Is it damning praise to say I prefer Escape Plan as a showcase of the Vita's multiple input-doohickies and screeny-wotsits than Little Deviants? Yes, of course it is - because Little Deviants is chuffing rubbish. Escape Plan has poise and style, even if I do get the slight sense of some slick, suited Sony executive gently suggesting to include even more Vita features at every development milestone.
Boot up Escape Plan for the first time and you've got this monochromatic world that immediately catches the eye, trapped in a miserly little penitentiary holding the game's latex-suited mask-wearing duo captive. CCTV cameras watch your every move, and your prison break spirals out across 80-odd levels into factories, workshops and the dumps.
To achieve your planned escape, Lil (thin and little) and Laarg (big and fat) need to get through various screens of mobile-sized puzzles. This is a game modelled around the well-worn template of the App Store market, where levels are short and swift, and completing them with a touch of dazzle and panache gives you the maximum three-star rating.
One of the best features about the game is that Lil and Laarg wear their current death count on their chest, and you can expect those two numbers to get real big real fast. This is a game that revels in grisly, darkly comic executions - from the simplicity of having your brains bashed out by tripping over a brick to the more elaborate demise that comes from being caught in a spinning fan - and you can expect to see the gooey insides of your escapees sprayed across the screen on numerous occasions.
At least nobody can criticise Escape Plan for having a paucity of controls - your swipe, push, poke, squeeze and hold the characters and their environments using just about every single possible combination of inputs available. You can even bash stuff from the background to the foreground using the back panel, which is particularly fancy the first time you see it happen. But the problem here is one of a spiralling economy, and there's simply too much to do and too many options to possibly hope for a sense of chiselled refinement in its execution.
The other fundamental flaw is one of accuracy. This is a precise game marred by inexact controls, and you'll spend increasing amounts of time fighting these oafish input methods the further into the game you get. Escape Plan is a challenge, but the real test for most players will be if they can be bothered to persevere or not.
There's a lot to be said for multi-touch features, for instance, and there's certainly a bit of technical ooh and aahing when you're holding noxious gas in their creaky pipes with one of your fingers while directing characters with another. But this is also incredibly fiddly, and certainly not much fun, so why has it been included? To paraphrase Jurassic Park's Dr Ian Malcolm, the team at Fun Bits was so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.
This is a game that works a treat during the hand-holding tutorial missions and falls to pieces shortly afterwards. Even the scoring system, which ranks you based on the time it takes to complete the level and how many times you pressed the screen, is completely broken. Why? Because you'll find yourself touching the back screen all the time - it's where your fingers sit, after all - and the game will punish you for doing so.
The precision-based and death-heavy antics of Escape Plan initially reminded me of the utterly phenomenal Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey, which is certainly no bad thing, but Escape Plan just doesn't have its fundamental basics sorted out to really challenge and test its players. When your antics go belly up, and they will, you'll be blaming the game instead of yourself. That's just not how it's supposed to be.
Lil and Laarg's quest is a game suffering from an identity crisis. On the one hand you've got a great concept and a fantastic aesthetic, with enough charm in its characters to keep you plodding along despite unsatisfying puzzle rooms and poor controls, but on the other you've got a confused half-puzzler, half-platformer with the sole intention of cramming in as many extraneous input options as possible.
Alas, if only Fun Bits could have reigned in their focus and worked on better puzzles and tighter controls.
Escape Plan can be a real treat, but you'll only ever get fleeting glimpses of what could have been, leaving you with a frustrating adventure that rarely gets a chance to show its true potential. Escape Plan isn't a game you shouldn't be desperate to break into.
Version Tested: PlayStation Vita