04th Dec2018

‘Escape Doodland’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

escape-doodland-header

Made by appSide Down – a team of just two – and published by Sonka Games, who are best known to Switch owners for Astro Bears Party, Escape Doodland is an autorunner platform game with bags of charm and a practically vertical difficulty curve.

There’s nothing new about the gameplay conceit of outrunning a pursuing wall of death with perfect timing and whipsmart planning, though Escape Doodland is dedicated solely to the concept, stretching it over ten fiendishly challenging levels.

The first thing that will strike you is the gorgeous visual style: a whimsical, absurdist world, rendered in hand-drawn sketches, biro and felt tip, complete with a grid paper background. Other elements are finely watercoloured, giving the feel of a sketchbook brought to life by the hand of a magical doodler. The game has an infectious sense of mad humour, straddling the fine line between cute and creepy with consummate skill. The music is a perfectly congruent blend of TV ad acoustic jollity and eerie ambient weirdness.

Once you hit the A button, you are presented with two options: Hard and Harder. Take this as a warning. Escape Doodland takes no prisoners. Your tiny, terrified avatar (various costumes can be unlocked) starts running, left to right, chased by a huge, beastly worm. You can jump. You can double-jump. And you can fart.

You heard. Your main weapon is passing wind, and it manifests in a number of ways. Push right on the d-pad for a boost of speed; push up for a squelching jet into the air; and tap left to pump in the general direction of your pursuing nemesis. This last one can be used once per level (until you unlock a powerup, anyway), and it’s perfect for halting the relentless creature for a few precious seconds.

Along your route you will find certain pickups, usually in slightly harder-to-reach areas. Matches are required to ignite your farts, while green beans are a form of currency. The latter are totted up at the end of the level, and if you gain enough then you unlock golden beans. These unlock further levels. The barriers for entry are steep, so you will find yourself returning to previous levels to perfect your route.

Getting through to and beating the final, explosive, Wild West-themed stage would take maybe an hour on a perfect run. But nobody’s getting a perfect run, not first time around.

Escape Doodland’s difficulty generally remains on the right side of fairness, but there are a few small elements which needlessly confound the player. Gorgeous as the graphics are, they are somewhat indistinct at times, meaning it can be difficult to discern which objects the environment will help and which will hinder, and the scratchy outlines mean that sometimes the collision detection doesn’t quite hit where you expect.

Furthermore, as you progress through the game some cheap blows creep in. The underwater sections are particularly frustrating, with sluggish controls, eyebrow-raising dead-ends and a myriad of insta-death baddies – for example, an electric fish whose range of attack is aggravatingly indistinct. In short, the late game is an exercise in experimentation and memory. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re prepared for as much frustration as gratification.

Overall, Escape Doodland is an impressive piece of work from such a tiny team. It runs smoothly (albeit with hints of frame-skipping here and there) and it has tremendous replay value. Don’t be fooled by the sweet, Snipperclips-like aesthetic, though – this is for hardcore fun-seekers only, and for them it’s a good deal. For casual players, it may feel more like an ordeal.

Escape Doodland is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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