Developer – Beethoven & Dinosaur
Publisher – Annapurna Interactive
Platform(s) – Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PC
MSRP – $19.99
Release Date – September 9, 2021
Disclaimer: Review Copy was kindly Provided for the Purposes of this Review
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews over the past year, you’ll notice a good chunk of them have been games published by Annapurna Interactive. I don’t know what it is about this publisher that brings about studios that develop games that feel and look unique to what I usually play.
This time around, it’s time to take a look at The Artful Escape. I’ll be honest, this game wasn’t originally on my radar at first. I made it a duty to play most games released from Annapurna going forward and The Artful Escape wasn’t on my radar. I watched the trailers for this game and something wasn’t hooking me and I originally decided to skip out on it.
A few weeks ago, the opportunity came up to review the game early. I mulled over it for a bit and I decided I would give the game a try. After a little over 6 hours in playtime, a game I had no interest in all of a sudden was completed and that leads us to this review.
The Artful Escape is described as a “musical narrative adventure” and that’s about as accurate a description of this game as you can get. There are also side-scroller and platformer elements that you can assign to this game. You play as Francis Vendetti, the nephew of the legend, Johnson Vendetti.
Francis feels that the legacy of his uncle is too closely immersed with his own vocation. An unexpected journey sets him on the path to not only find his temperament but also hone his craft as an artisan. Along the voyage, you meet a vivid cast of characters, who I must mention are voiced by a noteworthy cast with names such as Lena Headey & Carl Weathers.
Let’s get this out the way, The Artful Escape is absolutely, unequivocally, and unquestionably gorgeous in every sense of the word. The art style of this game is something that I occasionally stopped and appreciated. Every single level pops in its environment and atmosphere.
The colorful and vibrant tones are something I noted in the trailers but actually playing it is a completely different story. I’ve played many games with a unique and rich art style over the past year such as Psychonauts 2 and The Artful Escape is right up there in that department.
As you progress through levels, certain actions will ensue in the background of the level. Flowers will start blooming, lights will flick on, and beings will come alive as your progress through the level giving each level a lively aura. I can’t stress enough how marvelous this game is to look at and one of the best parts is that you have the ability to go back and select specific chapters that wowed you in its visuals and gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, The Artful Escape isn’t too shabby in this aspect. Most of the time you’ll engage in platforming elements that are simple in their own right. The other aspect of gameplay is when you’re playing your guitar to surmount an entity of some kind.
I thoroughly enjoyed the guitar minigame and my only complaint is that I feel it’s a bit underused. I played on Xbox so in my case, my guitar controls were X, Y, B, and the bumpers (LB & RB). You endure any being in your way by playing your guitar in the way portrayed on screen. For example, if a being showed Y, X, RB, B, & LB in that specific order on screen, I’d have to duplicate that on my Xbox controller.
It’s a fun minigame, I just wish we could’ve had some minor enemies in between to make more use of it. It only comes into play at big points in the story and maybe that’s the intent to give the minigame a rare feeling. I just enjoyed it so much and I would’ve liked if it was made a bit more prevalent throughout the game. Platforming and the Guitar minigame are the bulk in the gameplay department, the rest is dialogue.
The Artful Escape is heavy on the narrative aspect. Some games can pull off being narrative-heavy better than others, this facet of the game leaves me with mixed feelings. For the most part, I did enjoy a lot of the characters and their personalities, it’s just that the overall plot didn’t do it for me.
Characters such as Violetta and Lightman are standouts, which is funny because these two couldn’t be any more different in terms of attitude. The plot in itself just didn’t hook me and the overall journey wasn’t one I meshed with. It starts and ends strong, but the narrative in between didn’t captivate me the way I had hoped.
It’s extremely dialogue-heavy at times as well, which I’m not always the biggest fan of if the dialogue isn’t always particularly engaging. It may seem like I’m ragging on the story a lot but there are some bright moments hidden in there.
There’s a section a little over halfway through the game that lets you customize Francis’s wardrobe to your liking. It’s way more in-depth and expansive than I thought and at that point in the game, it was a nice change of pace. No exaggeration, I probably spent close to 20 minutes in this section. Also, a lot of the substantial beings that you must play your guitar for have an ambiance that commands your attention and in part, it gives these sections that important feel.
There’s a massive emphasis on music in this game and it’s about as masterful as the art direction. The sound design as a whole is remarkably impressive considering the size and scale of this game. Everything sounds flawless from guitar rifts to the platforming components.
For a game, I originally had zero interest in playing, The Artful Escape surprised me. The art direction of every single environment was especially a substantial part of my enjoyment. Gameplay is simple but effective and gets the job done effectively. Narrative-wise is where I have a few issues, the dialogue sections are a bit too emphatic and the plot didn’t connect with me consistently.
I’m happy I took the time to play through The Artful Escape. As with most Annapurna Interactive games, it’s not too long but that’s the way I like these types of games. If there’s anything I can guarantee, it’s that the art direction will astound most if not all who take the time to play this. A game that was originally nowhere on my radar is now a game that I would’ve regretted not playing. On to the next one from Annapurna!
Rating - 8/10