Gevo Entertainment didn't have the greatest luck with WiiWare, but they've turned things around for their debut DSiWare release, going from a brightly colored, child-centric theme to something more dark and mysterious. In Escapee GO!, you play as Claire, a girl who has been locked up in an insane asylum by the mysterious "Company". All of her memories are gone save that of her own name; the only thing she knows for sure is that she has to escape the Company, and in this game you'll help her to do just that.
At the outset, there are two modes of play: Story and Multiplayer. In Story Mode, you may choose between Easy, Normal, and Hard difficulty, though the only major gameplay differences between the three involve Claire's range of psychic vision and the visibility of key items in each maze, both of which are more limited on Normal and Hard. No matter the difficulty level you choose, poor Claire awakens in each to find herself lying on the floor, an unconscious warden also lying nearby. As she pushes herself to her feet, a mysterious voice in her mind introduces itself as a friend and begins telling her what to do to get out of the small room in which she's been detained. The voice stays with her throughout the game, piping up at the beginning of every level to give Claire her objectives and providing hints about her newfound powers and new enemies as they appear.
Though each environment is gorgeously detailed, watch out: all those tiny tables, bookshelves, privacy curtains and boxes are obstacles, and they all come together to trap Claire within a maze. The mysterious voice provides the objective for each level, showing you the where the exit is and telling you what she needs to do to make it out, whether it's finding a keycard to open a door, a crowbar to lift a manhole cover, or just making a mad dash for the exit past a host of the Company's goons. Luckily for her, Claire somehow has the uncanny ability to sense her pursuers from afar, her range of psychic vision denoted by the darkened area surrounding her on the screen. When any of the various wardens, guards, policemen and others enter her range of psychic vision, they appear as silhouettes on the map, allowing you the chance to choose another path or run in the opposite direction. The controls are a bit slippery – Claire never really manages to stop on a dime – but otherwise it's a breeze maneuvering her through each maze.
As you proceed down hallways and into different rooms on each map, areas Claire can see clearly are highlighted as you go. When other people enter her line of sight – meaning they can see her as well – an alarm noise sounds and they make a beeline toward her in full color. Claire's walking speed is a tiny bit lower than that of those chasing her, but she is able to sprint for a short time, which depletes the Stamina meter on the lower screen, which regenerates when walking or stopped. There are Psychic Power Items scattered throughout each level that will aid her escape for a short time, whether by increasing her stamina, running speed, or sensing range; slowing or stunning her potential captors into insensibility; or allowing her to teleport to another place in the maze at random.
You're given a limited amount of time to get Claire through each level, which slowly ticks away on the bottom screen. When a level ends, whether you made it successfully to the exit, ran out of time, or were bound and captured, the time it took is added to your total Escape Time. Make it to the end of Story Mode and, provided you didn't take too long in getting there, your Escape Time will be added to the game's High Score list. There's a list for each difficulty level, and they may be viewed at any time from the main menu.
Once you've made it through Story Mode once on any difficulty level, you'll unlock Survival Mode. Here, you pick which Story Mode map you'd like to play on and then spend your time evading captors and collecting flaming blue orbs that extend your time limit. The goal here is to last as long as you can, and your best time is saved. The game also offers a local Multiplayer Mode for up to four participants, each with their own DSi and copy of the game. Here, one player is chosen to be the Huntress, whose task is to capture all the other players. Everyone else is an Escapee, who must do their best to evade the Huntress until time runs out. As in the other two modes, there are power-ups scattered throughout the maze, and Huntress and Escapees alike may use them against one another at will. When time runs out or all the Escapees have been captured, points are awarded – one to each Escapee who made it out unscathed and one to the Huntress for each captured Escapee. The title of Huntress is handed off between players in subsequent rematches.
Every room, every environment in this game has been lovingly rendered in painstakingly pixelated detail. The windows are shiny, the bushes are leafy, the vending machines are fully stocked, and the characters running about the screen were crafted with just as much care as their settings. Claire's hair swishes from side to side as she runs, and if she's caught, her little pursuers leap up and down with glee or headbang, even, while she cries and shakes her head behind them. Escapee GO! has an overall style that will make you want to explore each level rather than having to blaze through it, racing for the end of the maze.
The music mixes more modern synthesizer sounds with the bright bleeps and bloops of chiptunes. Each of the five environments is paired with their very own background music that manages to convey the feel of Claire's surroundings - the asylum is overlaid with creepy moaning, for example, and the sewer area features a metallic echo and the lonely wail of what sounds like an electric guitar. There are points in the game where the music does not quite overlap as well as it could, pausing unnaturally before each loop, but those are mainly on screens where the player would not normally linger, such as the Stage Results screen.
With a little over fifteen different mazes to make your way through on three difficulty levels, fans of maze-escape games won't go wrong by choosing this one. Each cunningly crafted level is packed full of pixelated goodness, and the layouts gradually become trickier as you near the end. Claire's psychic powers make evading her potential captors easier, though not so easy as you'll breeze on through each level; later on you'll find yourself having to play through mazes multiple times in order to figure out what power-ups you need in order to find key items and get out. Multiplayer will be useless without local friends with DSi’s of their own, but whether you choose to tackle the story or try to best your own times in Survival instead, Escapee GO! is well worth the 200 points for the solo experience.