A sharp, enticing adventure puzzle game that unfortunately suffers from an unreliable and sluggish control scheme.
I’ve been trumpeting for some time now that games like Patapon and Wario Land: Shake It - with their simplistic, yet wonderful aesthetics - are where graphics have to go on lesser-powered systems. You will never see the photorealism of, say, Call of Duty 4 on Wii, and you won’t get the powerful 3D engine of the PSP on a DS game. These are not bad things—they are entirely different platforms, and it pains me when developers try to jerry-rig a piece of hardware to display things it wasn’t meant to display. Thus I’m always really happy when stylish, more abstract-looking games arrive on handheld platforms. Exit DS is one of these games: extremely stylish and graphically inventive, taking full advantage of its unique aesthetic.
The game concerns the heroic red-tie-wearing Mr. Esc, whose duty is to rescue civilians from life-or-death situations. Is there a building on fire? Mr. Esc is on the scene, leading survivors to safety. Exit DS plays out like a wonderfully simplified Lemmings game, with Mr. Esc rescuing people and utilizing their unique abilities to lead everyone to the titular exit. There are an impressive number of survivor “types,” including normal people, fat guys, kids, dogs, and injury victims. Everybody has a unique ability, and the player must think carefully and work out situations in specific orders to progress. At its core, Exit DS is a puzzle game, one that shows a lot of promise.
It’s gameplay that matters most however, and in this area Exit DS suffers considerably. The entire game is based on the touchscreen. You tap Mr. Esc, then tap somewhere on the landscape to make him go there. You tap Mr. Esc, then slide the stylus up to make him leap or climb a wall. You tap Mr. Esc, then tap a ladder to make him climb it. The problem is that this results in an extremely slow rate of progression. Tapping Mr. Esc doesn’t always result in the proper action, and sometimes he doesn’t do anything at all. Those with older DS systems with scratched-up screens like me, will have varying results thanks to the “dead zones” that develop over time. Exit DS would have been better off using a traditional control scheme, perhaps using the touch screen to switch between characters once they are rescued. This would make for a much faster, smoother experience.
Bear in mind that there IS an alternate button-based control scheme, but it’s a poor alternative. Pressing the X button brings up an-screen cursor, which you scroll around with the D-pad to click things instead of tapping them. In some cases this actually works better than the stylus controls, but it doesn’t speed the action up at all. Taito deserves some credit for including an alternate control scheme, but it still isn’t very useful.
It’s a shame because the game looks stunningly gorgeous. The characters look like shadow puppets, and environments are wonderfully diverse. The music is catchy, and the puzzles themselves are surprisingly deep. If you get stuck, you can restart at any time. Some of the puzzles get a little complex so a restart means a long retry, but that’s a genre convention.
Exit DS has some likeable aspects, but the tedious control scheme keeps it from greatness. There’s a worldwide ranking system via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection on which you can compare your times and score for individual puzzles, but beyond that it’s not worthwhile. Exit DS is definitely worth checking out for its unique look, but the control scheme will wear thin quickly.