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Mechanic Escape (PC) artwork

Mechanic Escape (PC) review

"System error"

Mechanic Escape (PC) image

I've learned two things from indie, faux-retro platformers. First off, such games don't need to present steep challenges to be worthwhile. Plenty of titles have managed to deliver terrific experiences while sporting modest difficulty ratings. Secondly, a fine line separates effective hard games from their sub-par siblings. The best products dance that line gracefully, offering you malicious stage designs that play to the strengths of each game's mechanics. Super Meat Boy, for instance, features crammed corridors and perilous set pieces, but provides you with tight enough mechanics that you feel enabled rather than hamstrung, even in the worst situations. When you perish, you can't blame lousy or ill-fitting play control.

Sadly, some games try to emulate Meat Boy's expert line dancing technique, but end up toppling into the "bad" side. Mechanic Escape is just such a platformer...

You wouldn't know it from stage one, though. Mechanic Escape starts off decently enough, pushing you through simple gauntlets full of obstacles that can kill you with a single touch. You negotiate staircase-like sections of real estate, leap off floating platforms, swing from dangling wires and blast out of Donkey Kong Country-ish cannons, all while avoiding spinning blades and security lasers. Meanwhile, you attempt to snag all fifty-five collectible robots found throughout the stage. One wrong move, though, and you're dead. Thankfully, you come to the party with infinite lives, so you only lose level progress after croaking. Since most of the stages on offer only last about thirty seconds, death doesn't set you back too far.

Making things slightly worse, though, is the fact that every challenge is accompanied by a boss monster that chases you. You must remain in constant motion when one of them shows up, or you're history. On top of that, a couple of them utilize ranged attacks, including homing missiles and a charged laser. Thankfully, once you cross a certain point, an electrical gate activates and annihilates the boss until the next stage.

Mechanic Escape (PC) image

The first half of the campaign proves to be a breezy, enjoyable romp. Mechanic Escape impressively pulls off floaty physics that would damn almost any other title, mainly because bits of environment sit exactly where they should. Gaps between platforms stretch out just enough that a single jump should do the trick. Wall climbing sections utilize appropriately spaced gaps, allowing you to bounce from one opening to another without suffering death via electrocution or dismemberment. You can even double-jump to reach loftier ledges and nab hidden collectibles. The first two worlds don't demand much of you, though some of their levels can break your face if you let your guard down.

Sadly, the first half of the campaign does suffer from a lack of memorable segments. For the most part, repeated, familiar devices comprise the first twenty-five or thirty levels. You also only see slight revamps of each platformer trope as they appear. For instance, Tarzan-esque wire-swinging portions start out cut and dry, but further examples of this concept merely space the wires out, provide additional wires or place foes in your path. These repeated scenes don't necessarily hamper the early Mechanic Escape experience, but they prevent the game from standing out when it really needed to do so.

The challenge factor spikes when you're partway through the third world, called "Robot Hell." Here you run afoul of multiple areas with claustrophobia-inducing sets and obstacles galore. The boss character you meet fires a pesky laser, and sometimes you can't avoid it because the closed-in spaces don't allow you enough room for evasive maneuvers. You feel that you've been cheated at this point, that Mechanic Escape stopped providing you with the tools for success. Believe me, it only gets worse from there.

Mechanic Escape (PC) image

Robot Hell is doable, albeit tough as nails. Once you reach the final world, Lost Channel, Mechanic Escape kicks into hyperdrive and forgets about its strongest qualities. You constantly navigate tight quarters with a floaty jump and slightly over-responsive play control, all while avoiding massive monsters that barrage you with unavoidable attacks. These mechanics were wonderful in the early outs of the campaign because the stages were spacious enough to accommodate the over-responsiveness. Now, though, the game places you in segments where touchy controls screw you over quite regularly. For instance, during one scene, an anti-gravity beam carries you up a narrow shaft while enemies move to and fro around you. You need to be ever so careful not to move the thumbstick too far to the left or right, or else you might end up careening into one--and you will, more often than not.

Other segments have you dropping down a narrow ravine without touching killing walls, or ascending a series of ledges while a boss chases you. In the latter case, you often end up wall-jumping off one of the platforms and colliding with the boss, because the game's loose physics make sizing up such a leap needlessly difficult, especially on the fly. I'm not even exaggerating when I say I died nearly two hundred times in one level (the game keeps track of your deaths) before finally overcoming the ordeal.

You constantly fall into rhythms where you're at Mechanic Escape's mercy. You can't stop running because the boss is behind you, but every time you reach a certain point, a moving enemy happens to be positioned directly in your path. This occurs every time you retry the stage, and you don't know what you need to do to upset the rhythm and get past the sequence. Apparently, the answer is to get lucky, because that was what ultimately led me to success. Another section proves to be even worse, as you run away from the missile-shooting beast. No matter where you slow down or how quickly and expertly you give this guy the slip on level 4-18, his missile will nail you about ninety percent of the time.

Mechanic Escape (PC) image

The experience grows wearisome, taxing. You die, start over, hope to press beyond the point where you croaked, die at that place again and scratch your head wondering what you could do differently. Eventually, you either give up or you push yourself and maybe emerge victorious. Unfortunately, none of the late-campaign content offers entertaining moments. Instead, your charge through a smattering of vicious segments, armed with abilities that can barely help you survive.

I can't fault developer Slak Games for trying, though. Game programming is difficult enough, and piecing together an effective platformer is surely an exhausting job. Levels designs might appear magnificent on paper, but may not play out so wonderfully when you apply proper mechanics. That's Mechanic Escape's biggest drawback; it presents you with loose physics, but eventually expects absolute precision out of you. Precision-based platformers work best when players have tight play control at their disposal. Mechanic Escape is an "NES hard" title, but that doesn't make it an effective one. It tried to dance the aforementioned thin line, but ultimately stumbled when its own limitations proved inadequate for the challenges on offer. Sometimes, a platformer benefits more from a balanced, less overwhelming approach. Such a setup would've done wonders for Mechanic Escape.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 13, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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