Escape Goat Review: King of this Mountain

I’ll be the first to confess that puzzle games are not my forte. I didn’t enjoy the wildly heralded Portal and only spent a brief period of time with its successor. So naturally when I picked up Escape Goat for review, I was initially a bit hesitant. Would this game really offer me something I would enjoy? After playing through Magical Time Bean’s latest title, I can graciously say yes.

Players begin with 10 pre-determined levels that provide a brief tutorial along the way before entering the main chamber. From there, gamers can selection 1 of 8 dungeons to enter to continue their journey, for a total of 64 stages. The goal of each stage is straightforward – reach the door at the other side of the map. This is done in a variety of ways, such as pressing switches, ramming and stacking blocks, or maneuvering them to allow for enemies to continue along their set paths and move out of your way (or into an awaiting buzz saw).

Along your adventure you’ll befriend a mouse who assists you by reaching places that would otherwise be inaccessible. He does this in a combination of ways, whether by fitting within small cavities, climbing along walls, or lying prone when told to do so. This is particular is useful when trying to hold down pressure-sensitive switches.  In addition to these tasks, you can also acquire a hat that allows your goat to instantly teleport to the mouse’s location, although this is only made available on a stage-by-stage basis. Finally, by jumping in the air, you can also throw your mouse (out of your pocket?) against walls. It will then cling to it, Spider-Man style, and continue along the wall’s path.

Your goat has a set of talents of his own, including the ability to double jump. Making good use of his horns (and what goat wouldn’t?) your goat can jump in the air and then project himself forward to destroy select blocks.

With each progressing chamber, the puzzles become more intricate and involved. I found myself staring blankly at the screen for a few moments, trying to piece together in my head what the solution would look like on screen, but I  was never frustrated to the point of leaving. It was those “aha!” moments that struck me over the head and made me think “why didn’t I see that in the first place?” that kept my journey progressing. Never did I feel as though I was too overwhelmed by any of the puzzles, which initially seem quite daunting, as the simplicity of the game meant that the solution was only a few moves away.

Included with Escape Goat is a level editor that I found to be deeper than most titles in their entirety on XBLIG. This straightforward tool allows gamers to easily create and manipulate dungeons of their own to craft puzzles. Furthermore, it allows you to get into the mind of the developer and appreciate how he managed to assemble the stages you’ve just completed. I credit the developer with the ingenuity found in many of the levels, because my time with the editor showcased only my lack of talent to create anything resembling a puzzle.

Escape Goat’s art style mimics that of Magical Time Bean’s last two titles, SoulCaster and SoulCaster II, and focuses heavily on nostalgia from the 8-bit era with its limited color palette and strict use of pixels. The score is the shining element in Escape Goat, however. A veteran sound designer in the gaming industry before becoming a full time developer, Ian Stocker continues to show us what he’s capable of. The 80s synth-inspired soundtrack will have your head bobbing and your goat chugging along. You can also find it on the developer’s site for the convenient price of “pay what you want.”

My gripes with Escape Goat are limited, but large. Gamers have the ability to save at any time by selecting to do so in the menus, but are never made aware of the fact that the game does not save your progress automatically. I can only imagine the frustration on someone’s face when they return the next day and find that they are starting back at their original location. The developer is aware of the issue, and stated that it was on his wish list of items to implement in the game. Moreover, the Mega-Man style “choose your next dungeon” may not be for everyone. There’s no way to tell if one dungeon is more difficult than another, although each provides distinct appearances.

Escape Goat is a rare breed in that it has appeal to fans of both puzzle and platformer style games. The simplicity of the game along with the constant need to consider a few moves ahead offers a refreshing change from most of the titles found on the XBLIG marketplace. For $3, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal on a puzzle game elsewhere. It is with that, which allows us to rate Escape Goat 4 out of 5 chewed tuna cans.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Escape Goat was provided for review by Magical Time Bean. It can be purchased on the Xbox Marketplace for $3 (240 MS points) and there is a free demo available.

Posted on by Dave Voyles in Reviews, xblig, XBLIG Reviews

About Dave Voyles

Dave is located in Philadelphia, and works as a Tech Evangelist at Microsoft. He's coordinated the Indie Games Uprisings on Xbox Live, wrote the UnrealScript Game Programming Cookbook, Made an XBLIG game, and is currently doing JS / HTML5 dev for browser base games. You can follow him on Twitter, at @DaveVoyles