A new platform has launched and with it new possibilities. As always, it's up to the software to show us what the hardware is really capable of and why we should care. Escape Plan is one of those games. In stark contrast with Little Deviants, Escape Plan isn't blatant and unrestrained in its use of the Vita's multiple different functions, rather it's a unique puzzle game requires deft use of both the front and back touch screen. Can it escape the fate of other well-meaning but contrived Vita launch titles?
Escape Plan is the story of Lil and Laarg who are trying desperately to escape the clutches of the evil Bakuki. Being evil incarnate, Bakuki's goal is to recycle Lil and Laarg, turning them into his minions or mindless sheep. How this occurs is never really spelled out, but I imagine Bakuki making our two heroes into a Soylent Green-esque paste and then moulding them into new shapes like playdough. Regardless, Lil and Laarg would prefer to stay in their present forms, so your job is to help them.
looks like my dorm in undergrad
There are next to no button-based controls in Escape Plan. Analog sticks are used to move and adjust the camera, but other than that it's all down to your use of the touch pads. Swipe across your character to start him moving, tap on him to stop. These are simple enough but it's when the back and front touch pads come into the mix that things can get much more hectic and fun. The back pad is used to distract enemies or direct sheep, but mostly it's used as though you're pushing from the back of the screen. Platforms that are in the way can be pushed into the screen using the front pad, and then back out with the back pad. It's actually quite intuitive and simple prompts for any new action make sure that you're never left confused due to the controls. This isn't to say that the controls are perfect, there were a few levels where I swore I was pressing the correct area of the front or back pad but the game wouldn't do what I wanted until I pressed slightly off from it. Luckily, this only got me killed once, compared to about 98 times without any help whatsoever.
Dying isn't such a bad thing though. You get to watch your little guy explode into a cloud of black ink and you lose a minute of your time at worst, since the levels are generally so small. I think the most time it took me to get through any single level was three minutes, and that was mostly a result of planning time, rather than actual execution. The puzzles do well to keep things varied, not just in the activities you perform but the tempo you have to maintain. Levels that require careful planning are interspersed with intense timing challenges. There are even some levels that require you to play a game of Twister on the screen with your fingers as you fight to plug up poisonous gas leaks and direct Lil and Laarg at the same time. Curious parties might want to know that, upon testing, I found that the game could keep track of up to 6 points of contact on the screen. If you find yourself at a loss you can skip the level at any time with no penalty (other than losing the chance to win some extras).
Makes me flinch every time
Speaking of extras, Escape Plan could really use some more. I beat it in only 2 and a half hours, which is not great for a $15 purchase. You can replay the levels and attempt to better your star rating for trophy purposes (by doing them more swiftly and by using fewer gestures), or search for collectable warning signs, but that's about it for replay value. There is also a challenge mode which tasks you with beating the game while only killing your heroes a maximum of 20 times combined, and a spot for weekly challenges that simply says “coming soon” for the time being.
Lil and Laarg traverse a black and white world that isn't incredibly detailed, but it certainly oozes charm. They even come with little counters on their stomachs to let you know how many times you've gotten them killed. Story sequences are minimal and told using mostly still images, but it's not a huge detriment to such a simplistic story. Sound design is of particular note; echoing clanks of differing tones are a by-product of any tapping you do, and the music is classical, minus the more modern song that perfectly accompanies the credits. Licensing music well spent, Sony.
Escape Plan is exactly what a launch title should be: a game that shows what the platform can do without letting that define or detract from the experience. Lil and Laarg probably could have used more personality, and Escape Plan itself could definitely do with more content in general, but it's an interesting and fun little bite-sized diversion. If you want to put the touch screens on your new Vita to the test it's a fun afternoon of gaming, just don't expect to get much more out of it than that.
This review is based on a digital copy of Escape Plan for Vita.