The Escapists: Complete Edition Review
Having heard good things about the Escapists series, from developers Mouldy Toof Studios, I was happy to hear that The Escapists: Complete Edition would be coming to the Switch. Finally, my dreams of living the seedy and dangerous life of a prison inmate would come true, all in safe and convenient handheld form. Delivering the original Escapists base game plus all DLC packs including a previously PC-only map, it’s one content-packed little package and while it’s got its share of frustrations, this is one prison sentence you’ll be happy to serve.
You start things off as the new meat at the local pen … why? That’s not explained – all you need to know right now are the ins and outs of surviving – and escaping – the Greybar Hotel. Using tools to access ventilation pipes, making shovels to dig holes, and even knocking out the odd prison guard are just some of the skills you’ll need to pick up quick if you want to taste freedom again. The game throws a lot of information at you in a short time, and then you’re on your own, rookie.
Doing Hard Time
The Escapists is a challenging game. The first prison – a minimum security facility – is supposedly an easy level but I found it to be tough. You don’t get much hand-holding from the game, and you really have to think and formulate a plan in order to solve its puzzles. I appreciated the way the developers challenged me to step-up my game and use my intelligence without spoon-feeding me with markers and hints, even if I felt frustrated at times.
Adding to the layers of each puzzle is the fact that this is a detailed prison-sim, so escaping requires that you learn the routines, schedules and personalities in each facility. For example, you might need a tool that requires a missing part to craft it; that part might be only available from one inmate, and he might demand more money than you’ve got – you’ll need to get a prison job and earn money to buy it. Even then, after you’ve got all the necessary parts you’ll need to stash them in a secure place lest they get stolen or confiscated in a surprise cell-inspection.
It’s a fun time but a bit exhausting and that is partly due to the crafting system, which is very deep but not explained all that well when you start. You collect a seemingly-endless variety of items but usually you have no idea what to make out of them – or even if they are useful at all. The only solution seems to be playing the game for a while, and picking up crafting recipes gradually. You’ve also got a number of different ways you can achieve your escape, which is cool but requires that you think outside the box at times. The game makes you work for the solution, but when you find it you’ll feel a tangible rush of triumph as your reward that will make it feel worth all the effort.
The Cuddliest Beat-Downs Ever
Juxtaposed against this sometimes brutal difficulty is The Escapists’ whimsical retro art style. You and your fellow hardened cell-mates are all rendered in cute, colorful 8-bit graphics that feel delightfully at odds with the bleak themes of the game. There are few things as life-affirming as witnessing a savage prison beating in colorful retro visuals and old-school chiptune sound. I loved the look and feel of the game and it kept me laughing and enjoying myself even as I sometimes sweated to solve a level.
On the technical side, The Escapists: Complete Edition works well on the Switch platform and all of the charm and fun of the original console and PC versions comes through on the small screen. However, there were some issues with the font size – a complaint I’ve had before with games ported to the Switch. Textual information is very small, which usually is not a problem but sometimes had me squinting to read vital instructions, or even unable to make them out at all. It’s never a game-breaker but just be prepared for periodic pauses to decipher tiny words and symbols.
Normally I wouldn’t mention price in a review but in the case of The Escapists: Complete Edition, value for money is a definite selling point. For $14.99 US you get all of the DLC of the original release – that’s nine extra maps and 15 prison levels in total. That adds up to many hours of playtime for a pretty reasonable cost, and when you consider the fact that it’s all stuffed into the portable format, this is a must-buy for any Switch owner.
Filled with humor, cuddly visuals and some surprising depth, The Escapists: Complete Edition is a big game in a tiny little package. You might feel like a real prisoner at times trying to survive its grueling difficulty, but its charm and reasonable price help to make this stint in the big-house a surprisingly fun experience.
** A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher **
- Cute retro graphics and sound
- Lots of content
- Challenging puzzles
- Some things not explained well
- Small text size on Switch