always register first or second time.
Each character has unique skills. The thin one can dash when loaded up on coffee, or inflate himself to float and be moved with motion controls and frustrating pinches to spurt him sideways with not much more predictability than an escaped untied balloon. The fat one can fall over and break through wooden floors or doorways. Moving small objects that the pair could trip over (and die) are handled with flicks and leaky pipes can be plugged by holding your finger over the hole. More complicated actions like winding a giant fan clears rooms of deadly smoke or rolling a wheel could activate a lift. Touches like these are fun to discover and are generally well-implemented into the game; it’s the regular ones that let you down.
Using the rear pad to push out platforms requires precise touches that can be difficult when you’re blindly groping around the back of the Vita with little time to spare. Having to use both the screen and the pad (in a pinching motion) to get the thin character to dash can be a clumsy affair, not something you want when traversing collapsing platforms.
These incrementally burdensome control issues don’t combine well with the heavy reliance on a trial and error. There’s nothing wrong with trial and error (see the awesome Abe games on PS1), but forced repetition to go through a room to get to the tough point where you’ll try something new is an utter bore. The controllable characters move very slowly and when you’re competing against the awkward controls just to get to the part where you’ve no idea what you’re doing knowing you’re probably going to be back another four times, it’s just not fun.
Yes, when you crack a stage it feels rewarding and the solution is often quite clever, but weighed up against the time and effort required to get to the part where you need to think, the payoff never feels good enough. More annoying are the stages where you feel like you exploited a glitch rather than succeeded. Take the guards that shoot you on sight, after tapping the hell out of both screens around him, I managed to get him to fall into a hole, but the erratic animation around it made it look like something that shouldn’t have been possible. Every non-essential tap of the screen goes towards diminishing your level rating too. Stages are skippable if they get on your nerves too much, but is that really what you want to spend your money on?
- Great art style
- Some good uses of the Vita’s features
- Occasionally rewarding
- Using the touchpad is too awkward for the task at hand
- Repetitive treks to the trial and error part of stages
- So slow
The Shot Version: Some good ideas made too annoying to dig for thanks to another developer ignoring the glory of BUTTONS! It’s not just the unresponsive controls, the structure of the checkpoint-bare levels just aren’t worth the effort of this occasionally enjoyable puzzle game.