The Artful Escape Review; Arousal Level Dolphin

The best intergalactic adventure since slow-mo-ing Shinjuku station. Yes, it's not a new release, but doesn't mean you can't seek out The Artful Escape.

Writing a feature on why Annapurna Interactive is one of the best in the business is a no-brainer when it comes to The Artful Escape. They can sniff out fantastic narrative-driven titles that inspire, invigorate and… I can’t think of another suitable superlative that begins with ‘i’. This game is spectacular.

We have to downplay spectacular a few times as Beethoven & Dinosaur’s digital baby (not literal as that would be… unique) isn’t perfect. Still, the negatives are almost irrelevant regarding the experience, more importantly, the feelings that develop from this musical journey.

The Artful Escape isn’t as fresh as your spearmint breath; it came out in 2021. Looking at the Game Reviews Almanac, that’s ancient. Though it’s been on my watchlist since then, it only landed on my heroic thighs when upgrading my PlayStation Plus membership: it’s part of the game catalogue, thus, I’m encouraging you to do the same. Demon Souls will be on the playlist as soon as there’s enough space.

The Artful Escape Review PS5 - Mother-in-law
Mother-in-law. Source: Screen capture

The Artful Escape Review PS5

You play teenage dream, Francis Vendetti. Poor Francis isn’t dealing with hairier balls or coming up with a new scheme to score some vapes. Instead, he’s living in the shadow of his late uncle, folk sensation Johnson Vendetti. In his hometown of Calypso, the people are holding a tribute concert, with Francis playing as a support act after the main event. Standing on the outskirts of town, he strums a tune worthy of the genre but twiddles a knob on the guitar that launches an electric wail worthy of the gods. Ok, a little too much, but it’s awesome.

From here, Francis strolls through Calypso, speaking to the residents while showcasing The Artful Escape’s stunning visuals. Movement is simple as it’s a side-scroller, and all you need to do is run through each scene, jumping accordingly and holding down the square button to play the guitar. There isn’t any health or lives to worry about. Once acquainted with Francis and his imposter syndrome, we’re swiftly taken to other dimensions, with an enigmatic character called Lightman (voiced by Carl Weathers from Predator) at the helm.

Francis’ call to adventure is to address his identity, face up to who he really is, and play some sexy cosmic licks on his gee-tar. The Artful Escape keeps the guitar playing in the game as elementary as the side-scrolling. Holding square will unleash a sonic flurry that makes you feel like Steve Vai, only less eccentric, and aside from the eargasm your shell-likes experience, your solos interact with the environment – lighting paths and engaging with other lifeforms.

The Artful Escape Review PS5 - Centre stage
Centre stage. Source: Screen capture

Standing On The Membranes Of Giants

Francis is a better guitarist than a dancer, though. You can ‘pull some shapes’ in some scenes by pressing button combos. It’s pretty pointless, and based on the cutout-like animation, it looked clunky and worked better in games such as Source of Madness. And shadow puppetry. While on niggles, interacting with points of interests on alien planets interrupt the solos, godammit. It’s also worth pointing out that The Artful Escape isn’t remotely challenging. Only two things phased me: unlocking a trophy which involved jumping, and character customisation, which happens later in the game. The latter was excellent, however.

Put the above in context: these are incredibly minor. This is undoubtedly about the journey

Like Inside, or the more recent Somerville, you’ll perpetually move through 3D environments that bring so much character to this tale. Holding square is a no-brainer as the guitar melts through the scenery seamlessly. Even when it gets to the QTE, Francis jams with aliens, mimicking button presses that match the lights on the screen. Missing a note or cocking up isn’t an issue, as you can immediately repeat the Simon-like mini-game.

Journey, one of my least favourite words due to ‘marketing wizards’ rinsing all meaning from it, is ironically the keyword here. We’re mostly along for the ride as a spectator, watching Francis’ metamorphosis from folk singer to… well, you need to see how this galactic powerhouse of a butterfly evolves, and you have a say on his origin story.

Verdict

How does it feel to play a neon shrimp? Go play it, then tell me. I already know, but this is one electric journey you need to go on. Think Bill & Ted going through their Grateful Dead phase while riding a warp turtle that wouldn’t be out of place in Discworld. That’s The Artful Escape. If that doesn’t do it for you, play it for the Kenny G-like aliens. Bliss.