Discovery of one’s self through a musical journey isn’t a new concept, but to see something as beautiful as The Artful Escape take that idea and run with it into the depths of space and back is an experience I doubt I’ll ever have again. Right from the start, the music is a main character. It is Francis Vendetti’s sidekick – his accomplice. It is everything that makes Beethoven & Dinosaur’s game so unique. Not only does it open your eyes to our delicate existence, it reminds us just how powerful songs are.
As a struggling folk singer living in the shadow of a famous uncle, Francis Vendetti returns home to play a show in honour the successful musician. Once there, he begins to realise that folk might not be the type of music he wants to write. The Artful Escape is part kaleidoscope, part existential crisis. It is the story of someone coming alive and unburdening himself from the shackles of what he believes he should be.
After an encounter with a strange yet talented man called Lightman (voiced by the wonderful Carl Weathers), Francis heads to the Cosmic Extraordinary to see the universe in a way that has never been seen before. Not only does it feature some truly wonderful music, The Artful Escape is seriously good-looking. Neon paths of light; the universe glowing in multicolour; weird and wonderful creatures; and places filled with sights unlike anything you’ve seen before. Simply put, it is delightful. Travelling through the cosmos and witnessing the magical abyss beyond the stars never fails to take your breath away.
Shredding like a mother
Francis tours the stars with a luminous guitar that he plays whenever you want him to play. Pressing and holding X fires of an epic riff, while doing the same with B sends him sliding across the ground on his knees. In the air, you can hold Y to stab your guitar in the ground and make more dreamy melodies. The Artful Escape is a platformer of sorts. You can double jump, but there aren’t any enemies as such. From the Cosmic Lung – you’re huge and extravagant spaceship – you tour the galaxy and play songs with other alien musicians and such.
This often entails a jam where you’ll press buttons in a particular combination. Upon standing on a makeshift stage, the creature you play with lights up with button prompts. X, Y, B, LB, and RB are your ‘strings,’ and the further you get, the faster and harder the riffs become. When you nail these songs, you feel like Jimi Hendrix. The music in these sections is so uplifting. Every song is filled with positivity and joy, and they never get dull or repetitive. It’s just so much fun.
The Artful Escape: An exceptional cast
The Cosmic Lung has a futuristic bar as well as its own opera house. Various alien species are chilling out in every area, and you can often have a chat with them. Along with Lightman, Violetta becomes a close friend of Francis, even if she is a bit hostile at times. The voice cast is pretty spectacular. Along with Carl Weathers (Rocky, Predator), Lena Heady (Game of Thrones, Dredd), Michael Johnston (Kingdom Hearts, Teen Wolf), Jason Schwartzman (Scott Pilgrim, Rushmore), and Mark Strong (Kick Ass, Kingsman) all do a wonderful job of bringing the cast to life.
What is special about The Artful Escape is that it allows you time to separate yourself from the grind of life. Freedom within a psychedelic fever dream filled where every unique world has something wonderful to offer. Various guitar shredding moments provide some genuinely breath-taking set pieces. You feel like wilfully trapped inside the mid of David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, refusing to leave because it’s so damn comfy in there. Honestly, I’ve not been this impressed by an art style in a long time.
In conversation with…
Interspersed with journeys to distant planets are segments where Francis questions everything about his existence. Dialogue options allow you to craft the type of person you want to be. In one part, you are a guest on The Midnight Whistle – a chat show hosted by an alien being starts off quite comical, but ends with Francis struggling to process who he is. These chats or conversations continually make you warm to him. I wanted so desperately to make him happy with who he is and with what he wants out of life.
The Artful Escape makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It reminds you just how powerful music can be, not only to yourself by to everyone around you. The gameplay is simple, but it works so well, always keeping you immersed in both the story and the exploration of so many stunning locales. Annapurna Interactive is without a doubt the leader in indie games, and this is another magnificent example of allowing a developer the creativity to do whatever they want in a productive and glorious way.
Gorgeous art style
Excellent voice cast
Not loads to do outside main story