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.