YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS: Escape Goat (Nintendo Switch Review)

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m listed in the Special Thanks area of the Escape Goat’s credits. I had nothing to do with its production and was listed by developer Ian Stocker out of gratitude for my efforts as an evangelist for Xbox Live Indie Games in general and Escape Goat specifically. He also stuck Sweetie, my mascot, in Escape Goat 2 as an Easter Egg. If that sounds too lovey-dovey, I should note that I  *REALLY* wanted Escape Goat for the Indie Gamer Chick Bundle for Indie Royale in 2013, which was a bundle I curated with them that was based around the best PC conversions of Xbox Live Indie Games. I didn’t make any money for that, either. I don’t want to. This is my hobby, not my career. Anyway, Ian declined, and since that day I’ve had to call him daily to tell him where I’ve hidden the antidote to the lethal posion I put in his tea. Oh Ian, BTW, it’s behind the couch cushion today. NO, not that one. The love seat. On the left. There you go. Hey, don’t give me that look. YOU’RE the one who left me explaining with a straight face that Little Racers: Street was among the best games on XBLIG, you heartless bastard. Okay, on with the review…….OH HEY, heartless bastard! I have an award for that!

Like OMG Zombies before it, Escape Goat isn’t a You Heartless Bastards “winner” that nobody played. It did okay on various platforms eleven years ago. So, what’s wrong with that? Wouldn’t most indie developers kill for “okay” sales and awareness? Of course they would. But, most developers don’t have games that are this good. That feel decidedly old-school, like a more platforming-centric Solomon’s Key, but also quintessentially modern, like Celeste if it made mozzarella cheese. They don’t have razor-sharp play control, or the perfect balance of testing your brains and raw reaction time, never putting one above the other. There’s thousands of good indie games out there. This very blog has cataloged hundreds over the last eleven years. Escape Goat was one of the first I reviewed, and having just played its re-release on Nintendo Switch eleven years later, it’s still one of the very best. So, forgive me for this predictable outburst, but..

YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS!

How could you let an excellent game like Escape Goat slip through the cracks of history?

Yea, a big part of it going so far under the radar is it got its start on Xbox Live Indie Games. So did I, and like me, it’s been stuck with a following that can be generously described as modest at best. But, at least I have a valid excuse: I ain’t everybody’s cup of tea. On the surface, Escape Goat doesn’t seem like it will be either. It’s a puzzler, and eleven years of staring at my traffic figures has given me an inkling that puzzlers are a tough sell for most gamers. So, what if I told you that Escape Goat is really an action game and that puzzles are the setting but not necessarily the genre?

Solomon’s Key is the closest comparison, and I’m not exactly thrilled to make it on the grounds that it’s not exactly the most famous game of its era, either. Shame, because Solomon’s Key is a damn fine game. You might see me mention in at some point this week on my Twitter timeline, hint hint.

Challenging people’s perceptions of genres is my go-to argument when I try to convince any game’s apprehensive hold-outs to give it a shot. While I’m always sincere, sometimes it can seem like I’m grasping at straws. Like, for example, trying to convince people that Shadow of the Colossus is actually secretly a horror-suspense masterpiece. Thankfully, in the case of Escape Goat, the argument isn’t ambiguous. It is an action game. What struck me most about my replay over the last couple weeks is how my platforming skills carried me to victory a lot more than my puzzle solving ability. Of the over the fifty levels, only a couple made me really stop to think-through the solution. Escape Goat’s puzzle design is simple to reverse-engineer, since it’s built around switches and buttons, some one-time use only, that alter the layout of the level. Sometimes the switches move around the walls, or unveil hidden platforms, or they set-off a chain reaction. It’s usually not hard to figure out what button order will take you to victory. If you mess up, restarting only takes about a second (can’t stress enough that quick-resets are the secret sauce for games like this) so experimenting isn’t a slow, painful process, like trying to follow the Kama Sutra.

This looks like some kind of complicated multi-faceted puzzle that will take a while to work out. In reality, this is a precision-jumping level with a self-evident solution that presents itself to even novice players quickly. Escape Goat leans heavily on thinking on your feet. All four of them. Many puzzles leave you dead within seconds if you don’t start moving, and others, like this one, require you to sprint from point-A to point B when the coast is clear.

So, don’t think Adventures of Lolo or Baba is You. Think Super Meat Boy if the levels were based around brain teasers. You even get a double jump, along with some of the most intuitive movement/jumping physics the genre has. There’s really only one enemy: a grim reaper that shoots fireballs at you when you cross in front of them. Oh, and their fireballs just as often factor into a room’s solution as they do its challenge. Mostly, you die at the hands of environmental hazards, like saw blades or moving platforms. You have to press the right button/switches to grab the keys and open the door. BUT, you have to get to them first, and more than Solomon’s Key, Escape Goat bases that on platforming than puzzling. You get a mouse that can walk up walls, hit buttons for you, and go through small gaps you can’t squeeze through. But, sometimes it also acts as your metronome, and you have to time your own movement through the stages as it hits buttons or draws fire for you. Escape Goat has puzzles, and damn good ones. But it’s about precision movement first and foremost. You know, like an action game.

Super Meat Boy is a better comparison than you’d think. There are multiple absolutely nail-biting jumps and near-miss moments throughout the game. Not one-offs. Escape Goat and its later sequel, which hasn’t come to Switch.. yet.. have to be in the conversation for the most white-knuckle puzzlers ever, which is why they withstand the test of time.

Sigh. I want to shoot straight with you, my readers. I’ve been sitting on this review all week. I’ve rewrote it a dozen times, at least. I feel like I already said everything I could about Escape Goat back in 2011 and have nothing to left to add. Besides any new readers, I don’t think I’m going to convince many hold-outs to give Escape Goat a chance. Or, maybe you already bought it and it’s somewhere on the bottom of your ever-increasing to-do pile. I’m guilty of that with hundreds of games. I get it. But, I do wish people, even those not normally inclined, would give Escape Goat a shot. I know this doesn’t sound like the cocky, wicked Indie Gamer Chick of old who gave developers panic attacks just by saying I was starting their game. I don’t take it personally when I unearth a hidden gem and people don’t line up to bite. You can’t. But, when a game that’s great doesn’t achieve success on the level I feel it deserves, it does hurt my heart. 

There’s a game on Steam called Plug Me that is such a clever action game. Simple concept: the timer is also a platform. So simple, yet, it’s so smart. I adore it. I’m charmed by it. I love it! And I’ve cried over it, because nobody knows about it. I reviewed it, but nobody read it. I name drop it constantly, but nobody can find the time to play it. I’ve bought several copies out of pocket for old friends, and for AAA managers and executives, and for content creators. And all that did nothing for it. Not every game finds its audience, and that shouldn’t be okay, should it? It’s not even that highly ranked on the IGC Leaderboard (#72 out of 637 indies I’ve reviewed), but it’s the principle of the matter, you know? Clever games that are well executed should rise to the top, but they often don’t. How can that not break your heart?

That goat was me.

So, this is being posted 3,994 days after I first reviewed Escape Goat. Nearly eleven years later, and I’ve still not played twenty-five indie games better than it. And yet, eleven years later, and it still feels like this precious hidden gem that I know about and a few people who listen to me know about, but it didn’t gain any real traction among general gaming. Look, it did okay. If Steam user reviews are the barometer, it has nearly 400, so it’s not nothing. It’s not like it ate shit and lost money. So, here’s what I say: give it a shot. And then dig through your ever-growing backlog of games you picked up on sale and give some of them a shot. And tell people about them, and do it from different angles. Look for ways to convince people that they really need to give a quality game that only you seem to know about a shot. And if you find the silver bullet that actually works, make sure to let me know.

Escape Goat is Chick-Approved
IGC Leaderboard Ranking: #25 of 303*
Top 96.1 Percentile of All 637 Games Reviewed
Top 91.7 Percentile of All 303 IGC-Approved Indies
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Escape Goat was developed by Magical Time Bean (Published on Switch by Adam Spragg)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam

$4.99 pondered that GOAT now means “greatest of all-time” when it USED to mean “the person who cost their team the championship” and hey, both of those could apply to LeBron James so it works in the making of this review. Now go play games you’ve been sitting on you heartless bastards.

 

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

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