Bacon Escape is the latest release from Illusion Labs, the creators of crustacean tower-climbing series Mr. Crab and atoll-hopping treasure hunt Nono Islands. Like both of these games, Bacon Escape utilizes intricately designed levels to challenge players’ reflexes and planning, but its focus on high-speed obstacle dodging results in a more fast-paced and frantic experience. As in Nono Islands, mastering levels will require multiple playthroughs and committing upcoming hazards to memory, but the smooth controls, interesting platforming layouts, and adorable cast of characters make even subsequent attempts a joy to replay.
The adventure begins when a lone prisoner breaks out of pig penitentiary, crashing a metal mine cart cage through one of its walls. He lands on a nearby set of tracks and is off, speeding away from the prison and toward the “Happy Place” where his friends are throwing a party. However, shortly after he arrives in the seemingly safe zone, a patrol blimp—boasting a menacing forked sausage logo—finds our piggy escapee, sending him onward to the next set of tracks and, hopefully, freedom.
Each level is set up as the area between safe zones, with the Happy Place acting as the goal line for completing a stage. Stages consist of long areas of track filled with numerous hazards that can crash your cart or hurt your escapee, ending your getaway attempt in one hit. Raised spikes, open drawbridges, poisonous gases, and gigantic hammers are just some of the obstacles you’ll have to contend with while barreling forward nonstop.
Since your pig’s cart moves forward automatically, it’s up to you to influence the track ahead of him to create a safe path before he arrives at any given hazard. You’ll do this by simply tapping or holding the screen, depending on the danger. Blue obstacles will rotate automatically when you tap; so, for instance, a blue open drawbridge will close when you tap once or a raised hammer will lower. If you tap again, the bridge will reopen and the hammer will go back up. Red obstacles will respond as long as you are holding your finger on the screen. If you tap and hold, a red flame will be extinguished, but the minute you lift your finger the flame will return. Red platforms will move up or down in response to your finger’s placement and release, so if you lift too early while your pig is driving under a block, you could accidentally drop it on him. Other specific hazards, like transport pipes and purple gases, add even more variety to the dangers that must be considered and avoided.
On the earliest stages, this control-the-environment mechanic mostly results in simple activation of single hazards that are well ahead of your cart, like flipping a distant spike trap. But as the levels become more complex, you’ll have many obstacles coming at you in quick succession with little time to think between each one. Since your actions affect anything visible on-screen—if you can see it, your taps will change it—you have to prepare for upcoming dangers while avoiding reactivating an obstacle your cart has not yet passed. For example, let’s say there’s a flame hazard ahead that you’ll need to tap-and-hold to turn off. However, your cart is currently passing under a giant hammer: if you tap to turn off the flames, the hammer will come crashing down on your pig. So you need to time your taps just right, holding once the cart has cleared the hammer but before it hits the flames.
This gauntlet is made even more complex by the alternate paths available on most stages. Often, ramps or spring platforms can be adjusted to send you on a slightly different route, leading to a unique set of hazards that may be easier or harder and contain different rewards. Coins line most sections of track, but apples and treasure crates are one-time pick-ups that you’ll have to seek out on their specific path. Successfully finding everything on a level will usually require playing it more than once, and later, more difficult stages will require multiple playthroughs simply to master the barrage of obstacles and reach the end goal.
Since each stage in Bacon Escape is hand-crafted and the same every time you play it, you can learn upcoming hazards and prepare for them through practice. There are occasionally areas that spring up so quickly it feels like you have to die and retry just to learn what to do, but most of the time deaths come down to not reacting quickly or correctly. That said, stages do get extremely tricky—we replayed level 14 at least 50 times before finally beating it—and can cause serious frustration when you keep dying to the same set of hazards. If you enjoyed the type of level mastery required in Nono Islands you’ll likely also get sucked into Bacon Escape, although its use of auto-running and perfectly timed reactions make it even harder than the usually lenient movements of Nono.
Thankfully, there are a few features designed to make the ever-looming demise less final. Every new stage marks its own checkpoint, so once you unlock a level you can replay from its start at any time (unlike the per-island checkpoints of Nono). If you die, you can watch a video ad to continue from where you fell—after your first continue, you can pay apples to revive on subsequent deaths. And players who buy the “Extra Life” item for $4.99 will receive one free continue per run, similar to Rodeo Stampede‘s Revive Raven.
The much more abundant coins are not used for revives, but to purchase new characters or carts. These unlocks are only aesthetic, but they add a lot of charm to an already polished platformer. The non-pig characters range from fluffy sheep to alien cats and each has adorably bulbous and expressive eyes that turn to giant X’s when they hit a hazard. The escapees become ragdolls when a run ends prematurely, flying out of their cart and rolling down the track with tongues sticking out in unconscious oblivion. This might sound gruesome, but it’s all clean and comical—there’s no blood or broken bones, just floppy falls and awkward landings. When they’re not reacting to their latest accident, the unicorns and Mafioso crows look around in wide-eyed wonder as they zip along the tracks, doing flips and making chipper sounds of success.
You typically won’t have much time to watch their expressions, however, since you’ll be busy rotating, activating, and turning off upcoming hazards. The entire game is designed for speed, with levels progressing directly from one into the next without a select screen in between and retries easily accomplished with a single button. Rushing through the various obstacles and alternating them at just the right moment is extremely satisfying, reminding us at times of the silky smooth BIT.TRIP RUN! The occasional frustration of a pair of obstacles set too close together or a hard-to-decipher hazard appearing too quickly is only a minor setback since you can easily retry and use what you’ve learned to make those minor, but critical, adjustments. Players that have the patience to fully conquer the fiendishly crafted stages will be rewarded with a breakneck, heart-in-throat, “Did you just see that?!” Rube Goldberg machine-esque platformer—that culminates in an ever-expanding animal pool party.