Finally, a game where you get to play as that Red Hat Linux guy! I kid, I kid, but the hero of Taito's new action-puzzle game, Exit, shares the same kind of fashion sense. Like something out of golden age detective comic, Mr. ESC, is clad in a dark trench coat, flowing red scarf, and a permanently-tipped fedora. Sort of a self-made superhero, Mr. ESC posits himself as an "escapologist," or one who specializes in rescuing victims trapped in a disaster area and getting them to safety when normal emergency services will not do. Fire engines stuck in traffic? Call Mr. ESC and he'll get the job done!
So what exactly does being an "escapologist" entail? Well...pushing boxes, navigating stairs, ladders, and traps, putting out fires, and trying not to kill yourself in the process. Most of the game's 100 levels have at least one person to rescue and getting them from Point A to Point B becomes the main goal. Unlike other games of this type, though, your companions have their own special abilities that you'll need to take advantage of when Mr. ESC can't handle things by himself. For instance, young people are the most agile, while adults can push heavy blocks (but can't climb tall objects), and children can shimmy through small spaces (but often need help clearing other obstacles). While Mr. ESC is controlled by the digital pad and face buttons (he can also run by holding R), Taito has implemented an easy system for delegating tasks to the other characters. Tapping L will toggle the rescuees between Follow Mode and Stop Mode. This is handy for keeping them safe for traps while our hero scouts ahead or assisting him by resting on top of a pressure-sensitive switch. More direct control is facilitated by the analog stick. Moving it will cause a cursor to come up on the screen which can then be used to scroll around the immediate area (levels are generally small enough, but you can only see for a certain distance around Mr. ESC) and click on individual companions. Clicking on one and then clicking on a certain spot will make them move there. Likewise, selecting one and then clicking on an item will cause them to go and pick it up. Be mindful, though, that characters can only access areas they would normally be able to without Mr. ESC's help. In addition, the pathing is sometimes rough, so if you're sending a character halfway across the stage, you'll have to move him just a little at a time or he might wander into a trap or go in a different direction. Once again, since levels generally aren't that big, it isn't much of a hassle.
Exit controls fairly well, though the actual mechanics take some getting used to. If you've ever played old-school games like Prince of Persia or Out of this World, you'll already be familiar with the setup. Some precision is required (especially with the running jump), or you're likely to give Mr. ESC a broken leg, forcing you to restart the level. While the game implies some urgency (and there is a time limit for getting everybody to the exit), the puzzle aspects of the game edge out the action elements by just a tiny bit. Considering this, the slow pace of Mr. ESC's movements and required precision make the controls fit quite well.
There is a fair bit of trial-and-error in most of the levels, especially later on, but to be frank, what environmental puzzler doesn't? Exit gives you a map, easily accessed by pressing Select, and you can use the cursor to scope out the level before committing to any course of action. Thinking is required, so if you're scared off by the idea of flexing your brain, it may be best to stay away from Exit!
For the rest of the crowd, though, this is a wonderful little game with amazing presentation. The characters animate well, and the overall graphical style combines the aforementioned retro detailing with bold colors to create a rather unique vision. Character voice samples can become repetitive ("I just want to go home!" "Help me!" "I need a shower!"), but the music is often upbeat and active. The interface is nice, clean, and efficient, while maintaining the overall theme of Exit. Comic-like fonts, bold yellow/red/black backgrounds, telephone sounds when selecting options (like the Ghostbusters, Mr. ESC's services require a call and a fee), etc. all come together quite nicely. Some cool intro sequences to the 10 different Scenarios shorten an already minuscule amount of loading. This, combined with the roughly 5-8 minute limit on each stage, makes Exit easy to get in and out of quite easily. That's perfect for a portable game.
While the game may not have a lot of extra content, it is fairly lengthy for a puzzler and, in the future, there will be a total of over 100 downloadable extra levels (only 10 are available at the time of this writing, but Japanese players have at least 120). As you complete stages, you can also see profiles of those you've rescued. Make sure to "play" through one of the best credit sequences ever! Some people may get frustrated by the trial-and-error gameplay as well as the old-school style of control, but these become quite easy to deal with provided you give it a little time. Mr. ESC's charm and pure badassery will win you over in the end!