Run, doodle, run!
I don’t play many mobile games these days, but I have fond memories of Rayman Jungle Run. Perfectly appropriating the sublime UbiArt animation of Rayman Legends into an auto-running platformer, it felt right at home on mobile.
Escape Doodland is another take on the autorunning platformer, heading to PC and Switch first, with iOS to come later. The fact it’s prioritising these formats first is surprising – it’s unmistakably a mobile game at heart. Perhaps it’s something to do with how the App Store is an unprofitable cesspit for anything other than whale-snaring, free-to-play microtransaction-fests.
The pressure’s always on in Escape Doodland. With auto-running mechanics there’s no chance to stop for a breather. And you wouldn’t want to – at all times you’re pursued by ‘Omnomus’ the dragon-wurm-demon-thing, never more than a few steps away from gobbling you up.
Mechanically it’s all very straightforward, with nothing more than a jump/climb button and the ability to unleash fart powers (sigh) to propel yourself further forward or stun Omnomus, as a sort of gastric helping hand. Despite this simplicity, however, Escape Doodland can get very hard – and that difficulty curve is poorly managed.
After a steadily more challenging first half, it throws an outrageous water level at you out of nowhere (it’s always the bloody water levels, isn’t it?). Discarding its pre-established controls, the game becomes something like a subaquatic Flappy Bird, in which you tap to sluggishly dodge electrocuting fish and one-hit-kill gobblers which can almost cover the full width of the screen. It’s exasperating.
Level 7 is another toughie, by virtue of the fact that you’re pursued by an unstoppable tide of green sludge rather than Omnomus, who can at least be stunned. But after these two stinkers, it unassumingly returns to business as usual for the final few stages – which are much more manageable as a result.
At only ten levels, Escape Doodland isn’t exactly the most generous offering. Attempting to bulk it out are collectable green jellybeans scattered throughout stages which contribute to a score out of three, a rating which directly translates to golden jellybeans, a currency used for unlocking ability upgrades and new little wretches for you to play as. Got all that? This system is a welcome extra but is unlikely to entice anyone but true completionists to play levels over and over. Particularly that water one, yuck.
While there’s nothing groundbreaking about the way Escape Doodland plays, its style certainly sets it apart, for better or worse. This is a scribbly world of ragtag creatures, bizarre environments and gross toilet humour. But though it may be crude, Escape Doodland thrives on its wacky level design. A highlight is a level inside of a sea creature’s mouth, its long tongue a sort of red carpet, leading you towards wonky, rotting teeth platforms which creak and wobble as you jump on them.
The world really feels alive, with a lot of stuff happening in the background – not that you’ll notice it, necessarily, while concentrating on not messing up. One funny detail is how the dragon changes his attire to match the level, sporting a cowboy hat for a Western and a goofy scuba mask for the underwater stage.
Suitably accompanying this are background tunes that are daft and whimsical, albeit liable to wear thin after your 10th attempt on a level. More grating still are the giggles and overblown screams from your doodly protagonist – not to mention the fart noises.
Escape Doodland feels a little rough and throwaway like the notepad scribbles it so endearingly emulates. It’ll only keep you occupied for a couple of hours or so and there’ll be some hair-tearing moments along the way, but its playful nature and levels comprising of more hits than misses make it worth a look at its low asking price.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.