Before PAX South I had never heard of The Artful Escape. I'm sort of wondering how it could escape my notice because it is totally my jam. Literally. The Artful Escape centers around an up and coming electric guitar player, who spends plenty of time wandering in his own mind and trying to create the perfect identity for himself. His wanderings are absurd, yet beautiful.
I can't quite remember exactly what scene caught my eye first, but there's so many of them from our demo that I absolutely loved. The demo starts with Francis, our teenage rocker, finding himself teleported to a mysterious planet and being instructed to find a jazz club that never appears in the same place twice. His plan once he gets to this club? Well, you can pick from several options, but my favorite involved him playing so hard that he literally dies on stage. Of course, you can't enact this plan unless you find the club first.
The game takes place as a 2d platformer, with Francis able to jump and play his guitar at any time. Playing the guitar is rather hilarious, as Francis just pulls it out and starts jamming. Running in the desert? Shred on the guitar. Jumping over a bottomless gap? No better time to play. Sliding down a waterfall? You better believe you can make a soundtrack to go with this. It doesn't serve much gameplay purpose, but it's just absolutely amazing anyway, and there was no point where I wasn't shredding.
Visually, however, the environment often reacts to your guitar playing. One scene saw Francis running by some mysterious bug-like creatures. Playing the guitar near them caused some inflatable sacs on their back to fill, and they suddenly took off, like strange balloons. Another section saw fish fly out of the water, and act like fountains to herald Francis' arrival. Moments like these really caught my eye and had me watching in wonder.
Perhaps, however, this is the one big issue I had with my demo of The Artful Escape. There's really very little to this platforming. I wasn't actually sure there was any way to fail or die during this segment, it just seemed to be getting from point A to B with guitar shredding in the middle of it. Maybe later segments will introduce challenges of a sort. Still, even if this is all it is, I love it already.
At the end of the platforming segment, Francis found his club and I got to see the other major gameplay style of The Artful Escape. This part saw Francis locked in one place, only able to play his guitar. Three of the controllers face buttons and the two shoulder buttons served as different notes he could hit. Behind him was a display that had each button corresponds to a different shape, and the creature he was playing with had a face that vaguely matched that display. When a part of the creature lights up, I had to play the note that it matched.
When it comes to the gameplay there are no two ways around it: this is basically just a glorified Simon Says. That's not really a bad thing though, as I had enough fun paying attention and hitting notes. Visually, and musically, this was an amazing treat. Reminding me of the scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where the humans talk to the UFO with music, it's rather stunning to watch. I can't wait to see more creatures that Francis gets to "talk" to in his intergalactic mental journey.
Really, while there may not have been much to The Artful Escape's gameplay, there was plenty to love about the game visually. Will the trips into Francis' head keep getting more and more insane like the one I got to play? Oh man, I really hope so. There's so much potential for this journey of self-exploration and galactic jam sessions that I'm so glad I discovered this game so I can see more.
The Artful Escape is launching some time in 2020 for PC, Xbox One, and iOS.