Lhe search for identity is one of those themes with which all of us who have overcome adolescence can identify. It is inevitable not to have felt the terrible contrast between the expectations that our parents and “the world” have of us against what we really want to be. That’s the main theme of The Artful Escape, an independent title that through an impressive and surreal visual style tells us a story about “discovering who we are”.
This game originally came out for PC and Xbox platforms in 2021, but it is finally available for PS4, PS5 and Switch. In this review we will discover how to play The Artful Escape, how it approaches its themes, and how it works on Nintendo Switch.
Francis lives in the shadow of his uncle Johnson Vercetti, a legendary folk singer who died when he was a child. All his life, people have told him that they expect a lot from him and that he must fill the space left by his uncle. But the young man feels that something is not right. Deep down he knows it must be someone else.
Obviously, everything changes when he is taken on a journey through the cosmos where he can be free to create the music he wants and be who he really is.
The Artful Escape he is not subtle when it comes to presenting these issues. The weight of his uncle’s legacy is not only felt on Francis’ shoulders, but he expresses how he feels about it on several occasions, and others are not hesitant to weigh in. This very direct narrative is not necessarily a flaw. It allows clarity in understanding the protagonist and leaves room in the subtext for other topics.
But before continuing, we must explain what this title consists of at the gameplay level. It’s an incredibly simple 2D platform game. We move almost always to the right, jumping some obstacles -sometimes using a double jump- and… that’s it? Not exactly, but it’s almost everything. Sometimes we find memory games equivalent to ‘bosses’ in which we must remember short sequences of buttons. Failing a jump or a memory sequence does not punish us at all. We just have to repeat the last few seconds until we get it right.
Explained this way, it seems like a boring game. It is true that it does not offer any challenge, but that does not take away from the fun. Its value is not in its mechanics ‘per se’, but in the way it uses them in favor of its narrative and visual elements.
The Artful Escape is an overwhelming explosion of color and sounds that floods the senses. In his search for identity and purpose, the protagonist travels through wonderful extraterrestrial settings full of impossible creatures and stunning landscapes. The mechanics are simple because the game doesn’t want to distract us from the audiovisual experience it offers and how it connects with Francis.
The landscapes, colors and aliens are only half of the game. The other is his music.
As much as society and himself say that he is a popular music singer like his uncle, Francis is actually a progressive rock prodigy. His guitar solos evoke not the tranquil landscapes of the Colorado mountains, but rather epic space adventures. As we walk through the stages, we can press a button to automatically play a guitar solo that fills them with life. Awaken the bizarre fauna, illuminate the skies and unleash sensations on the infinity of the cosmos.
The music of the protagonist is good, but it can be very familiar to fans of rock ‘n roll ‘riffs’. The melodies may not be able to change the perspective of the universe, but they fit perfectly with the science fiction themes thanks to the accompanying synth arrangements. Despite how much the game seems to “scorn” folk music, the trio of folk songs it contains are good, especially The Banks of the River are Lined with Gold
These elements highlight The Artful Escape. But no matter how big of a fan of sci-fi and prog rock they are, there are those who won’t forgive its simplistic gameplay.. One part of this game wants to be an “interactive concept album”, which is how we like to describe the excellent Sayonara Wild Hearts, but traditional storytelling with dialogue “interrupts” that rhythm and brings it alongside more run-of-the-mill video games.
This narrative has another more interesting and less direct element than Francis’s conflict with his uncle’s inheritance. This is a ‘queer’ story. The journey of self-discovery can easily be interpreted as a transgender narrative. The way in which the protagonist chooses his own name and rejects the previous one, changes his image to one that can be non-conformist and “comes out of a closet” with a new identity lends itself to a clear interpretation.
Other topics he touches on, directly or indirectly, are getting stuck in a glorious past, the ups and downs of the music industry and the reason for being of an artist.
With what we have said in this review, it is clear that many of the “defects” of The Artful Escape they are not such, but differences in the tastes and expectations of the players. However, the game does have issues on the Nintendo Switch. For starters, the image doesn’t look as sharp as it does in other versions. There are also times when performance suffers, noticeably reducing the frames per second (fps) of the animation. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does.
Another “problem” it has is its low replay value. Despite the dialogues in which we have different response options and how much we can change the appearance of the protagonist, the plot does not change beyond a couple of dialogues. There are not many reasons to live this 4-hour adventure again. The animations, heavily based on the independent movement of each joint, can look “weird” at times, giving the characters the appearance of puppets.
If you are interested in The Artful Escape, the Switch version may not be the best option. Even so, you will enjoy wonderful settings, incredible music and a beautiful story that will inspire us to discover who we really are.
The Artful Escape is a wonderful audiovisual experience surrounding an important story of self-discovery. It is a short adventure with simple gameplay that we can finish in a couple of afternoons, but the impact of its music, settings and characters will stay in our heads for a long time. The Switch version has some performance issues, but the experience of lying in bed with headphones and enjoying this game while disconnecting from the world is unrivaled… except doing the same thing as Sayonara Wild Hearts, another Annapurna game that curiously deals with similar themes.
Reviewed using a digital copy of The Artful Escape for Nintendo Switch provided by Annapurna Interactive.