Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

* Game Ratings (/10), Movie Ratings (/5)

DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
Xbox 360 Fracture 8.0
MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
Xbox 360 Mirror's Edge 8.5
MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
MOVIE The Day the Earth Stood Still 0.5
PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
Browse more game reviews | Browse more movie reviews | Subscribe to articles


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Game Review: Exit DS

Improves on PSP and XBLA editions, but retains fundamentally flawed level design.



The Good:
Utilizing items and exclusive abilities of each character to get over obstacles * Touch-controls prove so much more intuitive than the horrible button controls of PSP and XBLA verions * Fantastic visual style * Cool animations

The Bad:
Does not allow mistakes to be reversed, leading to a lot of trial-and-error * A.I. is still a little incompetent * Scaled-back visuals of DS version * Some animations last too long

After making its debut on the PSP in 2006 before ensconcing itself in Xbox Live Arcade in 2007, Exit finally arrives on the DS. The DS version improves on the PSP original and XBLA edition in a few ways, but unfortunately, retains the fundamentally flawed level designs from the both the aforementioned, essentially keeping this title off the rankings of great DS puzzlers.

The premise is really simple. An escapologist by profession, Mr. Esc’s job is to evacuate people from dangerous situations. Throughout the course of the game, you will need to navigate a variety of 2D structures ranging from a sinking ship to a hotel struck by an avalanche to a hospital rattled by an earthquake to seek trapped victims and have them aid you in rescuing other trapped victims and escaping.

In order to get to each trapped victim, you will first need to get over a handful of obstacles, be it fires, smokes, blocked hallways or electricity. There are 100 levels spread over 10 areas (called situations in the game) and each area will introduce new obstacles (though some obstacles like fires are not unique to a particular area). For instance, levels taking place in the sinking ship introduces electricity in water, while levels occurring in the hotel features crates on ice that cannot be pushed unless special footwear is donned. To help Mr. Esc circumvent these obstacles, there are a variety of items scattered throughout each level.

More noteworthy, however, are the abilities (and inabilities) of the various trapped victims. Normal adults function very much like Mr. Esc, while obese adults need help to climb ledges and crates, but unlike the other characters in the game, can push bigger crates on their own. Children also need aid in climbing, but they are able to squeeze or crawl through narrow spaces to get items for Mr. Esc and are able to walk over thin flanks that would otherwise crack under the weight of other characters. Needless to say, the injured provide the most trouble as Mr. Esc would need to carry them. New to the cast of trapped victims in the DS version is the dog. A dog is unable to climb, but is the only character which is able to accomplish a long jump, hence being able to reach places inaccessible to other characters.

What Exit has done is to weave both elements together – the items with the distinctive abilities of each character – and create a puzzle which requires you to utilize each item and character’s ability fully in order to be able to make it to the ‘exit’ of each level. But then you realize that despite the ostensible ingenuity of the level design, the said IS in fact very fundamentally flawed – so flawed that it takes a whole lot of fun out of the game.

You see, to be able to make it to the escape of each level, you need to get over the various obstacles with items and the aid of the exclusive abilities of each character, but each level is designed in a way such that it’s more a matter of solving which obstacle first rather than planning how a particular character can be utilized. In each level, you would be provided with a mini-map and the ability to scroll through the entire environment so that you would be able to better plan your strategy. That’s a wise design choice.

But what’s flawed about this game is that mistakes are irreversible, so you really need to be reliant upon tons of trial-and-error to get through each level. For instance, if you accidentally move a crate against a wall, perhaps bearing in mind that you need the crate to be able to reach the ledge, but then realize that you need to move the crate to the other position on the right instead, you cannot pull the crate back and reposition it (Mr. Esc can push a crate, but cannot pull it?). It’s like allowing you to piece a jigsaw puzzle together, but if you put a wrong piece down, you’re not allowed to move, replace, or remove that piece. It’s simply preposterous.

During some instances, you may see an obstacle, and think that you may need to solve it first, but in fact, you need to go to the other obstacle and solve it first before being able to solve the initial obstacle. If you botched it up by ridding the initial obstacle first, there’s no turning back and you would need to restart the entire level. A puzzler in my hands, I understand that it’s supposed to be this challenging – I am not complaining about that. What I am complaining about is the game’s prohibition of mistake reversal, which is a fundamental flaw in any puzzle game.

Thankfully, there isn’t any major flaw beyond the level design. The controls could have been another significant blemish on the surface of such a cool-in-theory puzzler as demonstrated in the PSP and XBLA versions of the game, but the developers seem to have taken heed of the comments and so we have a DS version that boasts a huge improvement in the controls (though the controls still aren’t perfect).

That improvement can be attributed to the DS’s touch-screen as you now have an option to choose between button controls and touch-screen controls. I would recommend you to go with the touch-screen controls as the button controls are horrendous. Part of the reason why button controls in this game are terrible is because Exit has taken too much inspiration – perhaps inimically excessive – from old-school game mechanics. For example, if you want to jump, you cannot just walk over to the ledge and jump; you HAVE to stop at the edge before executing a jump. You cannot just walk over to a ladder or crate and climb; you HAVE to stop at the foot of the ladder or the side of the crate and execute a climb command. Such elaborate controls slow things down and disrupts the flow of the gameplay – certainly not advisable if you have a timer ticking off at the bottom of the map. But do note that these ill design choices apply only to button controls.

Select touch-screen controls and everything works wonderfully. For instance, if you want to jump over to the other side, all you need to do is to tap on the desired location and the game will do the rest of the stuffs. Mr. Esc still stops at the ledge for a moment before jumping and he still stops at the side of a crate before climbing onto it, but by selecting touch-controls and tapping on the desired location, you do not need to input any command in-between; if there’s something in the way, Mr. Esc will automatically navigate it. This saves a considerable amount of hassle and time, but perhaps more importantly, it makes the game a whole lot more intuitive. Simply speaking, a major flaw from the PSP and XBLA versions has been overcome.

But the A.I. is still a tad thick-headed. Inputting a command for a character to climb over a crate and go over to the other side of the stage may work, but inputting a command for a character to descend to a lower floor may not. You first need to command the character to move over to a ladder or stairs before ordering the character to use the ladder or stairs to move down to the lower level. It’s not a game-breaking experience, but it can get annoying during some instances.

The fantastic visual style of the game and animations round up the entire package. The DS version scales back a little on the visual style, but the overall game still looks pretty artistic and nice. Characters are featured in simple black and white, but the general character design feels really stylish – something refreshing, something that hasn’t been seen before in any other game. The stunning comic book-style design lends itself perfectly to the feel of both the characters and the environments.

My only gripe: Why have the graphics been scaled back on the DS? Instead of a mix of 2D and 3D elements in the levels, we now have strictly 2D environments. Construing the said to the DS’s limited technical power would be ridiculous as I have seen many other DS games, most notably Worms: Open Warfare 2 and Metal Slug 7, which feature environments that have a mix of both 2D and 3D elements. If those games are able to do it, why can’t Exit DS?

The animations, fortunately, are cool. Do look out for the animation where Mr. Esc suddenly changes direction while running. The animations feel really natural and inject a sense of human realism into the package. However, I find that some animations last too long and when you want to escape in the quickest time possible, they can get really irksome. I don’t like the idea of being forced to sit through some long animations when I am rushing against the ticker. Additionally, some of the long animations detract a little from the experience because it seems like Mr. Esc is taking a vacation in Hawaii rather than saving people from disaster.

Final comments
Exit DS improves on the PSP original and XBLA edition, but retains the fundamentally flawed level design. The prohibition of mistake reversal in such a puzzle game is punishable by death, really. Fortunately, new touch-controls make the terrible button controls of the PSP and XBLA versions history. The A.I. remains a little incompetent and the visuals and animations are a mixed bag.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Powerplay Megabytes | Achievement Unlocked! | SUPER Rant | Game Reviews | Time Capsule | Movie Reviews | Previews | Hardware Guides | Features and News