The Artful Escape review – Trip on a Gemini spaceship

To say you should “follow your dreams,” is such an empty sentiment especially in the face of climate change, economic collapse and an uncertain future. But for first-time studio Beethoven & Dinosaur, it’s an important message, crucial, really and it’s stated wondrously if a bit clumsily on their debut release, The Artful Escape.

A hybrid between a visual novel and a light platformer, The Artful Escape will astound you with plenty of breathtaking visuals and far out music. You take on the role of Francis Vendetti, a young lad whose life seems to exist solely to remind people of his uncle, a legendary folk singer and hometown hero. He professes to be a serious folk musician, but in truth dreams of space odysseys and fantastic voyages.

There isn’t all that much to the story itself, but Francis’ journey to self-actualization is well realized even if it is a bit predictable. Fortunately, there are enough interesting surprises to keep the Artful Escape’s tale of musical myth making from being entirely rote, and it’s largely a credit to the celebrity vocal talent that Annapurna Interactive has recruited for the game that the Artful Escape never feels too maudlin or kitschy.

Carl Weathers (The Mandalorian, Predator) delivers a memorable performance as Lightman, an aging Hendrix-type mentor, layering the character with the right amount of bluster and insecurity. Michael Johnston (Teen Wolf) portrayal of Francis Vendetti exhibits a chameleon-like shift between false confidence and artistic anxiety. My personal favorite is Jason Schwartzman’s droll delivery as Zomm, first mate of the starship Cosmic Lung. Interacting with these sharply written characters is always fun.

Certain points in the story ask you to define Francis’ rock alter ego, your very own Ziggy Stardust if you will, and decide their origins and history. Unfortunately, these choices are mostly decorative.

I just wish the choices you made in conversations had more weight. At certain points in the story, you’re asked to help Francis define his glam rock alter ego, your very own Ziggy Stardust if you will and decide their origins and history. Unfortunately, these choices are mostly decorative. There’s never a moment where being from Vonn Della Don instead of Nez Beam matters, though being able to say, “I am the incomparable Experiment Ego, General of the Heavy Metal Brigade!” never ever gets old.

At its best, The Artful Escape transcends its lightweight gameplay, which only asks you to participate in a few “Simon Says” rhythm sequences to send off key story beats into the musical stratosphere and engage in some mild platforming. But at its worst, it descends into a listless experience and there were times where I found myself slumping into my couch and drifting off into sleep.

It’s a shame too as The Artful Escape practically sings in the art and sound department. The entire game is a symphony of color that doesn’t just lean into its psychedelic, kaleidoscopic inclinations, it paints a galaxy of imagination. You’ll witness starships soar across the horizon and evoke the intergalactic majesty of the finest space opera and deliver musical performances to a diverse range of aliens as your audience.

The Artful Escape practically sings in the art and sound department. The entire game is a symphony of color that doesn’t just lean into its psychedelic, kaleidoscopic inclinations, it paints a galaxy of imagination.

It’s not difficult to recognize the inspiration from the posters and art for high concept rock albums of the late 20th century. And The Artful Escape is all about making each level feel like a side-scrolling set piece of alien landscapes and spacey vistas, bombarded by lasers, light beams and other spectacular far out effects. You can trace a direct line from its visuals to iconography from the likes of Pink Floyd, Yes and David Bowie.

The Artful Escape review

Unfortunately, for a game about music, the music in The Artful Escape is just okay. Some clever sound design ensures you can’t play a discordant note, that every chord sounds cool. But because The Artful Escape so consciously evokes the memory of rock and roll greats, it forces its music to pale in comparison to them. It can only pay tribute to the majesty and grandeur of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin not duplicate it. That might seem unfair, but when the game is centered around the rock’s own mythmaking, it’s difficult to ignore.

Fortunately, despite these weaknesses, The Artful Escape was still enjoyable. It’s not what some people might be looking for in an interactive coming-of-age rock opera, but charming characters and astonishing visuals help make a relatively short four to six hour experience enjoyable throughout.

The Artful Escape review
The Artful Escape
About The Score
It’s a game you can just y’know, play. Like, it's okay. Some caveats were had but we found something to enjoy or appreciate.
Pros
Gorgeous visuals straight out of a psychedelic rock dream
Sharp and funny character writing
Cons
Gameplay is slim to nonexistent
Distracting performance issues even on Series X
6
Okay