I’m going to take this moment and say thank god for Xbox Game Pass. I’m not one to needlessly promote things, but dude, if you like video games and you own an Xbox, you need to get Xbox Game Pass. It is such a good deal.
If I didn’t have Xbox Game Pass, I never would have gotten the opportunity to play The Artful Escape.
Forgive me for sounding hoity-toity (and for sounding like Captain Obvious), but this is a game that is more than a game; it’s goddamn art. The Artful Escape is not a story that needs to be told. It’s an experience that needs to be absorbed.
I picked it up on a lark, downloading it because of its small file size and eye-catching cover art. However, going into The Artful Escape blind was a blessing, so while I am going to go over spoilers in this post, if you have any intention of playing it, I recommend stopping right here. Not knowing what to expect is a large part of its charm.
On the surface, The Artful Escape is just a 2D platformer with some light Simon-says QTEs thrown in. You move your character left or right as you travel through various areas, occasionally jumping over gaps and ridges. As for the button-pressing, you just have to remember musical patterns and input them in the correct order.
But boiling it down to these gameplay components is doing the title a grave disservice. The game as a whole is so much more than that.
You play as one Francis Vendetti, an aspiring young musician who lives under the shadow of his “Bob Dylan” uncle. Okay, so at no point does the game outright say that Johnson Vendetti (Francis’ uncle) is Bob Dylan, but just give one of his songs a listen. We all know who they were trying to emulate.
Anyways, the legend of Johnson Vendetti, folk singer extraordinaire, is immense, so it’s no wonder that Francis feels a weighted obligation to live up to his reputation. However, it’s clear Francis is yearning to forge a bold new identity for himself.
With the help of some new friends, Francis thus begins a cosmic journey to find himself.
Technically speaking, Francis starts his journey to help famed guitarist Lightman perform for the ever-discerning Glamourgonn. But even though typing that sentence was really cool, it’s beside the point.
You see, even though Francis is being teleported across the Cosmic Extraordinary, meeting zany musicians and absurdly brilliant rockstar alien cultures, zooming across mind-blowingly colorful landscapes, and emitting star-studded melodies, The Artful Escape is not about his physical journey.
It’s more about his spiritual/mental one.
Not all of us have ever hopped aboard a Cosmic Lung and performed for millions of tentacled, cheering aliens.
But all of us have felt as if we couldn’t safely be ourselves in front of people, at least at some point in our lives.
Francis’ journey to gain confidence in himself and who he wants to be is one that resonates, and what makes The Artful Escape so great is that it resonates with such unabashed style. The visuals of the game are astounding, and even though Francis states he’s out of his element, he clearly belongs with these surroundings.
Oh. And the music. The soundtrack of the game matches the out-of-this-world vibe. It is one of the best things about this indie title, and even if you don’t want to play it, you should give the whole thing a listen.
There are portions of the game where you get to choose Francis’ cosmic rockstar name and arrange his stellar get-up, and this is part of where the magic of The Artful Escape hits home.
Even though this is Francis’ adventure, and you’re along for the ride, at times the game seems to transcend this. The choices you make when you name yourself, choose your origin story, and select your outfit define who you want your Francis to be.
I named myself The Cheeky Froley, so of course I was thrilled.
And the whole thing culminates with a spectacular interstellar cosmic light show. With lasers.
It’s not every day that I’ll play a game and just…feel good about being myself. Usually I’m playing a game to be diverted or to experience someone else’s story. But Francis’ galactic adventure felt like it was mine, even though I’ve never played for the Glamourgonn, ridden on the Cosmic Lung, or hell, picked up an electric guitar in my life.
I rate The Artful Escape an outer-space-roaming-inner-journey-I-will-never-forget.