Have you ever seen a computer virus in action? The way they invade your computer, corrupt your files, and destroy all of your precious data leaving your trusty laptop or desktop PC as nothing more than an empty vessel. They really are something to be fearful of, but let’s be honest, with a trusting anti-virus, most of us have never had to worry about such things. Sadly, one old lady, known by her computer as alice34, wasn’t so lucky!
Coming from the mind of solo developer Will Traxler at Traxmaster Software, Exception is a transforming platform adventure in which players take on the role of a combat robot known as a software thread. From there they are left to fight through the internals of an old lady’s computer after a virus has been accidentally downloaded, forcing all manner of deadly critters to invade and breakdown her everyday laptop.
It runs as a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, designed in a fully functional 3D world with levels and environments that transform as you progress. Now I know what you’re probably thinking… do we really need another platformer? With the genre already catering to everything we could already wish for in some form or another, it’s hard to see how another one could really provide much that’s different from the rest, Exception however is kind of an… exception, if you like.
The goal here is to take your software thread and race through the neon coloured levels, attacking and killing the virus as you go. It sounds simple, and in principle it is, provided you can manoeuvre through platforms quick enough. But it’s not all easy going and there is a fair bit of challenge to be had once you begin making progress through the 128 levels that are spread across the 16 worlds.
Combat is a big part of the gameplay, and within each level, the timing of attacks can be the make or break of a fast run. What you are aiming for during play is to make it to the end of the level in the quickest time possible. Trying to stop you are various enemy critters that are littered throughout and whilst they don’t really pose all too much of a threat early on, with little damage output and very low health levels, later stages do see the challenge increase at a steady rate; although never too much that it feels too difficult.
To get past, you can either simply avoid them altogether, or choose to attack. Moving by unnoticed certainly allows the chance to get through different areas at a much faster rate and for fans of speedrunning out there, this is definitely the best way to pick up the very fastest times; something which is important should you want to make it to the very top of each individual leaderboard. For the casual player though, going through and avoiding everything won’t prove quite as exciting and that’s where the combat does a great job of livening things up.
Combat is simply tied down to the X button, but it is more than capable of putting enemies to the floor. Where the timing comes into play is the speed at which each level is intended to be played. You see, running at fast speeds in a platformer can be helpful, especially when it comes to reaching that ledge or making that jump, but when hazards are introduced and you need to time attacks to hit them as you move at speed, or an enemy unexpectedly pops up, you need to be on the ball in order to not ruin a potentially leaderboard topping time.
With a star system in place and hundreds of leaderboards, there is plenty of reason to head back time and time again to try and shave a little extra off each level, and with jumping and combat proving smooth and fluid, there is no reason even a newbie to the speedrunning genre couldn’t achieve some impressive times.
The score for each level doesn’t just come down to speed however; it also factors in style with things like time spent wall-hugging and enemies killed all recorded.
The things that really change up Exception from your typical platform experience are the level transitions. Transition occurs by making contact with one of the floating orbs within a stage and immediately you’ll find the level shifting and rotating, turning walls into ceilings and floors into walls. That may well be a rather simple feature on paper, but the difference it makes to the layout of a level is actually really impressive, however, personally, it would be nice to see enemies and level items also change surfaces too!
Another feature to note within Exception is the upgrade system. As you progress through levels, progress can be seen on a bar that appears and when you get the bar to the end, the next upgrade unlocks. These usually come in the form of new attacks and once you’ve unlocked a few, the way in which you approach each stage is much more open, and this ensures that the early repetitive feel of combat begins to feel a lot more varied.
The strongest element of Exception is without a doubt found in the audio and visual side of things. Visually, Exception brings a strong retro vibe, with a Tron-like neon design and robotic nature really shining. As for the audio, it brings together some of the finest Synthwave artists out there and to say it resonates well with the gameplay is an understatement. If you like your music lively, then chances are you’ll like what you hear within Exception and with a fast beat to match the fast gameplay, there is no denying that each track complements the experience perfectly.
One thing that surprised me though was just how much the story mattered – or didn’t as it was. Whilst there is indeed a narrative available, which unlocks as you progress and is played through cartoon style comic cutscenes, it isn’t exactly something that’s going to keep you enthralled. It’s fine that at no point does the experience ever really feel like a lesser experience because of it, as the gameplay does a fantastic job of keeping engagement levels high throughout all on its own, but a bit more depth would have been nice.
The final thing to note are the boss levels; I have to say I have felt a little disheartened. At first glance the majority of bosses have all the hallmarks of a memorable fight – they are big, menacing and they can cause a fair bit of damage should you be paying little attention. However if you’re hoping for a decent challenge, then chances are unless you’re relatively new to platforming you’re not going to find any real challenge here. Sure, they certainly look the part, but due to Exception not having any set difficulty level, there’s nothing that really makes these enemies any harder than your typical enemy during a normal level. And as a boss fight, they should really be much more memorable than that.
Overall though and if you like bright lights, music that can carry a beat and have a tendency to dip into the speedrunning market, then Exception on Xbox One is a game you can find enjoyment in. If you’re after a fascinating story and exciting boss fights, you will probably want to look elsewhere, but for the most part Exception is a more than capable platformer that brings plenty of variation through transforming levels, offers a ton of content and has some highly addictive gameplay elements to be enjoyed.