Escape Goat is a prime example of the old adage “Never judge a book by its cover.” I first played the game some time back when it appeared on Xbox Live Indie Games. It’s still one of my go-to examples of decent games that are sadly drowned beneath the sea of junk that makes up the XBLIG ghetto. Unfortunately, whenever I recommend Escape Goat, people seem instantly turned off by the visuals, and I can’t really blame them. You can now find Escape Goat on both GOG and Steam, and while the presentation might not be particularly appealing, trust me when I say that if you give the game a shot you’ll find a pretty fun and challenging puzzle platformer at a very reasonable price.
The core gameplay of Escape Goat is incredibly simple. You are a goat stuck in a dungeon and must use your abilities to navigate rooms, each of which is about one screen in size. You can double jump and you have a dash move that can be used to dart forward to avoid obstacles or move certain blocks. You also have a mouse friend that you can send into areas that the goat is too big to access. Some levels feature a magic hat, which gives you the ability to swap places with the mouse and is vital to solving that particular room.
The goal of each room is simply to reach the exit. Accomplishing this requires a mix of both platforming and puzzle solving. The exit is always blocked in some way, and opening the path involves hitting switches, moving blocks, or otherwise manipulating the environment. Most rooms are also full of ways to kill you, be it traps, bottomless pits, or the skeletal reapers that will assail you with fireballs as soon as they see you.
The main game features over 60 rooms, divided amongst some ten regions with different tile sets. Each of these regions usually has about six rooms with their own unique set of challenges and themes. For example, there is an ice themed tile set with ice blocks that are too slippery for the mouse to traverse. Another tile set is based on a mad science theme and is full of moving platforms, traps, and electrical barriers that instantly kill you.
Despite the fairly simple base mechanics, Escape Goat throws some really clever and challenging puzzles the deeper you get into the dungeon. Rooms where you must use the magical hat in particular are usually pretty interesting, often requiring you to keep sending the mouse into areas the goat can’t reach so you can swap places to accomplish some task that the mouse is incapable of doing. The fact that the mouse takes time to scurry around the level results in some clever puzzles based on timing.
One in particular involved having to ride a moving platform through a series of traps. There were two sets of switches, red and blue, that would deactivate one set of traps, but activate another. You’d have to hit a blue switch to deactivate some traps, but then send the mouse to a red switch out of the goat’s reach to deactivate the next set of traps before you got to them, but after you passed the last set of traps. The fire themed region is another example of clever traps based on timing that often required you to maneuver exploding barrels and goad the reapers into shooting at them at the right time.
If there is one issue I’d levy against the game’s puzzles it’s that some require a bit too much trial and error, especially the timed puzzles. A handful of rooms drop you into a life-threatening puzzle that you must figure out within a few short moments before being killed. The limited time in which you have to glance over your options often means you have to repeatedly die several times before it becomes apparent what you even need to do. These timed puzzles become more common towards the end of the game, where the puzzles are often pretty complicated with little margin for error.
Once you beat the main game, which will probably take you a little over three hours, you’ll unlock another set of even more hellishly devised puzzles. These puzzles, numbering a bit over two dozen, are designed to push your platforming and puzzle solving skills to their absolute limited. Even the easier ones are more complicated than most of the puzzles in the main game, so expect a really tough challenge from this advanced campaign. If you need even more goat-based puzzle-platforming, the game comes with an editor that makes creating and sharing new rooms relatively painless. With the recent Steam release I think it’s safe to say that Escape Goat could find a decent little cult following of players devising unbelievably devious challenges for you to try.
I fully admit that Escape Goat doesn’t look too appealing at first glance. It is easy to write it off as “just another retro-inspired indie puzzle platformer.” We certainly aren’t lacking those these days, and Escape Goat‘s 8-bit aesthetic (which doesn’t even look as good as many other games out there with 8-bit pixel art) doesn’t make it stand out too well among its peers. However, if you give it a chance, you’ll find a solid game that is pretty good at what it does and has a nice amount of content for the meager $5 price tag. You can currently find the game on GOG, Steam, the developer’s website, Desura, IndieGameStand, and GamersGate. There is also a sequel in development that is expected to come out sometime this year.