In recent times, good old puzzle rooms have become a bit of a lost art. Often relegated to obscure indie products, they require a fine touch to hit that sweet spot of ‘fun and challenging’ instead of ‘frustrating and obtuse’. On its initial Vita release, Escape Plan did just that, earning it a spot in the current batch of under the radar titles to be given a new shiny release on the PS4.
Our story is negligible. You are the omnipotent helper of Lil and Laarg, two questionably humanoid black blobbies, on their quest to break free of the clutches of their captor, Bakuki. The sensibility of it is simple, sparse, and extremely indie, allowing you to focus on guiding the two through ever more absurd areas with all the tools the Vita has to offer.
What’s surprising is that the closest parallel to this game is Angry Birds. Each room is a short, contained puzzle consisting of one or two obstacles, with a three-star rating at the end dependent on the speed of your execution. Though these are usually trivial to get once you understand the trick of the room, the main difference to Angry Birds is that the puzzles often require lateral thinking and timing instead of just flinging and hoping. Once, in an early level, I was presented with a puzzle consisting only of Lil and Laarg and a cracked pipe spewing lethal fumes across where we needed to go. It wasn’t until five or six attempts later that I realised the game wanted me to hold my finger over the hole in the pipe, keeping the gas blocked as my two little buddies strolled across. This sort of thing takes you from being a passive player to a part of the world, making you care just that little bit more.
What’s worrying about this port to PS4 is how this control scheme will carry over. Escape Plan depends upon your use of both the front and back touchscreen, the tilt sensors, and the normal device controls. Changing the use of touchscreens to a cursor feels like a stopgap measure that might cost precious seconds in later levels. Time will tell whether this works or not.
A definite benefit of this port, however, will be the upscale in graphics. Set mostly in monochrome, Escape Plan‘s simple graphical style looks to be receiving an absolutely gorgeous polish by this new release. When they meet their untimely end, Lil and Laarg both explode into giant gushers of black blood and the laughter of an unseen audience; when they come back for another attempt, the number on their chest representing their death count has climbed one higher. It’s darkly comedic, subtly expressive details like this that can be brought to the fore in this new release, bringing much-deserved exposure to an underrated gem. If you like puzzles: look forward to it. If you don’t: well, there’s always the splatter factor.
Written by Aaron Milligan