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Hands-on: Escape Plan: A reason to buy a Vita

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Sony’s PlayStation Vita has quite a diverse spread when it comes to launch software offerings. Compared to previous Sony hardware releases, Vita offers one of the most varied launch lineups ever to befall a PlayStation product. Though big names are plentiful with Uncharted, WipeOut 2048, & Hot Shots Golf, Vita has the recognized software PlayStation faithful have come to love over the years, but the true appeal of Vita’s early days will be unique software like Fun Bits’ Escape Plan.

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Escape Plan is scheduled as a launch day release on the PlayStation Store for Vita, but don’t be turned off upon hearing it’s a downloadable game because this unique puzzler has the makings to be one of Vita’s early showcase software releases & one of the most captivating & innovative puzzle games of the year. Highlighting well over fifty puzzles, Escape Plan’s inventive game design will have you making use of Vita’s many game enhancing features to solve clever puzzles as you guide the ill-starred Lil and Laarg through a challenging labyrinth in hopes of gaining freedom.

Organized as most downloadable games today, you have access to select from the levels you’ve previously completed and make progress accordingly. Each level is aptly named after the task you’ll need to accomplish in the said stage & shows the clever thought process the developers used when piecing the game together. From what we noticed, the level name is the only hint you’ll receive as to how a level is meant to be done. At the end of each stage, you’re given a star rating based on completion speed & number of actions used to beat the stage.

The puzzles Fun Bits have designed are wonderfully crafted to showoff Vita’s touch capabilities – front screen & rear touch-panel. Making use of no buttons, save for the L & R triggers for character swap & the analog stick for stage examination, the core experience is had with Vita’s touch interface & each is used beautifully. Initially, the game slowly introduces the touch controls by requiring a few taps to the screens to wake Lil up & guiding him out of his cell by swiping your finger towards the door.

Things quickly speed up as the game introduces more touch control features. After successfully guiding Lil from his cell, we were presented with the second puzzle, which was still simple in nature. Guiding Lil to the end of a platform, we tapped him to stop, and by using the Vita’s rear touch-panel we made a path from him to cross a gap. By pushing several air ducts out from the wall, Lil walked over them to reach the next door & progress to the next stage – if you see fit you could also tap the air duct with the front touch-screen to push it into the wall.

One of the greatest uses of the front and rear touch mechanics conveyed by Escape Plan became present when a puzzle required us to pinch Vita. This particular stage was centered on careful timing as the bridge between the starting point and finish line would vanish after several seconds. To be successful here, there was a coffee machine located near the beginning and by tapping the machine Lil will grab a coffee and in the process get a caffeine high leading to a burst in speed and energy. Giving Lil a quick pinch had him perform a dash and which easily led him over the vanishing platform.

It’s not all about Vita’s touch interface either as Escape Plan does put the handheld’s motion capabilities to work. One stage had Lil inflate with helium and slowly float about as you’d gently guide him through openings by tilting the system. In certain areas we’d have to lower Lil by giving him a pinch causing him to pass the gas (pun intended) leading to deflation -- pinching also gives a brief burst in speed.

After successfully navigating our way through several of Lil’s stages, it was time to take control of Laarg, a big & slow fellow. One of Laarg’s stages brought forth a new game mechanic: enemies. Stationed on the right side of the screen was Laarg and before him were two open electrical grids & a minion. Covering the grids was simple as a quick tap to the rear panel dropped their door, sealing them for several moments but the enemy required clever strategy. Continuing use of the rear panel, tapping the wall caught the minions’ attention & out of curiosity he followed the sound. By leading him to the electrical grid, the minion stood on the door and was then squashed as an electrical overload caused the door to burst open. With the minion now gone, guiding Laarg over the two electrical grids was simple.

There are levels where Lil and Laarg will be together and you’ll need to swap control between the two to solve the puzzle. Each level has hidden collectibles & acquiring them is as easy giving a quick tap.

As strong as the gameplay was, the game’s soundtrack helped strengthen its personality. Featuring classical pieces which appropriately suited the puzzles, the game conveyed a type of charm that you’d normally find reserved for a Pixar film. Escape Plan doesn’t have much of a narrative, so the music helps transfer the emotion of the characters and situation similar to what music would for a silent film.

Combined with the black & white presentation, music, visual design, and game premise, this Vita title is overflowing with magic. We only saw a brief glimpse of what the game has to offer, but Escape Plan is without question a reason to buy a Vita and is a must-own on launch day.

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