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Review: Escape Pet
PRESENTATION: Escape Pet is one of the entries from the 2010 - 2011 Retro Console Competition, and I had a blast with it. Not necessarily because I completely enjoyed the experience, but because I truly felt I was way back in the late 80's playing a video game. The presentation has a lot to do with this. The total package was almost like a bizarre time capsule where I was playing one of those unlicensed NES games...Like "Bible Buffet" without the annoying trivia questions, or some ridiculously-translated children's game from Taito, circa 1986.
The feeling is there. Unfortunately, this is one of the games you would end up returning to the game rental store because you would much rather be playing Super Mario Brothers 2.
GAMEPLAY: True to the game's description, EP introduces you to a little boy who somehow wins a contest that lands him a trip in a rocketship to an alien world. Upon landing (and crashing the rocket ship) the boy meets a little alien that must be trained to help the boy find another rocket ship. You train the animal with three different minigames. Your progress is measured separately for each of the three minigames: flying, digging, or swimming. When your alien buddy is strong enough in one of the three categories, the boy hitches a ride on the alien's back to find another rocket ship. The games are simple, but not complete no-brainers. Some coordination is required for all of them: timing for the swimming minigame; hand-eye coordination for the digging game; dexterity for the flying game. It's an appropriate challenge level for a children's game, and the theme is appealing in that sense as well. Some players may want to attempt to go for all three different endings (based on how strong the alien is in all three categories). Your mileage may vary in terms of satisfaction-through-completion, but you will want to stick around for the cut-scene dialogue, which reminds me of classic Jim Henson Muppet Show sketches crossed with absurd British playwright humor: if you're too young, some of it will go right over your head. It's an uncommon mixture, and I was fascinated.
GRAPHICS: Not too bad, particularly considering the Competition restrictions: limited colours, sprite sizes, and so on. Given the nature of these restrictions, and the retro flavour of it all, I think this was the strongest category. Again, I felt I was playing a game from 1986 cooked up by lonely programmers who subsisted off nothing but Mountain Dew and Cheetos.
SOUND/MUSIC: Upon the game author's own admission, the music for this game is execrable. As I went through the game, I kept thinking to myself: "Is this it? Is this really all there is to the background music?" Sure enough, there was no relief. Retro low-grade Japanese import all the way. All I thought of was if you could translate the gameplay of Hyd-Lide into music form, this is what it would sound like. Ugh.
LASTABILITY: Hrm. It has the "buddy-game factor" going for it, quirky dialogue humour, and retro stylings to be just intriguing enough to encourage me to play it through a few times, if only to see each of the possible endings. I'd also keep it to show my friends so we could all have an absurdist trip down memory lane: "Oh man, that's totally like one of those horrible NES imports from back in the day!" I don't know if that was the author's intention, but it's all in light-hearted fun anyway. You keep playing the game because it has all the "car accident" qualities that the most notable bad retro games had.
OVERALL: It's a heartwarming tale of a boy and his alien...An 8-bit buddy movie where YOU ARE THE STAR. And the game is unfailingly retro-styled. I liked playing it, and you will too as long as you don't take it too seriously. Had it been an over-hyped, cutting-edge, NON-retro game, this would have been one of those games mercilessly trashed by the trolls, stubbornly defended by the author's friends, and ignored as forgettable by pretty much everyone else. Kind of like most of my own games up to this point (except for that part about my games being stubbornly defended). If actually made in 1987, it would have had a sequel. For that, I salute you Beeb!
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