Exit DS
Reviewed by Meagan Lemons
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2009-01-09 Nintendo DS Puzzle E10 (Everyone 10+) Taito / Square Enix

I hadn't played Exit for the PSP or Xbox Live Arcade, so I wasn't sure what to expect from Exit DS. While I think the concept is interesting - a puzzle platformer in which you rescue people from disasters - there are a few major flaws that distract from this otherwise entertaining handheld game.

You play the game by taking control of Mr. Esc, an escape artist who makes a living saving people from dire situations like burning buildings and ice storms. In each level, Mr. Esc must save a number of victims by getting them to the exit safely. You must solve challenging environmental puzzles in order to reach everyone and direct them all to the end of the stage before time runs out. You can also use the people you save to help Mr. Esc perform tasks to complete the stage. Each has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and can come in quite handy when Mr. Esc needs more than one set of hands to do the job.

First, here's the good news. The game is entertaining, the puzzles are clever, and the premise is original. For those out there worried about your kids playing violent video games, this is the game you should get. It focuses on saving people, not killing enemies, and Mr. Esc even explains during one of the cut scenes that he's "not selective about the people [he saves]. Good or bad, everybody has the right to live" - a great message for kids, in my opinion.

The art style is simple and modern. The character models are all black and white silhouettes, save for Mr. Esc who dons a bright red tie. The game uses a lot of different shades of red, blue, and yellow with white and black. This stark contrast in color plus the comic frame style in which the cut scenes have been done is reminiscent of a Dick Tracy comic book. He even wears a yellow fedora!

The music is interesting and there are different themes for each situation, which keeps the music from getting repetitive. The sound effects, on the other hand, can get irritating - especially the victims' cries for help. They will continue to call out to you every few seconds, no matter where you are in the stage, until you reach them. (And there are only so many times you can hear someone yell "Somebody help me!" in a screechy voice before you begin to wonder if you really want to rescue them after all.)

Now for the bad news: the controls are frustrating at best. The integration of the stylus into the gameplay feels forced. Instead of using the D-pad to control Mr. Esc, you must select him with the stylus, then select where you want him to go. If there's an item on the way, he has to stop to pick it up before you can tell him to continue. And you have to select Mr. Esc every time you want him to perform a task, whether he just did something or not. This forces you to spend a lot of time simply getting Mr. Esc where you want him to go instead of solving the puzzles in each stage.

The finicky stylus will also cause a lot of undue frustration. For instance, when I try to select Mr. Esc or another character, I click them, then accidently double click on the ground where they are standing, which they interpret as a command to stay where they are, and I have to try again. Many times I would miss what I was trying to select and Mr. Esc would just jump off a ledge and hurt himself, forcing me to start the stage all over.

To relate just how ridiculous the amount of selecting you have to do is, I'll explain box-moving, the most time-consuming action you'll perform (and the most frequent, as almost every level has boxes to move). To have Mr. Esc move a box, you must select him, select the box, wait for him to move it one space, and then do it again. When you need multiple people for a heavy box, you must select Mr. Esc and move him out of the way, if he's standing in the same space as the other person, then proceed by directing each person in turn to move the box. You can speed this process up by pushing some extra buttons to select a path for the box to be moved along, but you can't carry out the action fast enough when multiple people need to be selected and the controls are so awkward anyway that you'll probably find yourself more content just waiting for the person to move the box one square at a time.

I spent a lot of time talking about the controls on this one, I know, but it's hard to find the fun in a game when you can't even get comfortable with the game's movement. I think the game would be great if it wasn't for the poor controls. But while this version of Exit is hard to enjoy, the game is also out for the PSP and Xbox Live Arcade, which seem to have easier controls, so if you want to check the game out, and you should, I recommend trying it on one of those platforms instead.

Special thanks to Klee Kuo and Square Enix for providing a copy of this title.