Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Taito Corporation
Release Date: November 5, 2008
Exit is a 2-D rescue puzzler that got its start on the PSP in 2006. Since then, it's been ported to the Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade, and now it's making its debut on the DS in the form of Exit DS. Puzzlers and the DS usually go hand in hand, so does that creed hold true with this title?
Like the previous iterations, you'll play as the world-famous escape artist, Mr. Esc, known for rescuing victims (called companions) who are trapped in a variety of hazards such as burning buildings, flooded passageways and crumbling structures. It's up to Mr. Esc to find these survivors and lead them to safety in the form of 100 different challenges.
You'll guide Mr. Esc and his companions with the touch-screen by tapping the character once and then tapping the location to which you want him or her to go. Each character has to be controlled individually, which can be tedious when you're trying to get two or three people down a flight of stairs. Exit DS is also very picky about what you're trying to do, so if you're trying to jump across a small gap and are standing near the edge when you point to the other side, your protagonist will just stand there and shrug his shoulders. If he's a good distance away from the edge, though, he'll happily leap across the gap. If you try to plan ahead, such as going up some stairs and running down the hallway all at once, Mr. Esc will simply run past the stairs. You have the option of making him perform multiple actions by holding down on the L shoulder button as you dictate the actions, so keep that in mind when you're planning your exit strategy. You can also pan the camera to mark your destination at a farther location with the d-pad.
Since Exit DS revolves around rescuing people trapped in buildings, it's essentially a bunch of escort missions, which may turn off gamers. Most of the time, you'll be lugging around extra baggage (the companions), and you may have to help them climb over obstacles, which slows down the action. However, there are many instances where your companions will be needed to solve puzzles. Companions come in a variety of forms: the typical adult has many of same abilities as Mr. Esc, the large adult needs help getting over obstacles but can push large blocks by himself, the injured adult must be carried everywhere, children can crawl through small spaces that are inaccessible to adults but need help getting over tall obstacles, and dogs can crawl through small spaces, leap across far gaps and retrieve items.
Together, Mr. Esc and his companions will solve puzzles, such as push large blocks that require two people to push, have one person stand on a pressure switch so that the other can move on, and as previously mentioned, smaller companions are needed for accessing small crawlspaces to retrieve items or to activate a switch. Some of the items that Mr. Esc and his companions can use to remove hazards include a fire extinguisher to eliminate flames or a pick to break large icicles blocking the way. An issue I had with the companions, aside from the burden of constantly escorting them everywhere, is coordinating moves with multiple characters at once. For instance, if I need to push a large block with another character, I'd tap Mr. Esc and then the other person, but sometimes the characters are bunched together, so I end up controlling Mr. Esc again.
Aside from the cluttering touch controls, Exit DS actually plays pretty well. In addition to the single-player mode, which will keep you busy for some time, you can jump on the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and post your fastest times for a level on the online leaderboards. A countdown timer ticks down as you're playing through the levels, and you have to complete the level before the timer reaches zero. Depending on how quickly you complete a stage and whether you rescue all of the companions, you'll be scored accordingly. If besting your or others' times makes you all tingly inside, then Exit DS is an ideal quick game title for your handheld.
The presentation for Exit DS is much like its previous iterations in that it resembles a comic book/graphic novel. The levels consist of very few colors, but they are bright, and your goals are highlighted in specific colors. On the map that appears on the top screen, the level's exit is green, and the NPC' you need rescue are represented as squares. The characters are represented as faceless silhouettes of people, and you can tell who's who based on a brightly colored article of clothing, such as a dress for a woman or a baseball cap for a kid. In summary, this is a puzzle game that's very flashy with the art direction, which is something you don't see too often.
Sound is probably among the weaker aspects of Exit DS. The character voices are OK, but they get very annoying very quickly. As soon as you start a level, you hear a nagging helpless woman shout, "Somebody save me!" She keeps crying for help every few seconds, and it makes me more anxious to rescue her just so she'll shut up, not because I care about her well-being. The music, on the other hand, goes well with the frantic pace of the game and accentuates the fact that you're rushing to rescue everyone as quickly as possible. The music is nice, but it's easily forgettable.
Overall, Exit DS is a pretty solid action-puzzle game, and I recommend it if you haven't experienced it yet. Fans of the original may not be up for playing through the same game again, even with tacked-on touch controls that end up being fairly problematic. It offers a large amount of challenges that make the game worthwhile.