Rockstar-turned-game developer Johnny Galvatron created the studio Beethoven & Dinosaur out of his desire to make his own video game. Unsurprisingly, the game he decided to create, The Artful Escape, is heavily influenced by music, so much so that a lot of times it feels more like an experience that you’re guided along than a game. This is a good thing — many fantastic games are less about challenging the player, or giving them an obstacle to overcome, and instead provide a narrative for them to follow along with. The Artful Escape took this approach and managed to knock it out of the park.
The game begins in a small Colorado town called Calypso. Its main character, Francis Vendetti, sits at the edge of a cliff while strumming a folk tune on his guitar. Vendetti spends most of his life living in the shadow of his uncle, Johnson Vendetti. A famous folk singer, Johnson is the pride and joy of the town and someone whose footsteps Francis is expected to follow. However, no one knows that Francis can shred and is a natural-born rockstar.
The rest of the game is a coming-of-age story for Francis. Along the way, he’ll meet some interesting characters and go on a journey to discover who he really wants to be. Is Francis a rockstar, or does he want to walk the path of a folk singer? At least that’s the main premise of the game, and it’s an interesting one, but the real enjoyment of it comes from watching Francis gain confidence in himself. Francis is an awkward teenager going through a personal crisis, and while it’s music related, many of us went through that same sort of moment in our lives, too. We wanted to express ourselves, but we weren’t sure how to do so or even if we felt comfortable doing it.
While The Artful Escape is a journey that we are guided along, there’s also plenty of interactivity. When outside of the main levels, Francis can wander around and speak to other characters. He will sometimes ponder about the scenery. These moments are where a lot of really funny dialogue can come in. The game is well written, knowing exactly when to be charming, and never taking itself too seriously. Even during heartfelt moments, the developers weren’t afraid to throw in a line that gets a chuckle.
We get to see Francis’s struggle to grow up play out in some fun gameplay. To break the game down into its simplest form, a conversation or plot moment will occur. The player will be given some dialogue choices to allow Francis to express himself in a way they choose — we can make Francis sound confident, hesitant, somewhere in the middle, or really any range of emotions. After these conversations, Francis will run through a stage with guitar in hand as he shreds his way to the end of each sequence.
These side-scrolling levels make up the majority of the game with Francis using music to push through by running, jumping, and shredding his guitar through breathtaking visuals.
Throughout levels are simple Simon Says-like mini-games where the player will copy onscreen button inputs, which lead to further visual spectacle and some really great music. One of the plusses of this game being more of a guide than a challenge is it gives the player the opportunity to really appreciate everything that is happening on-screen at all times. The Artful Escape is a gorgeous game with some truly beautiful moments that will sit with the player well after they’ve watched the credits roll.
Technically, you could call this game a platformer, but the obstacles are never a hindrance. Anytime the player fails to make a jump, or fails during a mini-game, they’ll quickly reset and be given an opportunity to try again. There is no punishment for failure in The Artful Escape, and that’s a good thing because it would interrupt the true purpose of telling Francis’s story. This is not a game about the player overcoming a triumph, it’s about watching Francis grow into his own person.
This isn’t a game for everyone. People who adore music, and anyone with a musical background of any kind, should give it a try. Even those who aren’t exactly Mozart can appreciate The Artful Escape. It has plenty of moments that will leave a smile on your face and the art direction is fantastic the entire way through. Don’t go into this expecting platforming or combat challenges. Instead, be ready to go on a journey, sit back, and enjoy the ride.