Wot I Think: Escape Goat

By John Walker on June 14th, 2012 at 3:30 pm.

My level asplode.

Puzzle platformers are like buses. You have to figure out how to get on the right surfaces, then reach your destination without dying. On another matter, two have come along at once. After yesterday’s lovely Adventures Of Shuggy, today’s new Indie Royale Bundle includes the release of Magical Time Bean’s Escape Goat. Here’s Wot I Think.

Like Shuggy, Escape Goat was previously an Xbox Live Arcade game, and like it also, it’s been seamlessly ported to PC. But comparisons are unhelpful, so let’s focus on this one game.

You play as a goat. Your ultimate goal is to help rescue a collection of sheep, such that you can escape the prison in which you are all held. For some reason. Accompanying you on your adventures is a mouse. I have named him Mousey. Mousey and Goaty have nine areas to explore, eight with five levels, and the ninth with nine. Each room is about reaching the exit door, and rather splendidly, the tricks to doing this constantly vary.

When I first saw that levels involved block pushing, I sighed. I’ve never much enjoyed those style of puzzles, that require thinking seventeen moves ahead as you shove them upon each other, but Escape Goat isn’t that. It involves that, on occasions, but in generally very smart and pleasingly intuitive ways. On other occasions it simply requires cunning platforming, as you leap out of the way of fireball-firing enemies or spinning sawblades, and on others still it’s about calculating the correct order of switches and buttons you need to activate to rearrange the scenery such that you can create a path for yourself.

Mousey comes in to play when you need someone else to press a switch. Let him go and he’ll crawl endlessly on surfaces he can walk on, triggering any buttons he walks over, returning to you if he hits something deadly. Or you can put him down on the floor in a fixed place, and then teleport him back to you whenever you wish. And on particular levels, once you’ve collected a Magic Hat, you can switch places with the mouse at will, allowing you to get out of closed off areas, traverse passages only small enough for Mousey to have crawled through, or leap back and forth in elaborate puzzles that require you to essentially be in two places at once.

Then of course the highlights are toward the end when the levels start requiring all these skills you’ve gathered be used together, as you’re pulling off quite remarkably complicated tricks with relative ease. It really is a perfect display of a difficulty curve, equipping you with knowledge and practice, and then getting you to put it all into play just when you’re ready.

However, the difficulty does get a bit too low in some places. Occasional later levels are a weeny bit disappointing when you realise how simply they can be solved, but that’s generally in comparison to the corker you just got past previously. And I think some will take issue with the need in some (and it is only some) of the levels to fail in order to know what to do right. As the debates over Limbo have shown, some people just won’t tolerate this approach at all, no matter how quick the reload might be. So, if that’s you, well you’re going to get annoyed here too. Me – I can fall either side of that fence, and when Escape Goat does it, I feel like it’s by careful design, rather than Rick Dangerous-style masochism. It’s a methodical process of learning the rules of that screen, and applying what you learn as you go.

It’s not the longest game – I finished it in a morning, although had learned quite a few of the levels when playing the preview version. But when you’ve finished it, a big set of crazy difficult extra levels are revealed if you want to challenge yourself even further. They’re not by the original designer, and I haven’t ventured far into them more by need of writing this, than because there’s anything wrong with them.

Even more reason to stick around comes in the shape of a level editor. A nice, simple tool lets you create levels and jump right into them, which I imagine could mean that once the Royale Bundle is a while old, there could be an awful lot more out there to extend the game even further.

The graphics opt for a very retro pixelly platformer, and I’m pretty much over that. As Shuggy showed, there’s no really good reason for it beyond a nostalgia that’s all-too present today. But it’s also harmless, and the animations are lovely. I especially love how Goaty will stand with his legs clumped together when you put him on the edge of a platform. I don’t think it adds anything useful, but it certainly doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

It’s a great puzzle game, and while perhaps it’s unfortunate it should come out in the same week as the superior Shuggy, it’s certainly worth adding to your pile. Especially as it’s part of a bundle (although as I write this, I’ve no idea what else is in there with it. (Edit: Pixeljunk Eden, Noitu Love 2: Devolution and Auditorium, since you ask) A morning long, but certainly a very enjoyable morning.

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33 Comments »

  1. deadly.by.design says:

    Thanks for the write-up. I think it’s only a dollar or so on XBLA, so I might actually buy it on there.

    /has yet to buy a ‘proper’ (or full price) game for his 360

  2. trjp says:

    I love Escape Goat – you start-off thinking it’s a block-pusher and then it throws something else at you – so you get set on thinking about that aspect and it throws something ELSE and so on.

    There are only 2 really, really ‘oh my head’ moments in the regular game (and they’re soluble if you just think about them for a while) but then the PC release contains a whole new set of levels which are just astonishing tough – you can take that as “PC gamers need a much bigger challenge” or you can just think “oh wow, and I thought Super Meat Boy was hard!!” (although here there’s no easy retries!!)

    All hail the Goat!

  3. Sensai says:

    Thanks for the review. I’d never heard of this game and was unaware there was a new bundle in town, which included two games I was pretty interested in picking up (PixelJunk and Auditorium).

    An added platformer will make for a nice bonus.

  4. Cooper says:

    There often is a good reason for “retro pixely”; it’s because it’s vastly easier to animate a character inside a 16×16 square for someone with a lack of fine art skills.

    I’ve no idea if that’s the case, but it often seems that the big-pixel look is a function of designeers of grid based games taking the path of least resistance…

    • Reefpirate says:

      You might be surprised how easy it is to make 16×16 artwork look ugly. There’s a greater margin for error or laziness, sure… But getting artwork that looks good or unique at that resolution can be expensive.

  5. Dominic White says:

    Thought experiment, to anyone who complains about the retro art style:

    Draw a 16 x 16 pixel character with a two-frame walk cycle and a 16 color pallette.
    Draw a 32 x 32 pixel character a four-frame walk cycle with a 32 color pallette.
    Draw a 64 x 64 pixel character with an 8-frame walk cycle and a 64 color pallette.

    The effort involved in each step up is exponentially higher in order to get anything even remotely good-looking. Pixel art is chosen because it’s easy and affordable. If you’re got an enormous budget you can afford to make the next BlazBlue, but most people don’t have anywhere near that kind of skill or funding.

    • BooleanBob says:

      On the other hand, keeping down to a 32 by 32 pixel limit can pose challenges of its own.

      (This is a really nice bundle, by the way. Noitu Love 2 isn’t perfect, but it’s perfectly deserving of a few minutes of your time.)

    • terry says:

      While I agree with this, pixel art apps have come on pretty far from the old MSpaint workflow wise, they have layers and you can do most easy squashes and stretches without too much distortion. Projects like Spriter really lower the barrier for hi-quality vector art produced quickly too. There’s (sadly) not a lot of reason to employ a very skilled pixel artist because as you say, that shit takes time and most of it can be worked around by the app anyway.

  6. Wedge says:

    Wow, I actually want every game in this bundle, though I do have Noitu Love 2 already. BUT IT SAYS THERE IS AN UPDATED ALPHA OF THE ICONOCLASTS IN IT, OMG OMG OMG.

  7. Delusibeta says:

    Bought the Royale already, first one I’ve grabbed since the Serious Sam pack. Two games stuck off my Steam sale wishlist, plus this and Auditorium, for about four quid fifty? I’m down for that.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s a universally good bunch of games in this new Indie Royale. Escape Goat, Noitu Love 2, Auditorium and Pixeljunk Eden are all seriously good games. The new alpha build of The Iconoclasts is a nice bit of icing on the cake, too.

  8. brulleks says:

    The screenshots remind me of Solomon’s Key, although the write up negates that notion.

    God, how I miss Solomon’s Key.

  9. ain says:

    I’d buy it if it wasn’t bundled with some other games I dont care about.

  10. rustybroomhandle says:

    Good bundle.

    I’m sad – I’m patiently waiting for a crappy bundle to be released so I can call it the Humdrumble Bundle.

  11. Scandalon says:

    No mention of the story/theme/subtext in this WIT? Sheep and Goats brings to mind certain at-the-end-of-all-things imagery of a certain widespread religion and/or the religious practices of the culture that it came out of…2nd screenshot confirms it. While not 100% critical to the enjoyment or lack of in a game, it seems like it would be mentioned at least…

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Had a good laugh, thanks.

      • Scandalon says:

        Huh, I was serious, but I’m glad at least someone read it, and perhaps it helped brighten someone’s day a bit. :P

  12. TailSwallower says:

    I was one of the beta testers (my name’s in the credits and everything), and I think it’s a fantastic game. Wasn’t sure what to expect before the beta started ’cause I hadn’t played it on Xbox, but was pleasantly surprised on the whole. Solid beta too – personally never came across any bugs, though apparently some of the other tests helped squash some.

    Really looking forward to seeing what puzzles the community can come up with.

    • trjp says:

      It’s a great feeling seeing your name in the credits isn’t it :)

      I found a couple of bugs – but mainly I ranted about how hard the new PC levels were (after completing the main game I cannot complete more than 1-2 of the new levels).

  13. Insidious Rex says:

    I’ve currently got this game windowed in the background whilst I configure JoyToKey for it and I had to come here and comment on the excellent music that’s playing. It reminds of Castlevania and I love those soundtracks.

    Game’s very fun too, from what i’ve played so far

    Edit: and I return to the game after setting JoyToKey to find out the game natively supports a 360 pad, silly me

  14. Sigvatr says:

    Game name of the year.

  15. MagicalTimeBean says:

    Thanks everyone for your kind words. This is probably the biggest game launch of my career so it’s great to see it get press and generate a bit of buzz.

    @Insidious Red, I should probably put a notice in there that you can use a 360 controller… one of my testers suggested that but I just didn’t get to it for the first version.

    • MondSemmel says:

      Hey, thanks for making Soulcaster I & II and Escape Goat! I enjoyed all your games a lot. The soundtracks were excellent, too.

      @RPS: I request you mention the names of the developers/studios in your reviews & WiTs. Pretty please? :)

  16. adonf says:

    The trailer makes it seem even more hard-core than SMB but I didn’t get that impression from the article. How many platforming skill points do you need for this game, on a Limbo to SMB scale?

    • phlebas says:

      I’m about halfway through and so far it’s more about planning (with a bit of trial&error and a smidgen of dumb luck) than platforming skill. Definitely well away from the SMB end of the scale, and very enjoyable. Even if it now turns murderously hard I’ll have liked it enough to justify the purchase, I think.

      • adonf says:

        Thanks. I’ll probably get it from the Indie Something bundle, but I’ll be disappointed if I can’t finish it, so that’s good news.

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