Have you ever been listening to the radio with someone, and when a certain song begins to play, that someone gets overly excited and exclaims: “This is my jam!” or something similar? Well that’s how I am with puzzle platformers. Give me a sprite, some blocks, some well designed puzzles involving levers, traps, barrels etc. and a decent amount of caffeine, and you’re essentially handing me the formula for a really good day. I’ve played bad ones, I’ve played good ones, and I’ve played pretty okay ones. I was not ready for this.
The word “goat” conjures a few different emotions and connotations – awe is not usually one of them. Perhaps its because I never played the original Escape Goat that its sequel surprised me so much, because I wouldn’t expect anything with the word “goat” in its title to boast such elegant design. Escape Goat 2‘s formula for success is as follows:
- Take a goat.
- Put it in a puzzle.
- Give it a magic mouse.
- Give the mouse an equally magical hat, hammer or cape.
The best puzzle platformers can achieve great depth and complexity through such a simple formula, and Escape Goat 2 does just that. Each puzzle area toys with new mechanics and styles. Some rooms force the player to stop and think about their route for a significant amount of time, slowing the pace down considerably. Some rooms are a gruelling test of reflexes and speed, and some manage to test reflexes, intelligence, patience, foresight, planning, speed and one’s ability to stare at a purple goat for a large amount of time. While in some games, such a mixture of play styles might feel somewhat frenetic and lacking in direction, Escape Goat 2 embraces its own self imposed chaos, and it is glorious.
It also helps that each puzzle is designed with a level of class and ingenuity absent from many a puzzle platformer. Every nook and cranny has been meticulously designed to manipulate and control the player, and has been done so by a cruel mastermind. Died because you were playing the game how you would play most games? Good. Escape Goat 2 wanted you to die there. It wanted you to learn.
Because it requires one to employ a variety of changing skill sets, Escape Goat 2 never feels like the same game. No room ever feels strikingly similar to the last, and yet this change never feels jarring. Each step up feels like an evolution; a new bag of tools to play with. Even towards the end of my time with the game, I was discovering new things I could do to achieve my goals. Our eponymous goat can run, double-jump and dash across levels, and it can also send out a magical rodent friend to scurry or sit in certain places. As the game progresses, this mouse can turn itself into a heavy block, zip onto parallel objects, and switch places with the goat. This simple but decidedly varied set of abilities only furthers the dynamic and ever-fresh feeling the game evokes, and the progressive sense of discovery one gets from finding these abilities means that the difficulty curve rarely spikes to any obscene degree.
That being said, if the difficulty level ever does get too brutal, the solution is simple: select a new area. If one puzzle tests your mind or your fingers to the point of exhaustion, the best way around it is to try something different. Escape Goat 2 masterfully staves off frustration and anger, an essential part of creating an engaging puzzle platformer. If you die, you get right back up again without delay. If you die 100 times, you can just try a different area via the game’s easily navigable map. So many games become breeding grounds of frustration, but not Escape Goat 2. Try audibly shouting the sentence “You stupid purple goat!” at your monitor in the same manner you would an irritating twelve year old on Call of Duty, and you will realize is it much harder to stay angry at said goat.
Of course this review is coming to you during an era of Titanfalls and next-gen smoke particles, so mechanical ingenuity would mean very little if the game looked like old custard. Escape Goat 2‘s commitment to simple elegance extends to its visuals too; its hand drawn, tapestry-like aesthetic is never obstructive, and always gorgeous. Since developer Ian Stocker’s background is in music and sound design, its to be expected that Escape Goat 2‘s soundtrack is similarly brilliant, featuring insanely catchy hooks that wouldn’t sound out of place in a classic Final Fantasy title.
At this point, Escape Goat 2 is like a drug. It batters your mind and your body, flashes bright and beautiful images at you, and pounds catchy music into your ears. You watch as your time is consumed by a purple goat – you hate that purple goat – but you still come back for more. I forgot to eat for an unnatural amount of time because of Escape Goat 2, and I can honestly say I didn’t regret it – the game is just too good for me to care.