Escape Goat 2

From July 1, 2012 to July 26, 2013, the top ranked game on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard was Escape Goat, an incredible platform-puzzler by Ian Stocker. I’ve played dozens upon dozens of puzzlers since starting Indie Gamer Chick, and it stood out. It didn’t have the most difficult puzzles, but the ingenuity of the puzzle design left a big impression on me. It was one of the first games I played that made me realize that indies in many ways have eclipsed big studios in terms of creativity and intelligence of design. But, what impressed me most of all about Escape Goat was how this was a puzzler that anyone could play. Compare it to something like Gateways, which is probably the most brainy puzzler ever created. Less than 1% of all people who purchase that game ever finish it, even on it’s “easy” mode. Which is not a knock on it. As of this writing, it ranks #9 on my Leaderboard. The game is genius. The problem is, the learning curve is so steep that you practically have to be a genius to get the most out of it. Escape Goat was challenging enough to give anyone making their way through it a sense of satisfaction, but not so smart that anyone would be likely to walk away and never return. Sort of like what I’ve been known to do with punishers. Damn you 1001 Spikes, you refried bastard of a game, you.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t a revolutionary upgrade on the original by any means. It’s still built around single-screen puzzles that are solved by activating a series of switches that alter the layout of each stage. You still have a mouse helper that you use to squeeze through narrow passageways, transfer places with, or to activate switches. And it still contains equal parts platforming and puzzling, a balance that many of its genre cousins have trouble maintaining. It’s safe to say that Escape Goat 2 is more of an evolutionary step. When this is the case, I typically find the sequel to be satisfactory, but leaving less of an impression on me. Mario Galaxy 2, Kingdom Hearts II, and Arkham City all left me feeling that. That’s what makes Escape Goat 2 such a surprise. It not only feels fresh, but that sense of awe and discovery that hooked me with the original happened to me again and again, as I watched floors and walls shift around to reveal the pathway to victory stage after stage. It reminded me the staircases at Hogwarts, or the some of the elaborate boobytraps from the Indiana Jones franchise. In this sense, Escape Goat and Escape Goat 2 hold a unique distinction for me on the indie scene: they’re the only games that made me totally revert back to my childhood. Not even Journey managed to accomplish this. For this reason, Escape Goat 2 is the first game since Journey that made me debate whether it should go on top of the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I'm a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

No, my mascot making a cameo did not influence my feelings. Truth is, I’m a little insulted by the lack of stature it was given. It should have been a miniboss, at least.

As an evolutionary version of Escape Goat, the sequel features new styles of puzzles. Sometimes you’ll acquire the ability to manipulate four mouses at once. Other times, you’ll have to turn the mouse into a block, either to act as a shield or to smash platforms below you. Unlike the first game, levels unfold in a slightly more linear way. One of the fatal weaknesses of the original game was that the levels could be tackled in any order. For this reason, the difficulty couldn’t be scaled. The sequel not only fixed this, but it contains one of the finest difficulty curves the indie puzzle scene has ever seen. Even when you later open up new stages that link off the opening levels, those new levels feature the proper scaling of difficulty. Is it perfect scaling? Of course not. Even big budgeted games by some of the biggest names in gaming rarely nail the curve, and indies never do. Having said that, Escape Goat 2 comes the closest. Considering how bad the first one screwed the pooch in this area, I thought it was worth mentioning.

Like the first Escape Goat, I found the controls to be exceptional. I was actually shocked to learn that people are complaining about them. I’ve reviewed 472 indies as of today, with the highest percentage of them being platformers. Proper platforming controls are among the most difficult things to get right. I never once felt the controls failed me. If I died, it’s because I fucked up, not the controls. The jumping is so natural that your limitations become instinctive almost immediately. Maybe I had an easier time because I enjoyed Escape Goat 2 with an Xbox One controller, but really, even some very good indie platformers struggle with controls. I would rank my experience with Escape Goat 2 second only to Super Meat Boy in terms of how instinctive they become. I can think of no higher praise.

I don’t want this to sound like a digital blowjob. Believe me, I have some bones to pick with Escape Goat 2. My biggest gripe: the lighting effects. Many of the stages are lit in a way where you have to explore them to get a proper lay of the land. It sounds great in theory, but I felt it took away from the majesty of discovery, which is where Escape Goat really shines. It’s the same thrills that make movies like National Treasure and Tomb Raider bearable to watch. Unfortunately, those moments in Escape Goat 2 are often shrouded in darkness (even when you turn the image brightness up in the options), and that’s really a shame. I’m also still not a fan of when the stages center less around puzzling and more around simple precision platforming. Although I argue that Escape Goat 2 does platforming very well, it’s not the game’s calling card, and those stages feel almost phoned in.

Escape Goat 2 also does that annoying thing where one of the unlockable super powers can only be achieved by dying X amount of times (in this case, 400 god damned times). I *hate* it when games do that. Thomas Was Alone did it too. Granted, TWA did it in a way that confirmed my fucking awesomeness, but this shit is like rewarding players for incompetence. Picture if we did this in all walks of life. Did you watch the last Superbowl? Remember when the Broncos gave up a fucking safety right off the bat? Imagine if they followed that up by dousing their coach with Gatorade while the players that fucked up gave each other chest bumps and high fives, all while the beleaguered Seahawks watched on in dumbstruck awe. You wouldn’t give them a fucking achievement for that. And yet gaming now does this on a consistent basis.  STOP IT!! The point is to not die!

Unless you’re one of those games where the point actually is to die.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

See what I mean about the lighting? Why is it every game has to be so damn dark and mopey these days? Do you know what the indie development scene needs most of all? A fucking psychiatrist.

Escape Goat 2 isn’t revolutionary. It won’t change the way you feel about gaming, one way or another. So it surprises me that I actually had to stop and think about whether I enjoyed it more than Journey. It ultimately came down to this: Escape Goat 2 made me do that “revert back to a giggling, wide-eyed child” thing that games like Portal and Super Mario Galaxy did for me. I crave those moments. They’re so very rare. I give the nod to Journey because it’s the only indie I played that took me places emotionally that I never expected any game would do. I hope that doesn’t detract anyone from giving Escape Goat 2 a whirl. After all, I am comparing the best indie I’ve ever played to the second best indie I’ve ever played. Because, as of this writing, that’s exactly what Escape Goat 2 is. A magnificent title from a rare breed of talent. A game that makes me proud of what I do here at Indie Gamer Chick.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to the game and kill myself another 304 times. Because Ian Stocker is that much of an asshole.

Escape Goat 2 logoEscape Goat 2 was developed by Magical Time Bean

IGC_Approved$9.99 is so hungry it could eat a goat burger. I have no clue what that means, but my late partner Kevin used to say that every day in the making of this review. Do goats taste nasty or something?

Escape Goat 2 is Chick-Approved and ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard.


The Future of Indie Gamer Chick

It’s been 580 days since I started Indie Gamer Chick.  In that time, I’ve reviewed 352 games, 327 of which are for Xbox Live Indie Games.  My participation in the XBLIG community has been nothing short of life changing for me.  Sometimes my reviews aren’t exactly nice, so being embraced by developers was not something that I expected.  I feel like I’ve been adopted by a loving, nurturing family.  Yea, Xbox Live Indie Games don’t always produce the highest quality of titles, but that’s the price you pay for having an open platform.  For all the bitching people (including myself) do about some truly abysmal games that were intended to be bad from the get-go, it’s all worth it.  It created a place where talented, enthusiastic dreamers could create and market their very own video games.

Proof that XBLIG isn't dead: there's some very exciting looking titles still on the horizon.  This is Ring Runner, coming this Summer.  Click the picture for a trailer.

Proof that XBLIG isn’t dead: there’s some very exciting looking titles still on the horizon. This is Ring Runner, coming this Summer. Check out their YouTube channel by clicking the picture.

Unfortunately, word from Microsoft leaked this week that XNA, which is the sole development language of Xbox Live Indie Games, has begun to be phased out.  While not discontinued, XNA is now classified as “no longer under development.”  Along with this, all current XNA MVPs will be relieved of their duties on April 1, 2014.  This has caused widespread mourning among the XBLIG community.  Mind you, we’re over a year away from the date that MVPs are being let go.  Still, the future of Xbox Live Indie Games, which was always shaky at best, now seems downright bleak.

To clear-up some misconceptions for those non-hardcore XBLIG fans that read me, Xbox Live Indie Games are, to the best of my knowledge, not being removed from the Xbox 360 Marketplace at this time.  In fact, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be around for at least another year.  If the time comes where membership to the App Hub is stopped, then you can feel free to panic.  However, there’s no question that XBLIGs as we know them today will cease to exist sometime in the future.  Hopefully some questions will be answered with the next generation Xbox is unveiled in the coming months.

Another reason to stay excited about Xbox Live Indie Games: DLC Quest has a sequel on the way.  It's called Live Freemium or Die and it's coming "very soon" says creator Ben Kane.  Click

Another reason to stay excited about Xbox Live Indie Games: DLC Quest has a sequel on the way. It’s called Live Freemium or Die and it’s coming “very soon” says creator Ben Kane. Okay, so I’m the one and only person who begged him to NOT do a sequel, but if anyone can prove me wrong, it’s him.  Click the picture for the trailer.

The end of XNA is not the end of Xbox Live Indie Games.  Indies will factor into the next generation Xbox.  Not because Xbox Live Indie Games was a rousing success, because it wasn’t.  It’s because the game industry is trending this way.  iPhone has become one of the most successful gaming consoles in history.  Sony has created its own open-to-anyone platform.  This is the direction the industry is heading.  Microsoft won’t keep indies around because they’re trendy or because they’re artists.  They’ll do so because it’s sound business sense.

In the meantime, my fans on Twitter want to know what this means for Indie Gamer Chick.  Well, since Xbox Live Indie Games aren’t going anywhere in the immediate future, I’m not going anywhere either.  Yea, I suffered from a bit of burnout earlier this month, but then a couple of games came along that reminded me why I’ve stuck by this platform for the last eighteen months.  Of course, I can’t say what the future holds once XBLIGs begin to roll out on the next generation platform.   Whether they remain the focus of my site will depend on how open the platform is and the volume of games released on it.  If it sees the same amount of games as PlayStation Mobile, I obviously wouldn’t be able to center my site around it.  Thankfully, my name is Indie Gamer Chick, and thus I’m not tied down to anything.

Heh, sorry Tim.

Escape Goat 2 might not come to Xbox Live Indie Games, which is exactly why I need to start paying more attention to other avenues of indie gaming.

Escape Goat 2 might not come to Xbox Live Indie Games, which is exactly why I need to start paying more attention to other avenues of indie gaming.  You can head to the developer’s website by clicking the picture and threaten bodily harm if he doesn’t release on XBLIG.  Or, you know, ask politely.

I am announcing that I’m going to include more coverage of non-XBLIG platforms.  Until recently, reviews of games on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, and Wii U eShop were rare here.  That’s going to change.  Xbox Live Indie Games will remain the primary focus of my site until Xbox Live Indie Games cease to be.  But I’ll also make a good effort to have one non-XBLIG review weekly.  Along with this, you can also expect features like Indies in Due Time (returning soon) and Tales from the Dev Side to look outside of Xbox Live Indie Games.  In fact, the MonoGame Team will be doing an editorial sometime in the near future.  There might also be changes in the Leaderboard in July in time for my second year anniversary, so that it includes iOS and PlayStation Mobile titles.  I’ll keep those elitist PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade games off it.  Snooty bastards.  And don’t even get me started on Wii U’s eShop.  It seems to have suffered some kind of gaming version of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The Chick’s Monthly Top 10 Update: March 2012

What a month for gaming!  How often do you get to play two titles that rank among the best you’ve played in your entire life in a single month?  And they came from a couple unexpected sources: PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Indie Games.  Also, this was the month that gamers officially proved they are every bit as ignorant as the media makes them out to be, but more on that later.

“Luke, you turned off your targeting system!”

First, the good stuff.  We Are Cubes is the new #1 game on the Xbox Live Indie Games All-Time Top 10 here at Indie Gamer Chick.  Who saw that coming?  Certainly not I.  The funny thing is, after a couple of hours, it wasn’t even up for debate.  I actually agonized for weeks over whether Escape Goat had dethroned Dead Pixels.  It was one of the toughest calls I’ve made since starting my site.  We Are Cubes was so amazing that it made the decision easy on me.  It truly represents the potential of XBLIG better than any game that has come before it.

Joining it on the list are two crotchety old timers who probably don’t need the attention.  But, this isn’t one of those Academy Award type of deals where the old timers win more as a tribute, based in no way on the merit of their latest project.  Miner Dig Deep and Cthulhu Saves the World are on because they’re among the ten best games I’ve ever played on the Xbox Live Indie Game platform.  It’s that simple.  But, if you insist on this being an Oscar-type of deal, just play some sad music for the games that departed from the list this month.  Try this on.

Gone is Blocks That Matter, Orbitron: Revolution, and TIC: Part One.  TIC wasn’t really due to fall off the list, but it’s been nine months since the game was released and it’s been five months since they updated fans of the first when they can expect part two, or if they can expect it at all.  My good buddy and former Dreamcast rival (no joke, small world huh?) Dave Voyles tells me they’re alive and well and shopping TIC around for a publisher.  Which is all well and good, but making an episodic game and then leaving fans hanging leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I am sympathetic to the fact that the guys at Red Candy Games are in college and don’t have time to build games, but that means they probably shouldn’t have done an episodic game.  That’s how I feel about it.  If Part Two hits and is up to the standards of the first, I’ll lump it together with Part One and it will make the leaderboard.

I’ll give a special shout-out to Bug Ball, which was set to make the leaderboard, but then three other contenders hit and it’s spot was lost.  With proper online tweaks, it still has a shot at it.

I don’t have a non-XBLIG top 10, but if I did, Journey on PlayStation Network would have almost certainly rose to the top of the mountain.  What a truly wonderful experience that game was.  It moved me to tears.  What more can I say that I already didn’t?

In closing, to all you people who whined about the Mass Effect 3 ending to the point where you threatened a lawsuit.. A LAWSUIT.. all I can say is this: wow.  When did gamers get such an obnoxious sense of entitlement about them?  Needless to say, you can’t sue because you find an ending unsatisfactory, unless that ending involves a loved one and medical malpractice.  Nor does the FCC give a flying fuck. All you did was provide them with water cooler fodder.  Really, what do you think they were going to do?  Storm EA’s offices, cuff everyone who works for Bioware, ship their mothers off to Gitmo, and shoot their dogs?  No, they don’t care, and they’re laughing at you, because you’re just that funny.

Wait, that’s all I get? Where’s my lawyer’s number at? I have got to call CNN on this one.

If you could successfully sue over a bad ending, don’t you think that would have happened by now?  And that extends to other forms of entertainment.  Just imagine the dialog.

“Did Darth fucking Vader just scream NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO?  Get the lawyers!”

“Wait, so St. Elsewhere was all a dream?  NO, IT CAN’T BE!  I’LL SUE!!”

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen?  THAT’S IT?  Fuck that, I’ll see you in Court, Jesus!”

“A sled?  A FUCKING SLED?  They’ll rue the day they thought up that shit!”

Buying anything doesn’t entitle you to satisfaction, unless it specifically says in advertisements or packaging “satisfaction guaranteed.”  If some overzealous producer says “we guarantee fans will be happy with this” guess what?  That doesn’t count.  If you can actually find a judge who will say otherwise, there will be a dozen appellate court judges who can’t stand that mother fucker and will eagerly strike down anything he or she says.  So don’t waste the court’s time with this shit.  And don’t waste the FCC’s either.  One, they don’t care, and two, they’re busy making sure Janet Jackson’s nipple never slips out at the Superbowl again.

Tales from the Dev Side: Magic Seal Pelts by Ian Stocker

Right before a combination of epilepsy, gravity, and IKEA conspired to destroy my brain, I had touched off a debate on Xbox Live Indie Game pricing.  It began with my review on Pingvinas and continued on with my editorial on pricing.  This resulted in my biggest day for traffic ever, and some very awesome point and counter-point discussions in the comments section of those posts.  Pretty damn civil ones too.  I’m so proud of you guys.

Well, now Mr. Ian Stocker, the creator of Escape Goat, wants to weigh in.  At first, Ian was supposed to offer a counter point to my theory on pricing.  Then he changed his mind and sided with me.  Sigh.  Imagine if that happened all the time.  If two guys were debating for the Presidency and all of a sudden one guy said “wow, shit, that other guy is totally right.  Hey everyone, did you hear that?  I totally agree with him.  You should vote for him!” 

Well either way, Ian’s article was both insightful and entertaining and the perfect way to kick off Tales from the Dev Side.  Plus, we’re giving away two copies of Escape Goat.  Read below for details.

Read more of this post

I’ll be back.

Sorry for the lack of updates over the last few days.  As many of you are aware, I suffer from epilepsy.  Most of the time, I have my condition under control.  I usually have a degree of awareness when I’m about to have a seizure.  But, sometimes they happen with no warning and it’s not always at the most opportune of times.  On Saturday afternoon, while I was walking across my living room, I suffered a seizure and collapsed.  Although I don’t know exactly what happened, it’s believed I struck my head on the leg of a table.

Although I haven’t yet been released from the hospital, I’m expected to make a full recovery.  I admit that I’m quickly losing patience here, but the doctors and nurses are being totally awesome and doing a wonderful job with me.  And, they’re letting me have my Xbox!  So I might be able to try reviewing games soon.  There’s a chance that the reviews might end up being shorter than normal, so I’m making requests that my readers or the community give me some ideas of Xbox Live Indie Games that are short in length, taking well under an hour to complete.  Alternatively, I might review some stuff for iPhone, Android, Nintendo 3DS, and PSP until I’m released, depending on how difficult it is to play my Xbox here.

I expect to start doing some new game reviews soon.  Until then, there are going to be one or two guest columns, starting in just a few minutes when I post a guest article by Ian Stocker, the creator of Escape Goat.  To all those developers that have asked, yes, I want your columns.  In fact, I kind of need them for a few days.  It would be awesome.  Just hit me up on Twitter and we can discuss it.

I want to thank everybody who has been offering their well wishes and prayers over the last few days.  Someone up there must have heard you, because I’m expected to fully recover from this.  Since the moment I started Indie Gamer Chick, I was accepted by the community you guys have made.  It’s been touch and go at times, and I know not everyone likes me a whole lot, but the vast majority of you have gone out of your way to not only offer your support, but to treat me like a rock star.  Thank you for that.  I love you all, the Xbox Live Indie Game community, and I hope I’m back on the beat soon.

-Catherine “Kairi Vice”

The Indie Gamer Chick

PS: I can still tell whether a game sucks or not so don’t think I’m going to go soft because of this.  Offer you suggestions for shorter XBLIGs in the comments.

UPDATE: Not even a full hour after I posted this, they let me come home, provided that I carefully follow the doctor’s instructions and take it extremely easy.  Yea!  I’m home!

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