Every so often we find a game where the story of the developer is potentially more interesting than the actual game itself. There was Freediving Hunter: Spearfishing The World, where the mind behind it escaped from Cuba, and then supported his family by freediving and catching fish to eat. Well, there’s another entry in this particular league table now, as the creator of Escape from Life Inc is a 15 year old Swedish developer, who has been working on the game for the last 18 months. If it was a numbered EA Sports game I’d have no difficulty slating it, but it just feels different when we are critiquing the work of someone so new and fresh to the scene; someone who has devoted 10% of their life to the game we’re looking at. But critique we must…
Coming from Powerburger is Escape from Life Inc, which is described as a “quirky story driven puzzle platformer”. The heroes of the game are certainly a quirky bunch: there’s a fish called Bob, an arrogant eagle called Ern and a stuttering reindeer called Rick. Each character is introduced to us via the medium of a prologue, with Bob being tasked by his mother with finding some breakfast before he goes to school. Once he has eaten, he is sucked up in a pipe to goodness knows where. Ern is challenged to use his flying abilities to not only fly through some rings, but to also then investigate a loud noise, where he is likewise captured. Rick has the strangest opening, as he is ridiculed by Santa Claus and Rudolph for his stammer, and sent out into the cold to be alone. As Rudolph comes in for a little more light taunting, a UFO appears and takes Rick away. The rest, as they say, is history!
Awakening in a kind of alien zoo, the three animals soon meet up, and must then use their skills to work together to escape the world they find themselves in. Each has a special power that they can utilise to help the group as a whole make progress. Bob, for reasons that are never clearly explained, has been fitted with cybernetic legs, and so can now walk and run, jump and (probably) skip, as well as being able to dive into water and swim about. Ern can fly, and so can reach switches that are literally over the heads of the other two creatures, and Rick has a nifty line in headbanging, which can break crates and weaker walls. By choosing the right animal at the right time, progress can be made through the puzzle platform sections.
Now, if, like me, you are sat there thinking “this all sounds a bit familiar”, there’s a good reason for this. Replace the animals with Vikings, and you basically have The Lost Vikings, one of the games from Blizzard’s back catalogue; a game that was released not too long ago. The similarities are many and varied, even down to the way that friends can control each of the characters. It is surely “inspired” by that game.
Now, graphics are the next thing to look at on my reviewer’s big checklist of things to talk about, and so I will. There is a certain naivety about the visuals on display here, or if I’m not being pretentious, they look like they were drawn by someone much younger than I; which of course they were. While they certainly aren’t going to give the Xbox Series X that I’m reviewing the game on any difficulty, or indeed cause it to break a sweat, they are charming in their own way. Bob the fish, with his spindly little legs, is particularly cute.
The creatures you meet on your travels are similar in design, and finding a jellyfish that wants you to find a mushroom is pretty soon just taken in your stride. Sound design is pretty minimal as well, with the conversations with the various denizens of this alien lab carried out by the time honoured convention of text boxes. Presentation wise, Escape From Life Inc is all pretty good, with a quirky (there’s that word again) art style and various cringeworthy puns thrown in.
So, gameplay is the next area we need to look at, and again, I can feel the “Q” word scurrying towards my fingertips as I type this. It’s basically a puzzle platformer, firmly in the 2D and viewed from a side-on perspective. As you explore, you’ll find various switches that have to be depressed in order to make progress, and it’s then a case of working out which animal is best placed to reach said switch. Each character can also push blocks around, and sometimes switches need to have blocks placed on them to hold them down. At the exit to each room is a signpost with the pictures of the three animals on it, and they must assemble at this point in order to complete the room. Of course, exploration is also rewarded, as there are other captured animals to rescue, and if you rescue them all, something good may just happen. At least, there is an achievement hinting at such.
In conclusion, Escape from Life Inc on Xbox is an engaging little game that, although short, has enough about it to keep you wanting to go back to it. I can’t put my finger on what exactly the X-Factor is, but there is certainly an appeal about the characters and their struggles. Yes, the controls are wayward every now and again, and it’s not the most technologically advanced game ever, but what it has in bucket loads is heart.
It’s quirky, it’s fun, and the developer has a bright future in front of them.