You can never have too much of a good goat
Released in late 2011 for the Xbox 360 and then in the summer of 2012 for the PC, Escape Goat was a quirky puzzle-platformer about both a goat imprisoned in a deadly, trapped-filled dungeon for the crime of practicing witchcraft, and an immortal, magical mouse who helps him escape. Quirky, and also very good if you like that sort of thing, although not particularly easy on the eyes: I noted in my review that the retro-style graphics were “adequate for the task but not much else.”
Escape Goat 2 is “problem solved,” as they say. It’s essentially the original Escape Goat all over again, but with more puzzles – more than 100 in total – and a very pleasing visual update. The Goat is back, imprisoned again along with his magic Mouse buddy and a flock of not-terribly-motivated sheep, this time deep within the Stronghold of Toragos. None have ever escaped – but you’re the Escape Goat!
The premise leads to some intriguing moments of narration, but the diabolical 2D puzzle-platforming is the real draw and it’s very good indeed. Escape Goat 2 starts off easily enough and introduces new mechanics, enabled through items like the magic hat or the Cloak of Vengeance, at a slow, easy pace, but eventually it starts to get very tough. Switches and pressure plates can open individual doors or change entire room layouts, one-way trap doors must be leapt through before they slam closed, blocks and crates have to be maneuvered and smashed in just the right way, and all the while, fire-slinging monsters, powerful electrical conductors and yawning, black chasms do their best to lay you low.
It can be intensely frustrating, not only because death awaits around so many corners but because it’s easy to paint yourself into one, too. Move an ice block the wrong way, step through a door you’re not supposed to or push a button out of order, and you can very easily find yourself stuck, with no option but to start over. It’s an easy enough thing to do – just press “R” and you’re back at the beginning – but the complexity of some levels can make a restart when you’re this close to the end a hair-pulling experience. There’s no “rewind” option or mid-level saves; if you blow it, you do it all over again.
But the levels aren’t so big that failure means losing huge chunks of gameplay, and that ever-present risk is a big part of what makes it so rewarding. One level had me completely stumped, to the point that after numerous deaths I gave up and moved on to complete a different part of the map, but after returning and pondering the screen for a few minutes, the solution suddenly hit me and I couldn’t help but smile. It was obvious in hindsight, as things often are, but figuring it out honestly felt good – a satisfying payoff for overcoming a devious puzzle.
While the action remains essentially unchanged from Escape Goat, the visual element has been dramatically upgraded. Everything is hand-drawn and boasts a greatly increased level of detail, the backgrounds are far more complex than in the original and there’s even a dynamic lighting engine that, while hardly necessary, adds a nice sheen of eye-candy. The soundtrack bears special mention as well, as it weaves a variety of lush, retro-synth music that really helps bring the game to life. There’s even a guest track by Disasterpeace, composer of the Fez soundtrack. It’s top-notch stuff, the sort of thing game music enthusiasts happily pay for and listen to long after the game itself is complete.
There’s also an emotional resonance to Escape Goat 2 that transcends the lightheartedness of the first game. It dances around the edges and I could never quite put my finger on it, but I felt a certain mournfulness echoing through the game world as I played, even as I wondered if maybe I was reading too much into it. Creator Ian Stocker declined to discuss specifics, but he did say that both he and artist Randy O’Connor had certain themes in mind when they made the game.
“We agreed to not reveal what the sheep, tower, ghosts, etc. all meant to us when we made the game, because I think that could rob the player of having a more personal experience with it,” he said. “We decided not to have a plot arc, but have individual monologues from the NPCs serve to build a backdrop. I would say the tone has gotten a bit darker than the first game.”
Regardless of whether that element strikes a chord with you, the bottom line is that Escape Goat 2 is Escape Goat too, and if the first one didn’t turn your crank then there’s nothing here that’s going to change your mind. But by every other measure, this is a wonderful update to what was a really good game in the first place, and an outstanding puzzle-platformer in its own right.