Meet Lil and Laarg.
They need your help. Trapped in a labyrinthine laboratory most devious, the hapless duo require guidance past hazards such as giant fan blades, spike walls, and crackling arcs of electricity. Priority number one: Survive. It's time for an Escape Plan.
EP dips its brush into the monochrome grayscale palette of French formalist films and early Walt Disney cartoons mixed with a character design seemingly sprung from the surrealist mind of Magritte. The stylized industrial backgrounds tussle with the glossy blacks of Lil and Laarg's appearance, turning them into roving inkblots on the screen. Musical accompaniment includes Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King." If your head hasn't spun off your neck by now because of this jumble of kookiness, you've more willpower than I.
In development for the PlayStation Vita as a launch title for the handheld's February 22 release by Fun Bits Interactive, a team comprised of some of the minds behind the eccentric downloadable title Fat Princess, EP brings simple platforming and timing puzzles infused with the Vita's multi-touch controls. You can poke and slap at Lil or Laarg using gestural swipes to make them heed your commands, but the interaction doesn't stop there.
Interactive objects form a major piece of every puzzle. Urging Lil and Laarg toward that glowing exit sign is a good start, but they aren't exactly aware of any dangers — often leading to hilariously comical (and often blood-splattered) results complete with an audience laugh track.
Using the Vita's rear touch panel, you need to push, pull, prod, raise, and lower various obstacles, such as recessed platforms and metal panels, with careful timing. Succeed, and it's onto the next screen as the crowd cheers. Screw up, and the ghostly white number splashed across Lil and Laarg's chests increases by one, tauntingly recording each failure like a malevolent tattoo.
Like most games of its ilk, EP's puzzles grow more diverse and complex as you progress through its 80 levels. Both characters offer slapstick solutions beyond lateral trudging that causes some genuine smiles. Lil can take a swig from a coffee machine that gives him enough jitters to surge forward at blinding speed for a split second, an important tool for precision puzzles (usually of the giant-flyswatter variety). Laarg, being, well…large, can smash through weak sections of the floor using his considerable girth, flattening anything underneath — and yes, that includes poor Laarg himself if you miss that mattress down below.
Escape Plan's cage-like environment doesn't evoke a dour sense of the macabre. Instead, Fun Bits wants Lil and Laarg's multiple methods of punching out from life to serve as a tongue-in-cheek educational experience. The totalitarian vibe combined with cartoonish satire echoes fond memories of Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, a comparison I don't usually pull out often. And while the game's muted lighting looks very similar to fellow indie title Limbo, it certainly doesn't carry the same emotional baggage. As part of the Vita's February 22 launch lineup, Escape Plan will assuredly add some steam to the handheld's momentum out of the gate, and Lil and Laarg's escapades are certainly something to look forward to in early 2012.