Escape Lizards, created by developer Egodystonic Studios is a charming, arcade-style platformer with tight controls and a few interesting mechanics. Even though they didn’t seem fully fleshed out, I was more than satisfied and happy to come back for more.
Let’s Get Rolling!
Escape Lizards is what I, in my enormous genius, am now going to call a ‘Roll-Playing Game‘. A name which I completely made up all by myself – with no help. This name works a lot better in my opinion than just the simple term of ‘platformer’.
The game has you controlling a ball, your job is to navigate through each stage to the goal quickly, without falling off. One thing I would like to mention before my critique is that a controller is recommended to play this game. Although you could use a mouse and keyboard, the somewhat complex controls would make Escape Lizard hardly playable.
For those of you familiar with the genre, you might be reminded of games like Super Monkey Ball or Marble Blast; the gameplay here is in fact very similar. You control a lizard egg and attempt to navigate past each stage to get to the goal. Controls line up more closely with the Super Monkey ball variety, which can take some getting used to. Moving the left stick, rather than pushing your egg along, actually tilts the world underneath you, causing you to roll in that direction.
Levels Of Fun
As far as any story or plot goes, well there is none, not that that is much of problem. This is more of a puzzle game than anything and the ‘Lizard’ theme seems more like a reference to the previously mentioned ‘Monkey Ball’ titles from the past. While also adding a jumping ability, allowing you to clear small obstacles as well as a powerup that allows you a higher jump for a short time.
Most of the levels are loose themes around certain locations, grouped into ten levels each, including things like a workshop themed section and ‘Chinatown’. Each section does little more than changing the background and alter the color of the walls and floors. Admittedly not a huge deal, it certainly would have been interesting to see more of each location incorporated into the levels.
All the levels consist of three main ways to play; you can go purely for speed, trying to complete it as quickly as possible, collecting each of the coins covering every level, and trying to collect the fewer but harder to find lizard eggs.
Collecting each of the items allows the player to unlock the next group of levels, meaning he can’t just focus on speeding through each level: a more balanced approach is needed, as well as to try to collect as much as you can. Other things to unlock included different balls to replace your lizard egg such as a pumpkin, or a marble.
Collecting It All
Each item was tracked separately, meaning I didn’t have to try for the perfect run. This eliminated a lot of frustrating restarts grinding out the more difficult levels. But I did have to complete levels three different times in order to collect everything. Some were a bit tedious to do that many times, but the developers seem to have taken this into account. The style would drastically depend on what players are going for.
Where the game really shines is the sheer amount of levels: there are over a hundred to play. I enjoyed going back to some and playing for fun, even if not all of them. The music was also quite enjoyable to listen to while playing, which is important for longer sessions when I was trying to perfect my run on a certain level.
Getting Your Bearings
Any puzzle platforming game can live or die on its controls, and Escape Lizards is no different. Rolling around feels good, the player gains speed rather quickly and can still control well when that happens. However, because of how the camera works, jumping behaves strangely.
Once in mid-air, moving the stick in any direction causes the entire level to shift wildly underneath. Jumping and tilting in any direction will cause to land somewhere far: this means any stages requiring you to jump while moving can become disorienting very fast; I got used to it after quite a while, but I was never able to fully control it.
This brings me to one of the more frustrating features of the game, which happens to be one its biggest innovations, the gravity shift mechanic. At any time, you can shift gravity, causing players to fall in a completely new direction. This would normally be a very interesting mechanic, and a good amount of levels are built with this in mind, taking advantage of it nicely.
However, because controlling movements in midair is so difficult already, this can become headache-inducing quickly, specially after several falls. Not to mention the fact that the background of each level is a static image that doesn’t move with your camera, so if you lose track of the level, there is almost no way to tell which way you’re facing.
Losing My Marbles
To make matters worse, the direction of gravity shifts is based on where your camera is facing, which is constantly adjusting to what direction you are moving, making reorientation almost impossible since players have almost no control over it. Overall, this mechanic is finicky at best, and nauseating at worst.
The stages work well if you move at a slower pace. This can -and in fact did- kill the pace. Trying to move fast and control the camera is just too difficult: keep in mind that is something that can be done at any point of the gameplay, making it hard to figure out what’s happening.
Often I would fling myself in random directions to try and score a cheap win, by skipping most of the level. If that didn’t work, or if I was sufficiently queasy, only then would I try the level as normal. I was able to abuse this strategy and to beat many levels in seconds. This certainly didn’t ruin the game, as playing it normally was still possible, but it did feel like it should have been turned off at times.
The influences of Escape Lizards are clear: Egodystonic Studios did a solid job making a loving recreation. They have also attempted to iterate as well, and although the new mechanics might be little imbalanced, they don’t detract from a solidly sized experience. Even simply disregarding the new features, I still would have come away feeling like my time was worth it.
Escape Lizards is currently available on Steam.