Wandering the show floor on Friday before my appointments, I came across the Annapurna booth, which is almost always good for a great game or two at these conventions. Their showcase titles this time out were The Pathless and Maquette but the lines for those two were pretty full so I instead sat down with a pair of their smaller titles, one of which went on to be one of my favorite things at the show.
I knew nothing about The Artful Escape when I sat down to play it. And I’ll be honest: when it comes to the plot or story of the game, I didn’t walk away knowing all that much more. My first impressions were of the art style and character design, which immediately evoked a mix of Headlander and Broken Age, on an alien planet. After a bit of dialogue, it was evident I was on this planet to perform at some sort of space jazz club that was hard to find because it disappears and reappears regularly but never in the same place twice. Intriguing quantum physics-type stuff.
Then began the gameplay with the platforming tutorial usual suspects: use the thumbstick to move, press A to jump (on an Xbox controller), press A in the air to double jump, press X to shred. Wait, go back. What was that last one?
Pressing X brings out an ethereal electric guitar that I could play on command as I platformed across the landscape, filling my headphones with electric guitar. It also had the slight benefit of giving me an extra boost in mid-air but that gameplay note was second to the beautiful music putting a smile on my face, and I’m notably not much of a music guy or a rock and roll fan. As I continued across the alien planet, the landscape began to feature some bouncy spots that were great for giving me more air as I jumped onto higher platforms, striking all sorts of great poses mid-air while continuing to shred. The alien planet then got into the act itself as a new prompt came up to hold X to shred with the environment. The planet was coming alive with fantastical alien fauna providing an otherworldly light and water show to go along with the guitar riffs I was playing. I found myself thinking of the theoretical pitch for this game being, “you know what might make Journey a cooler game: sick electric guitar riffs!”
At the end of the “level,” my ship airdropped a stage setup with lights and speakers and I was introduced to the only other real notable gameplay mechanic from what I’ve seen so far: a Simon Says-type puzzle mini-game. Lights on the stage (or in a later section, an alien creature’s face) would light up in a pattern with each light corresponding to X, Y, B, LB, and RB buttons. Each button corresponded to chords of music and playing the buttons in the correct sequence and timing composed the song I was playing. It took a second to understand the button prompts in both instances so I failed my first couple times but there was no penalty, I just would restart that given sequence. After a few rounds, the light and sound show would play out in a little cut scene and I would move on to the next area.
I don’t know what the broader game or narrative around The Artful Escape will entail, but the art and sound design have me hooked and I will be keeping an eye on it whenever we hear more. I was all too happy to give it my personal Game of PAX 2020 award and can’t wait to learn more from the team at Beethoven and Dinosaur.