Escape Plan hands-on preview

Don’t be fooled by Escape Plan’s bland title: this PS Vita game has personality dripping off it like sweat off a stockbroker slipping through the throngs on the street to get to his office. It’s a game that highlights the playfulness of the Vita’s front and back touch panels, where the player directs two lovable ghost-faced lumps via swipes and taps, navigating a perilous and dingy dungeon. The plan? Escape!

The stars are Lil and Laarg: the former is skinny and light on his feet; the latter has the volume of half an elephant and can butt-stomp his way through weak flooring. While the game is in black and white, it shows off the Vita’s impressive range of lights and darks, with the entire stark prison popping out in detailed relief. A series of puzzle rooms stands between Lil, Laarg, and sweet, sweet freedom (they’ve been imprisoned by an amusing tyrant for reasons that remain mysterious as of now). We started off as Lil, simply swiping across his body on the screen to get him moving in a direction. Tapping on him stops him, and we needed to be quick because he’s like a lobotomized lemming, tromping straight into danger.

What makes Escape Plan unique, aside from its charming style, is its use of the Vita almost as a living diorama in your hands. Objects exist within the two-dimensional plane within the Vita, meaning if you tap the screen, objects can slide into the background, but if you tap the back touch pad, objects slide into the foreground. It creates the nifty feeling that the game’s tiny world exists in real space as you pinch the Vita from both sides and see logical results. There are also funny tricks like how you make Lil dash: first he must get hopped-up on coffee, and then you “goose” him by pinching him on both sides of the Vita, squirting him forward like a slippery bar of soap.

We also got to have Lil inhale some air, inflate like a balloon, and then we could guide his ascent by tilting the Vita, further giving the feeling you’re holding the game’s world in your hands. We saw only bit of Laarg, who trundled goofily along and sat his big butt down to break holes in floors, as well as bull-charge through walls. We’re sure he’ll acquire more abilities as the game progresses.

Escape Plan isn’t easy, with death waiting at every step – electrocution, smashing, and falls are everywhere, and it takes some slick timing to keep the affable duo alive. Yet it’s never frustrating, as generous checkpoints mean that death is an amusing pause before the next puzzle gets solved. There’s even an “audience” which laughs at your misfortune, but claps when you achieve success. It’s an odd, intriguing entry in the Vita launch line-up, from the developer of Fat Princess, but it’s also one of the most interesting Vita games we’ve seen so far.

Matthew Keast
My new approach to play all games on Hard mode straight off the bat has proven satisfying. Sure there is some frustration, but I've decided it's the lesser of two evils when weighed against the boredom of easiness that Normal difficulty has become in the era of casual gaming.