Escapology is Mr. ESC's cup of tea... better yet, coffee.
EXIT is a 2D side scrolling puzzle game that started out as a PSP game and was ported over to the Xbox Live Arcade late last year. Its main premise is simple - Mr. Esc, the game's caffeine-driven main character, always seems to find himself deeply involved in some sort of terrible disaster, and along with himself, he has to save other victims from the many traps, twists and turns found throughout the game's 22 cases - 12 of which are accessed through two free game content packs offered for download over Xbox Live Marketplace. Each case presents a different backdrop and challenges, from the more conventional crisis, like a fire, to much, much more bizarre occurrences, in ten individual levels. As these levels progress, the challenge curse widens, and more dangers and obstacles are thrown into Esc's and his companions' way. The variety of dangers faced is just as crazy as the levels they reside in - small fires, icicles, open electrical outlets, and even the lack of light are some of the things that will be between Mr. Esc and the exit.
On the other hand, there are tools littered across the environments for the everyday escapologist. These can easily be picked up and used in specific circumstances, like spiked boots that allow traction in ice, that allow Mr. Esc and companions to push boxes lodged over icy surfaces. However, only one item can be held by Esc at a time, and this is where the survivors he finds come into play. Not only can they combine strength with Esc in order to push heavier boxes, but also hold items for later use - by themselves or by Esc, after he discards the item he's currently holding - and helping out other less capable victims on their way to the level's exit.
There's a variety of companions that will be needing Esc's services - kids, who have difficulty leaping over tall obstacles, but who can crawl through tight spots; young adults, that basically have the same strength as Mr. Esc, but cannot jump or fall as far and chunky adults, who have much more brawn than Esc, but need help leaping over taller obstacles and are slower moving than the rest of the cast. Ordering these companions around can be done with a press of the right thumb stick - pressing once will select the person, and a second click will order them around to pick up a certain item, push an obstacle or simply move to the assigned location. The scripted intelligence presented for the secondary characters in the game is a mix between impressive and just plain annoying. When ordering them to move to locations at the same level of sight as they are in, the movement is recognized, even if there are climbable obstacles in the way. The annoying part comes when you need them to move up or down ladders, stairs and holes in the ground - if the ordered companion if somewhat far from the transition area between levels, like a set of stairs, they'll run all the way to the end of the level they are in, and thus, not reach the location you need them to be at. While this can be easily remedied by issuing orders that cover shorter lengths of travel, it can be overly, and needlessly aggravating, especially if a time trial wants to be cleared with a perfect score.
The scoring system in EXIT works in synch with a timer. While the time given by the game is more than enough to finish the levels, by completing them quickly, the overall score will be higher, up to 100 points per level. The scores, while unimportant for the overall completion of Esc's missions, do play a part on the achievements offered in EXIT, and can be uploaded to Xbox Live Arcade's leader boards, in which they can be compared with the times and scores from players across the globe, or with friends in your Xbox Live friends list.
Considering that EXIT started out as a portable game, the aestetic presented is very impressive, although simple. Colorful backgrounds with thick black lining present a feel of playing a caricature of reality throughout the levels. The characters, including Mr. Esc, with his trademark yellow fedora and red scarf, are incredibly simplistic looking, but animate really well. Jumping, crouching, falling and running feels very natural, even if the same cycles are used for the specific character types found in the game, even if these companions are portrayed as different individuals. Bubbles of text pop up as people scream for help, complain and shout out of relief when they reach a level's exit.
As far as the soundtrack goes, the music is upbeat and very electronica, which fits the look of EXIT. Funnily enough, the sound effects, especially the character voices, seem to do their best to detract from the experience - voice clips from Mr. Esc and companions are surprisingly repetitive, with lines being played over and over in the course of seconds. Other sound effects are very plain, and won't be missed in case you decide to turn down the volume for these, and luckily enough, there's an option for all sound effects to be deactivated altogether.
Moving Mr. Esc feels similar to a lot of 2D side scrolling puzzle games, especially Flashback. Levels can be imagined as precision based grids, as Esc's movements fall into these grids, where a push from the stick forward will move the character over one square at a time. By pushing the right bumper, Mr. Esc will run, not being nearly as precise as walking in terms of positioning for jumps, but will obviously be much faster. The left bumper serves as an order button for survivors, with two phases, stop and wait, and follow. Leaving the follow command activated gets increasingly dangerous as the game progresses, due to the unstable programmed intelligence mentioned. While they are prone to waiting next to insurmountable obstacles until further command, sometimes, especially near chasms, jumps will be attempted, and most of the times, they will meet the ground in a very intimate fashion, thus, failing your mission.
For a 800 Microsoft Points game, around ten dollars, EXIT is a very good deal. While some of the quirks mentioned might weigh down on the overall enjoyment of the game, the variety of levels and puzzles, stylish graphics and challenge are enough to keep players interested in helping Mr. Esc's ludicrous escapades.