It’s a feeling that has plagued many of us in different ways, but how we overcome self-doubt sometimes requires us to escape our current reality and see things from a different perspective. And for young Francis Vendetti, that escape becomes a literal one that spans the galaxy. The result is a game propelled by its powerful theme of self-discovery and an adventure that features an outlandish narrative and eye-popping worlds that will relax, intrigue, and inspire you.
The story follows Francis Vendetti’s struggle to conform with what his small, homey town of Calypso expects of him. His uncle was a revered folk singer so he feels obligated to follow in his footsteps and be one himself despite his desire to be a rock star. This conflict causes him to doubt his own skills and not know what to do when his town’s concert approaches and thus becomes the conflict for the game’s narrative.
- One of the most beautiful looking games you will play;
- Relaxing, trippy worlds to play through;
- A peculiar yet provoking narrative.
- Little to no challenge.
What happens next is entirely fantastical or it could have actually happened to Francis – the game does not tell you. He wakes up the night before the show to find out he can summon a guitar whenever he wants and is invited aboard another musician’s spaceship, The Cosmic Lung. Together, he and his crew set sail to different planets to impress each world they visit by treating them to a show.
A game of sorts
Now, The Artful Escape at first seems like a very minimalistic side-scrolling platformer. There isn’t much in the way of “gaming”. There are no enemies to beat, no health bar to worry about, nor upgrades to strive for. If you fall off a ledge, you just get put back there in an instant.
There are no puzzles to solve and you will mainly be running through vast worlds, jumping from ledge to ledge, sliding down vast slopes, and shredding your guitar along the way. What you do stays constant throughout your journey so don’t expect to learn a new ability or be challenged by a new gimmick. It’s all quite easy, but thankfully there are some action sequences that sprinkle in some variety here and there.
Levels also include a concert or duel of sorts with that world’s alien “boss”. On stage, you will need to match a number of button combinations your opponent throws your way to essentially impress them. This is perhaps the most “gamey” part of the game and seamlessly blends in with everything else quite well. Again, don’t expect these to be difficult but merely another hurdle for Francis to overcome and prove to himself he is the artist he doesn’t know he is yet.
Soon, you realize the true strength of the game lies in the metaphor it is for the journey of a musician. Each planet Francis visits lets him piece together parts of his stage persona from his name, origin story, and even appearance. The game respects your choices and tailors how the other characters refer to him on his trip, but these decisions are minimal in terms of how they affect the overall story. This isn’t a game of choice so much as it is a game of self-discovery. No choice is wrong and nothing you do impacts your experience negatively at all.
A beautiful escape
Your guitar allows you to take one extra-long jump as you glide through the air, but it also adds your own soundtrack to the worlds you visit. Playing your guitar also brightens them up, essentially waking these worlds up with your music. Streetlights turn on in the background, strange dinosaur-like creatures wake up, and underground caverns begin to twinkle. It’s all quite beautiful.
All of this makes for a very mesmerizing experience, and each level becomes a feast for your eyes. In fact, I took over 100 screenshots playing through The Artful Escape just because there were so many impressive images before me. Some of them were weird, of course, but that’s what makes this game such a trip.
Each world you visit greets you with such a palette of fluorescent colors, lights, and special effects that the whole thing feels like you’re part of a playable, visual concert. Add to that the rifts you play on your guitar, and the show becomes one you control.
A galaxy of humor
On his journey, Francis also meets a colorful and quite peculiar cast of characters who sometimes say things that make no sense, but you follow them along because of the subdued humorous tone in what they say. The lines you hear are expertly executed by the likes of Lena Headey, Michael Johnston, Jason Schwartzman, and others, but it’s their sarcastic delivery and the gibberish they sometimes say that truly takes the game to another level.
At times, the game feels like an interactive cartoon due to its colorful personality, but also because of how seamless each conversation blends in with the next. You can’t possibly take some lines seriously, yet they are delivered with such a matter-of-fact tone that they become inadvertently hilarious in the process.
As you play through the game, you will begin to question what you are playing – you really will. But after your four-hour trip is over, it will all make sense to you even though it felt like a psychedelic trip at times. Some of what you hear, see, and choose to say will make absolutely no sense at all, but that’s part of its charm. In the end, its expert cast, beautiful worlds, and clever writing together tell a very stimulating story of discovery, despite its otherwise quirky exterior.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com