I love when artists showcase their multifaceted talents across different mediums; it's like incidentally rediscovering what initially drew you to them. I immediately suspected The Artful Escape was one such example. Conceived by The Galvatrons’ co-founder and lead guitarist, Johnny Galvatron (if that is your real name!), Beethoven & Dinosaur sought to make a rock odyssey within a 2D platformer. How does this team's first album fare?
Since he picked up a guitar, Francis Vendetti has been living under the shadow of his uncle Thomas (effectively Bob Dylan in this universe). The folk musician is a mythical figure to both the genre and the humble town of Calypso, with his "Pines" album selling over 10 million copies. He's gone but Francis can easily fit the bill, right? But folksy songs about rugged miners or nature's seasons don't drive Francis' imagination. As though hearing his unspoken plea for inspiration, the titular Lightman (Carl Weathers) magically descends from empyrean heights – while proudly playing his guitar – to offer Francis the support guitarist role in his intergalactic concert.
Finding Your Voice
From his first official concert being a glorified tribute to his deceased uncle to entertaining every creature in the known universe, things quickly escalate for this humble guy. That's one of my favorite aspects of this story. Perhaps it seems a bit "hurried," but that fits the enthusiasm coursing through its veins. The envisioned glam-rock maverick Francis sees within himself against pre-built societal expectations is there for the taking! Why settle for appeasing a small town when your honest creativity can be beamed to every human and alien simultaneously? That increased tempo, paired with the incredible vistas you roam, clicked with me.
There's a similar excitement within the whimsical dialogue too. Imagine Carl Weathers gleefully saying this: "Kid, you'll be riding a chicken tender across Saturn's rings while your fingers catch fire during a 27-minute rock ballad if you put your soul into your music." To be clear, that line isn’t in The Artful Escape; but you can infer how out-there it can get. A plethora of the fun wordplays in this script must’ve been scribbled during a good acid trip.
The writing has some flubs, most notably with Violetta's occasionally grating attitude, but its earnestness never lets up. The central message about swimming against societal currents is simple yet effectively handled here. The voice actor list is relatively limited but filled with respectable talent. Besides the aforementioned Weathers, Lena Headey and Mark Strong are some of the other supporting cast as well. When considering this along with its succinct story, decent humor, and great editing, you could've convinced me that The Artful Escape was Edgar Wright getting into games.
Playing For The Galactic Masses
Similar to the story, the game design took a turn I wasn't expecting. This time that's not an effusive compliment. It has the control basics of 2D side-scrolling, the frequent pit to leap across, and... that's pretty much it. There's a typical jump system: one jump, double-jump, and triple-jump enabled by strumming your materialized techno-guitar in mid-air. Even though you rarely need to do 'guitar glides,' I exploited it during any jump phase to admire the polish. These platforming bits are competently done but they're so rudimentary in design. Aside from platforms, the only thing filling your time is guitar-strumming (holding the X button) bringing the world to life whilst running from right to left.
The gameplay chorus are Simon-Says concert segments. Regardless of whom you're entertaining, there's a universal template for playing the right tune: 3 face buttons (X/Y/B buttons) and the 2 shoulder buttons (LB/RB). You follow whichever lights turn on to succeed. Again, it's straightforward with no surprises. What separates my appreciation here from the basic platforming is the palpable visual-tactile synesthesia thanks to the marvelous presentation. The way the tunes, the laser show, and other elements connect makes the short hike worthwhile. I was practically jamming my fingers through the controller when holding those final stinging chords.
Balancing Gameplay & Presentation
This plain-jane core can put some people off – and it detracts my engagement too, but I partly sympathize with the intent. Beethoven & Dinosaur were primarily focused on that journey of Francis, and you as the player, discovering his true artistic persona. It's understandable why this core feels so limited. There are a couple of supplementary extras, such as modest dialogue and wardrobe options, which compliment that intent too. It's just slightly annoying to think that more of... something could've been done, be it exploration or otherwise.
For all my bickering about the mechanical limitations, The Artful Escape's audio-visual experience knows how to thoroughly distract you. Even when the platforming is at its most typical, the varied alien locales consistently keep your attention. The dynamism on display during the musical numbers or pre-stage interactions feel so passionately composed. Each world is ornamented with flora and fauna that'll react to your casual guitar-playing as you're crossing paths. The psychedelic landscapes feel like you're experiencing Bowie's trippy albums in real-time. Guaranteed in the running for best visuals of 2021.
Along with the professional voice acting, composer Johnathan Abrahams did a great job exuding the essence of folk & glam-rock. The concert portions wouldn't be the same without the consistent hits. One sound design detail I particularly respected was the mixing of the soundtrack with the diegetic guitar riffs Francis makes while platforming. Considering how discordant those two could’ve sounded, it was no easy task to smoothly blend those two together. The only prominent sound annoyance was the times dialogue between characters dropped out, which frequently occurred.
The Great Escape
Value won't be an easy sell for those looking for long hours or high replayability in their platformers. The $20 asking price for a linear 3-4 hour experience with very few extra goodies may be a tough sell. Fortunately, it's releasing on Game Pass as well. Even without Game Pass, I still think the value consideration is better appreciated by being a succinct experience with a near-impeccable presentation. Taking center stage in this glamorous, universe-spanning, dimension-altering rock opera is the kind of Hell Yes! experience I was craving.
The Artful Escape's peripatetic rock-opera odyssey found a way to charm me despite notable limitations. It's been pared down of most gameplay variety and rewarding exploration, but it's compensating in every other respect. The environments, the scenarios, the music, the enthusiasm, and more are so diverse and interesting that I had to press onwards. Beethoven & Dinosaur's first album isn't without sizable warts, but the infectious passion is felt through each track.
TechRaptor reviewed The Artful Escape on Xbox Series X using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One.
- Impressive Psychedelic Visuals
- Succinct, Earnest Story
- Dazzling, Engaging Concert Sections
- Solid Collection Of Various Music Genres
- Rudimentary & Unchallenging Platforming
- Little Reward For Exploration Outside Prescribed Path
- Occasional Technical Issues With Dialogue