Interacting with Lil and Laarg shows exactly what the capabilities of the Vita's alternate control methods are, but unfortunately throws their limitations into sharp contrast as well.
Escape Plan, presented fully in black and white, is the story of two creatures who look like living black vinyl suits with creepy skull masks, trying to escape from the clutches of another evil vinyl suit person. To do so, you'll need to line up a safe path for the two, and then guide them along it by swiping them. The method of interacting with the environment is easy to understand -- you tap the front to push things in or interact with moving objects (like fans); you tap the back to push things into the foreground. This usually takes the form of pushing a platform out to make a safe path; these platforms tend to slide back into the background after a set time, forcing careful timing.
You'll also do things like inflate Lil with helium and guide the floating character with tilt, guide enemies and sheep (which are also, inexplicably, made of black vinyl like everyone else) by tapping on the rear touch pad, and knock over mattresses to create safe landing points. It's not quite an adventure game, as there aren't really items to combine or puzzles so much as there are challenges -- you'll always know what to do, and it's almost always "tap something." Gas escaping from a pipe that you need to block with your finger isn't exactly a brain-bender. Escape Plan still feels adventure gamey, even though it's essentially a really slow platformer.
This all works great most of the time. However, when you're trying to line up multiple elements with precise timing -- like, say, guiding a sheep across some timed platforms so it will stand on a pressure switch, or push a platform out while you're on yet another platform -- you'll likely end up fighting with the controls. The sheep will go the wrong way because the tap that pushes out that platform also shoos them away. You'll fall because trying to push out one platform also causes Lil to walk. Oh, by the way, you get a "star" rating on each level based on your completion time and number of gestures. So every time those sheep refuse to go the right way, you're penalized a little. Every time you explore what's possible in a level, or interact with the game for the fun of it, you're penalized. I largely chose to ignore the ratings, because I wanted to enjoy myself.
Worst of all, you'll find your character simply refusing to walk when directed. Laarg (the big one, get it) seems to have a "fall down and roll over" function mapped to the exact same gesture as the "walk" function. And the "roll through walls" function, for that matter. What this means is that I never truly know when he's going to get moving, and it's really hard to time movements.
All of this is why my absolute favorite feature of Escape Plan is the ability to skip levels. As the game helpfully, and humiliatingly, tells you after a few failures, you can skip any level and move onto the next one. By doing this, you can get used to the gestural controls in the quieter, less time-constrained levels, and then come back to the more frustrating ones once you've got a handle on things. Or, you know, don't. It might sound backhanded to praise the ability to skip content, but being able to get away from unpleasant situations is in the spirit of this escape-themed game. And if you pick and choose your levels, you'll find some really charming stuff in here.
This review is based on a PSN download of Escape Plan for PlayStation Vita, provided by Sony.
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