The Artful Escape Review

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You know the music in a game is going to be a winner when you’re compelled to stop and listen to the menu screen. The Artful Escape, from developer Beethoven and Dinosaur and designed by the incredibly-named Johnny Galvatron, is a musical-based adventure that pulls off the difficult task of making music a meaningful companion through a constantly surprising narrative.

You take on the role of Francis Vendetti, the nephew of famous folk musician Johnson Vendetti. You find yourself trying to evoke some well-meaning folk vibes, but it’s clear that Francis’ heart just isn’t in it. As he turns a dial and rips into a solo electric sci-fi shred that Bill & Ted would be proud of, there’s a sense that there is a disconnect between expectation and emotion.

You’re interrupted by the enigmatic Violetta, a purple haired promoter/technician/friend who’s decided you’re the perfect person to accompany her while she commits a crime. That crime, other than stealing valves from dodgy promoters, seems to involve becoming your spiritual guide as she moulds you into the rock god you could be, rather than the folk-singing clone of your uncle.

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This isn’t so much a game as an interactive rock opera. Beethoven and Dinosaur weave an engaging story while rigging it to some light platforming and the most epic bouts of Simon Says you’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of game you can often play with one hand, perhaps while the other one strums at a nearby guitar or tries to find the perfect keyboard lick to go with the out-of-this-world visuals.

The design work in The Artful Escape can often be intoxicating, marrying indie vibes, Yes album covers, and a hint of 70s animation to create something that looks like nothing you’ve seen before. The reverb-heavy guitar licks are slightly more customary, but they peak and sing at the perfect moment, adding euphoria to major events along the way.

Those major events tend to be playing music with, or trying to impress, a menagerie of curious alien creatures while you’re on a journey of self-discovery. You’re living in the exceedingly long shadow of your folk-star uncle, and his down-to-earth balladry is like a curious child’s head that can’t be freed from between some iron fence posts; it just doesn’t fit. Your balladry is very obviously so far beyond this Earth that it can barely be reined in.

The Artful Escape Review

The voice cast for The Artful Escape is absurdly good. Mark Strong, Lena Headey, Jason Schwartzmann and Carl Weathers lend their vocal talents to this particular opus, bringing to life Lightman and creatures that previously only existed on the inside of David Bowie’s eyelids. It’s full of brilliant turns of phrase as well; when something’s described as ‘the grey matter between the lobes of the universe’ it all just makes sense.

Is there enough game here, though? It’s a question I asked myself a few times as I hopped through another platforming section that wouldn’t trouble a newborn Mario that hadn’t yet learned to crawl. This isn’t a platformer, though. It’s a piece of performance art. This is audio-visual project that’s more about discovery than it is pressing the right buttons. It could have been too little, an emperor’s clothes of a game, but it’s not.

What is a shame is that the abundance of audio-visual excess affects performance, even on Xbox Series X. The frame rate can take a noticeable dip when there’s a few too many things going on on-screen, and there’s the odd bit of audio glitching to go alongside it. Neither of these things really detract from the experience, but I would very much like to see them tidied up in the near future.

The Artful Escape is an enigmatic coming of age story, wrapped in reverb-laden riffs and space opera shenanigans. It is quite unique, and absolutely unmissable.
  • Outstanding audio-visual design
  • A surprisingly compelling narrative
  • Filled with great actors
  • Platforming is completely lacking in challenge
  • Performance dips, even on Xbox Series X
Written by
TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.