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Escape Goat 2 Review: Rube Goat-berg

S. Prell, @SamPrell

When I was a freshman in high school, my science teacher had us complete a Rube Goldberg machine for our final class project. We needed a minimum of 10 steps, but the more complicated and more steps involved, the better. Bonus points were awarded if your steps were particularly eye-catching and fun to watch.

With its focus on cause and effect, and creating chain reactions that lead to something as simple as opening a door, I think Escape Goat 2, from developer MagicalTimeBean, would have made my science teacher proud, or at least put a smile on her face.

Escape Goat 2 doesn't beat around the bush with its concept: You are a goat – escape. Trapped in a tower full of traps and puzzles, you'll use your double-jump, dash ability and a helper mouse to navigate your way through nine areas, each with its own theme. One is filled with overgrown vines and lush forest, while another is steeped in ice. No matter where you are, however, your goal is to find the way out, which is sometimes easier said than done.

Gallery: Escape Goat (4/3/14) | 23 Photos

Each room in an area is a single-screen puzzle. By pushing blocks, stepping on switches and tricking enemies into shooting fireballs at flammable objects, you'll open up new paths through the level. Some levels also grant you access to a helper mouse that can crawl along walls, allowing you to trigger switches and reach areas that are inaccessible to your bulkier, cloven-hoofed goat frame.

Escape Goat 2's earliest rooms require minimal effort, with the exit just a hop, jump and a block push away. Later levels, however, require long-term planning, with one block push often resulting in a chain reaction. You'll see a switch and have to think four or more steps ahead of getting there in order to progress.

Difficulty ramps up appropriately so that you never feel dropped into a situation you're completely unprepared for, and the game uses smartly-designed levels to teach you how the world works instead of a hand-holding tutorial. The game treats you like you're intelligent, which is nice.

Unfortunately, it is possible to be a bit too smart. Escape Goat 2 only requires that players complete about a third of all total puzzles to beat the game, and they don't become very challenging until the final area. Since each puzzle is contained within a single-screen, they also don't take long to complete. The good news is that there's plenty of extra content if you're feeling hungry for more.

While the relatively easy, nibble-sized main puzzles left me unsatisfied, Escape Goat 2 made up for them with tougher, more complicated, and sometimes even downright deceptive optional puzzles that give a far greater sense of accomplishment. One particular room involved sliding two ice blocks through a series of obstacles while simultaneously alternating between two switches that would open a path to the exit. I agonized over how to solve this particular puzzle for a good 20 minutes before I realized I was overthinking the whole process, finally reaching the exit using a much simpler approach. When you beat one of these optional levels, you don't kick yourself for not seeing the solution earlier, you feel smart and worthy of having earned your goatly freedom. The main series of rooms rarely tap that sense of achievement, but the side puzzles do so with regularity, alternating between the agony of racking your brain and the feeling of brilliance once you've sussed out the solution.

Escape Goat 2 abandons the pixel art of the first game in favor of hand-drawn environments and animations that truly pop. There's harsh contrast between one splash of color and the next, giving the overall impression of a stained glass window. It's far more beautiful and elegant than a game based on a pun has any right to be.

Escape Goat 2's soundtrack also stands out, thanks to its almost otherwordly feel. It's distinctly odd, yet charming and memorable; synthetic notes of varying pitch interweave with jazzy twangs and a light touch of piano. It continues throughout each area, never stopping or getting interrupted until you've completed a full set of rooms or moved on. Divorced of the game's goofy premise, Escape Goat 2's soundtrack could easily lend some new-age ambiance to your day (and it is available to own, if you're so inclined.)

My science class didn't have access to goats with magical helper mice, but I'd like to think that Escape Goat 2 would have gotten a passing grade. Maybe not an A+, but something worth posting on the refrigerator, nonetheless.

This review is based on a Steam download of the PC version of Escape Goat 2, provided by Double Fine.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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