Fun Bits Interactive are a new studio on the block, and Escape Plan is their premier title. Produced by Chris Millar of Fat Princess fame, I immediately expected Escape Plan to feature a similar style of quirky humour to that game, but was also slightly skeptical. Fat Princess, while enjoyable, wound up being a little simpler than advertised, and, I always felt, suffered for that. But Escape Plan looked interesting, and I’m all for supporting new developers, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Escape Plan Vita Screenshot 1

The main villain totally looks like he's wearing most of a hockey mask. ... Jason?

Escape Plan is another of the Vita’s launch titles, and in deference to the trend I’ve been following so far, it is not, actually a cartridge-based game. This is a $15 downloadable title, available on the Playstation Store, but exclusive (so far as I know), to the Vita. The fact that budget downloadable titles are already available for the platform means that Escape Plan gets some points in the bank automatically, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free ride. Luckily, it doesn’t need one.

The story is quite simple: the two main characters, Lil, (the small, skinny one), and Laarg, (the rather rotund one), are stuck in a prison/laboratory/factory of some kind, completely at the mercy of their captor, Bakuki. To escape this dastardly villain’s grasp, you need to navigate Lil and Laarg, (sometimes together, sometimes separated), through the game’s many rooms, solving puzzles in order to reach the next room safely. In constructing these puzzles, Escape Plan takes advantage of both the front and reach touch capabilities of the Vita, in addition to the tilt sensor, and solving the puzzles often requires a combination of these features. While the game’s concept is the very definition of straightforward, and the puzzles themselves often have deceptively simple solutions, it is the way Escape Plan actually uses the hardware that makes it one of the Vita’s earliest gems.

Escape Plan Vita Screenshot 2

You can also use sheep to help you solve puzzles. Or to land on when you're jumping from a high place.

As far as controls go, tapping, swiping, pinching and tilting pretty much make up your entire retinue of motions. To get Lil or Laarg to move, you swipe across their bodies in the direction you want them to move, and then find a way to make sure they get to the door without ending up squished, sliced, gassed, or otherwise dead. But Escape Plan manages to make use of these extremely simple gestures in creative, and rather fulfilling ways. There are some levels, for example, where a pipe running through a room will be leaking gas, and making Lil or Laarg walk through the gas will kill them. To get them by safely, you use your finger to block the hole in the pipe, and stop the leak. In other levels, you’ll have to get the characters’ to breath in helium, in order to inflate them and reach higher levels. In order to deflate them, while propelling them forward, you pinch them between your fingers using the front and rear screens. It’s the little things like this that not only make Escape Plan fun, but offer a glimpse at just what developers could do with the Vita. Using the touch screens doesn’t have to be a grand gameplay feature: it can be subtle and simple, and still feel remarkably gratifying. I actually had a lot more fun playing Escape Plan, with its simpler touch controls, then I did playing Little Deviants, which may use the Vita’s features more thoroughly, but also involves almost too much investment. Escape Plan is a game I would (and have) played while traveling on a bus or a train, since it uses the Vita’s features in a way that wouldn’t draw instant attention, as Little Deviants would.
Escape Plan Vita Screenshot 3

Yes, Lil is drifting past giant razor blades. Though he doesn't have any facial hair, so I don't know... Oh.

But it’s not just the fact that Escape Plan is an early title that uses the Vita well: it’s presentation offers it a huge amount of distinction from a lot of the games that have hit the market recently. With its monochromatic graphical style, Escape Plan is actually easily the best looking of the Vita games I’ve played. It has a stark contrast to both what you expect from a Vita game, as well as what other Vita games are doing, and as such stands out remarkably well. I know I don’t usually talk about music much, unless it stands out because of how offensive it is, but the music in Escape Plan is worth mentioning because of how good it is. A lot of the tracks are well-known classical scores, which couple extremely well with the game’s stark visuals. If there were ever a game that gave credence to the whole ‘games as art’ argument, it would be this one. There’s just so much charm to the game, and that shows itself well within the games visual/audio department, but also in its tone.

The prison/laboratory/factory you’re trying to escape is a dangerous place. There are all sorts of traps and murderous devices waiting to behead you, squish you, dice you, or otherwise render you unable to leave due to your being dead. It’s extremely morbid, on one level. But while it’s definitely gruesome, there’s an inarguable humour to the game as well. I mentioned earlier about deflating one of your helium-filled characters by pinching them. What I didn’t mention is that the deflation comes via a fart. Yes, childish humour in some ways, but like the use of the Vita’s functions in the game, it’s also very subtle. Lil and Laarg’s deaths also present themselves as humorous, albeit in a ‘I really shouldn’t be amused by this’ kind of way. I mean, they’re dead, right? You shouldn’t be laughing at it.

Escape Plan Vita Screenshot 4

29 on the jersey equals 29 deaths. Just so you know, it's kind of like golf: you want the lowest number possible. I just had trouble a few times.

But when they die, (as long as they didn’t just choke on gas, or get hit by a dart), they explode into a puddle of black goo. Whether you die by falling a long distance, being squished or being cut, the splatter is always the same. It just adds an element of levity to dying that I don’t think anyone would be able to properly explain. Lil and Laarg both feature numbers on their stomachs, as well, and the numbers correspond to the amount of times both characters have died. There’s something about that that’s subtly humorous as well. If we’re giving awards to Escape Plan, it would have ‘Best Style of Humour’ locked in for it’s subtly morbid presentation.

I can’t really say a whole lot more about Escape Plan: it’s a puzzle game with mechanics that are extremely simple on the surface, but are used in very creative ways. It’s stark black-and-white visuals and classical score give it the best presentation that I’ve seen, not just on the Vita, but on any game in a long while. The tone is light, the humour subtle, all covering a slightly gruesome centre, but the juxtaposition of it all just offers the game even more charm. Of the Vita games I’ve played so far, Escape Plan definitely comes with the highest recommendation. At only $15, you just can’t go wrong with this game. If you have a Vita, you need Escape Plan, even if you’re not normally a huge fan of puzzle games. I can almost guarantee that you’ll still find something that you absolutely love about the game that would justify the purchase. If you don’t, then maybe you’re playing games for all the wrong reasons. As the first title of Fun Bits Interactive, Escape Plan shines. I am extremely interested to see what they come up with in the future, and would put money on them becoming an extremely strong developer for the Playstation Vita.
Escape Plan Logo
Title : Escape Plan
Format : PS Vita
Developer : Fun Bits Interactive
Publisher : SCEA
Release Date : 02/14/12

[starreviewmulti id=1 tpl=20]

*Article first published as Escape Plan: An Honest Opinion on The Honest Opinion Corner.