The Artful Escape -- Musical Wunderkind Shuffles Off Dylan and Puts on Bowie

Just played this game (from developer Beethoven & Dinosaur and Annapurna, available on Steam and Game Pass) basically in one sitting.

The Artful Escape is a bit better spectacle than it is a game, but what a spectacle! I don’t think I’ve seen a game with as bold and coherent a visual identity since Trine (omg, that was 12 years ago). It owes as much to 70s prog rock album covers as No Man’s Sky, but brings a lot more imagination to the proceedings. The color knob is turned up to 11. The parallax-scrolling backgrounds go off into infinity. Outer space is not an empty void, but a chest packed with baroque toys.

The game is also more thematically cohesive than most. The whole first level clearly tees up the protagonist’s central struggle, and the rest of the game never takes its eye off that ball: He’s the nephew of a Dylanesque folk musician, roped into performing for the big memorial concert… but clearly his muse is elsewhere. On the cosmic journey that follows, multiple aspects of forging an artistic identity are explored–the pressures of legacy, impostor syndrome, the fickleness of public opinion. It’s the perfect combination of large and small: A boundless cosmic setting used to explore a singular personal situation. Abd unlike a lot of “meaningful” indie games, Artful Escape never attempts to be more profound than it is capable of.

So does it matter that for most of the game you’re just doing a sidescroll run to the right? In the most elaborate sequences, you’re running and jumping and, if you feel like it, holding down a button to wheedle on your guitar, which evokes some extra cosmetic flair in the world around you. If you miss a jump, you quickly respawn a few paces back. You slide down steep hills because, well, sliding while wailing on your flying V looks rad. You could call it a platformer, but it’s almost closer to a walking simulator for all the challenge it presents.

The musical sequences are similarly simple. If you’re like me and you bemoan the fact that most rhythm games are glorified versions of Simon, Artful Escape is definitely not going to bring you any solace. The best that can be said is that the sound and music design makes your scripted button presses feel like they could shake a stadium’s walls. And the back-and-forth between you and each Simonesque bandleader you encounter is not forced into a rigid lockstep. You can start mimicking the other as their sequence is still playing out, and you can play it back in whatever rhythmic timing you feel like. To the game’s credit, this somehow ends up sounding virtuosic instead of rudimentary.

So while the challenge level is meager enough to prevent your button-mashing ability from affecting the game’s outcome, there are nevertheless a number of critical choices that have a lasting effect. You get to name your glam-rock persona, and hear the name echoed by others (sort of, via a creative method) for the rest of the story, as well as invent an alien biography for your personal Ziggy Stardust. Midway through you get to dress your Ziggy using a large array of wild hair and clothing options. These choices feel a lot more important than your skill at double-jumping–and rightfully so, since they all have to do with the game’s central theme of identity.

I could break the game down further–talk about the lively vocal performances by recognizable talent like the great Carl Weathers, or the pleasant depart-and-return structure that smartly enhances the cosmic sweep of the game instead of constraining it. Or the pitch-perfect gonzo language used to describe the game’s sci-fi rock-opera universe… But none of it will make as much of an impression as the images that will caress your retinas as you play. Layers and layers of space-clouds. Airships, space cruisers, and warp turtles. Giant chromosquitos dive-bombing the dunes of a wasteland planet. Weird aliens galore.

If calling a game an “experience” is a trigger-word for you, signaling shallow gameplay and indulgent cutscenes, then maybe The Artful Escape isn’t for you. But if a unique experience is exactly what you go to gaming for, then go ahead and soak this one up. You’re subscribed to Game Pass (right?) so you have nothing to lose!

I would love the game if after 50 fails it moved you to the next part.

I did sorta feel bad saying it’s not challenging while knowing you’ve gotten stuck by the platforming, copeknight.

At the risk of sounding patronizing: Do you know you can play your guitar in the air to effectively get a triple jump?

No worries. I suck at any sort of action sequences in games. I will try the guitar trick.

My current issue is trying to get into the closing window (?) in the city you need the ticket to enter—I just can’t time it anywhere close to right. In frustration, I went back to Hades.

The only tricky part I remember in the entire game is one where you have to use both the double jump AND the ‘play guitar’ button which gives you a small third jump if done in the air, to reach the other side.

It’s definitely more interactive art piece than game. I do find it a bit dull though, about halfway through any level you’ve basically seen what the level has to offer and the music is just repetitive noodley guitar solos. Mechanicaly the game is very simple.

Is this the part where you just need to hold X (strum) in the air to air walk the light bridge? Are you keeping the button pressed?

No, it’s where you are being “chased” through a city because your outfit isn’t cool enough.

Strumming the guitar got me through the closing window/doorway. I’m thankful for the @Nightgaunt tip. Unfortunately there are now towers (or something) for me to jump between but with my lack of spatial skills (hooray for a lazy eye; at least that’s always been my go-to excuse) that may be doable with practice.

That’s the thing with GamePass: I’d never ever buy a game like this because I know I lack the ability to finish it. But GP lets me experiment. Here, the experimentation is frustrating because I like the game for what it is, but I don’t think it will be accessible for me to finish. Who knows, though, maybe I will git gud at the baby platformer. :)

Hey cool, this game has its own thread! I played this over the last day or so - it’s quite short. And after playing Twelve Minutes and … not really feeling it, this game was a very pleasant surprise. I can’t deny that in the game side of things, it’s fairly light. More of an interactive experience? If those words even mean anything. Low on challenge, definitely, and not a lot to do except push the stick right and jump occasionally, followed me even less frequent Simon-like shredding minigames.

But it grabbed me! Its tone is like Yellow Submarine blended up with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as a young man finds his way in a much larger, and much more psychedelic universe than he had ever been aware of. So in some regards, yawn, it’s another coming-of-age kind of thing. But it’s very surefooted in weaving its way through all these sights and places and weird alien beings, and I was constantly pulled along in its wake to see what bizarre and colorful thing it was going to show me next.

I might feel differently if I had put down say, $20 for it. As I said it’s quite short and I don’t really see myself playing through it again. But if you’re a Game Pass subscriber, I think it’s totally worth a look. It’s not really like anything else out there.

yeah, there was exactly one jump I got stuck on a bit in Glimmer. I never got the triple jump to work there. But I discovered that you could make the jump all the way from the platform before the one I was stuck on, and that worked first try.

I don’t know what I just watched, but I liked it.

I just finished this in three sittings and I thought it was awesome! Played via gamepass on XSX. Absolutely beautiful game with so much imagination and creativity.

I mostly didn’t care for this game. It’s a trivially easy endless runner with bits of Simon thrown in. The art was creative throughout, and that’s the element I enjoyed the most. The music sounded amazing for a while, but for almost the whole game it had very little variety in mood, tempo or style. Maybe if I had played it in smaller chunks it would have left a better impression.