Review: Mechanic Escape

MechanicEscape

Sequel to Mechanic Infantry, a title that apparently came out a few years ago but unfortunately I never played, Mechanic Escape is out today on Steam. In a Saturday morning cartoon world ruled by machines, you play as a heroic television set with arms and legs named Mech, who braves dangerous factories and electrified swamps in order to rescue his imprisoned pals and prevent the extermination of his race of boxy CRT TVs. This lighthearted journey takes the form of a 2D platformer that marries twitch platform hopping and obstacle avoidance with the one-hit-death urgency and tension of a runner.

Mechanic Escape‘s 80 stages are evenly divided across four worlds, each throwing down a progressively challenging gauntlet of hazards and heart-pounding chase sequences. Mechanically speaking, platformers don’t come any simpler than this. Mech can run from side to side and do all manner of jumps (single jumps, double jumps, wall jumps, etc.), but he doesn’t have any attacks or other special skills. Well thought out level layouts and a steady introduction of new obstacles come together in balanced harmony to maintain your attention until the very last level is finished.

The main goal is to get Mech from the starting gate to the exit of each stage with only a single life. You can replay a stage as many times as it takes to complete it (a counter in the level selection menu keeps track of the number of deaths per stage), but there are no checkpoints, so you can expect to die and retry a lot until you manage to put together that one perfect run to freedom. Along the way, you will have to avoid barriers of electricity, turret fire, flame jets, robotic claws, hydraulic crushers and other hazards using carefully timed jumps, as well as various contraptions like rope swings, catapult pads, lines of circuitry and cannons that launch Mech through the air. During certain portions of a stage, your twitch platforming reflexes and ability to quickly recognize oncoming traps will be put to the test even further by chase sequences in which one of a few different boss baddies will relentlessly pursue Mech until you manage to get him safely across a laser gate that will zap the boss out of commission. Throughout the rest of a stage you have some leeway to make a poor jump as long as you don’t touch a hazardous object, but with a boss giving chase a mistimed wall jump or even the unnecessary time wasted on a double jump when a single jump would have sufficed usually is enough of a mistake to allow the boss to catch up and send you back to the beginning. These bosses also attack from a distance with homing missiles and laser beams, adding another layer of danger.

Mechanic Escape is a challenging game, but it doesn’t cross the line into becoming a tedious exercise in trial and error likes some of its contemporaries. By the time the third and fourth worlds come around, you will occasionally send Mech to television heaven upwards of 20 to 30 times or possibly even more on a given level, and by the time you reach the credits scroll your total number of deaths will assuredly be in the hundreds. For me personally, it took a little more than six hours and 600 deaths to complete the game and earn perfect ratings on every stage. After that many retries you might think that the game is cheap and frustrating, but it’s not, thanks to instantaneous reloads after death coupled with the fact that each level takes no more than a minute to complete from start to finish. At times it may take a couple dozen attempts to clear a stage, but you won’t feel fatigued because ultimately managing to overcome the challenge with that many retries will only eat up maybe 10 minutes of your life. I felt tested the entire time, but not once did I ever feel the urge to slam my controller or curse at the screen in a fit of gamer rage (which I have been known to do).

It also helps that the controls are so smooth and responsive. Mech’s momentum is a bit floaty, but that’s an intended design choice which is simply a part of the learning curve and is no way detrimental to your ability to feel complete control over what’s happening. Missing a jump or taking the wrong approach through a series of obstacles rarely is a result of poor design. The only exception would be the game’s auto-jump function. By holding down on the jump button, Mech will automatically continue to jump. This can actually be helpful for gaining speed through a wall jumping sequence since there isn’t any time being wasted between consecutive button taps, but in rare instances you may hold the button a split second too long after the first jump and accidentally cause Mech to jump a second time (usually into death) when that was not your intention. It’s not a persistent problem, but it results in enough failures to register as a minor annoyance. There should be an option to turn this jump automation off.

Mechanic Escape offers quite a bit of replay value for the cheap $5 spend. The levels are designed to accommodate two different styles of play. Speedrun specialists will enjoy the challenge of replaying stages to find shortcuts and memorize level layouts in order to shave seconds off their completion time. Each stage also contains a total of 50 small TVs and 5 larger TVs to rescue as collectibles. Doing so requires a different approach, because while speedrunning a level you’re just going as fast as possible without bothering to stop for collectibles. When attempting to rescue all the TVs you don’t have to be as urgent, but you do have to be even more precise with your jumps as certain collectibles require perfect timing and trajectory to reach. You don’t always get the chance to backtrack for any missed TVs either.

I’m nitpicking here, but I can’t say that I’m not at least mildly disappointed that the game doesn’t have leaderboards. With the emphasis on speedruns, it just doesn’t seem right to not be able to compare your completion times with other players. A ghost feature would have been a cool addition as well, either for downloading the ghosts of other players to race against, or if nothing else the ability to turn on a ghost of your best completion time on each level. Some of the game’s achievements are also odd. I get the humor behind having achievements tied to the number of deaths, but there are just too many, to the point where the game seems to reward poor play more than skilled play. In order to earn 100% completion, I literally had to die on purpose like 300 to 400 times to pick up a couple last achievements after I had already perfected every stage. These are even more glaring when you consider the fact that there are no achievements for accomplishments that actually require some level of skill and commitment, such as perfecting all stages or setting top completion times. Finally, the overall audio production falls flat. For as sharp and charming as the cartoony graphics are, the music and sound effects lack spark and simply don’t do anything to enhance the experience.

Again, these are just minor faults in an otherwise fantastic game of running, jumping, dying and retrying. While the game might not be as hardcore as Super Meat Boy and other comparable platformers, it packs a serious punch of challenge, complemented by a smooth difficulty curve, thoughtful level design and tight controls. If you enjoy platformers with a bite, Mechanic Escape will keep you glued to the tube for hours on end.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Levels offer multiple approaches for speedruns or collectibles
+ Die & retry twitch platforming that is challenging without turning cheap
+ Smooth and responsive controls
+ Nice variety of obstacles, bosses and contraptions add new wrinkles all the way to the end
+ Charming cartoony art style

Cons:
– No speedrun scoreboards or ghosts
– Achievements reward sucking at the game, penalize skilled play
– Bland, forgettable audio
– Can’t disable auto-jumping

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Tekneo, Plug In Digital
Developer: Slak Games
Release Date: 4/15/2014
Genre: Platformer
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!