Innovative puzzle games are few and far between, and TINcan! Escape is up there with some of the more interesting concepts we've seen. While it rests on a quality foundation, however, some uneven spots and lacklustre presentation make this rolling robot wobble on its wheels.
Two rival scientists compete to have their design become the next model in production, the more devious of the pair kidnapping his colleague's prototype, the friendly TINcan, and guarding it with a veritable mechanical military. You must guide the metallic protagonist through a series of rooms to make it to the big meeting.
You move TINcan one space at a time by either D-Pad or stylus, each stage a square segmented into 64 spaces like a checkerboard. You must avoid robotic baddies that operate in unique ways, some moving one or two squares at a time and others going in one specific direction, though this never becomes terribly complex. Barriers, switches that lower sections of walls, spaces that freeze or destroy bots and more come into play as well.
Stages see you manoeuvring around these obstacles toward a goal, using walls and such to your advantage, trying to predict your opponents' movement to trick them into trapping themselves or falling one step behind you. However, bad guys are only halfway predictable – at times they simply mirror you, while at others they employ a little more intelligence. None are beyond comprehension, however, but this can trip up your experience and leave things more at times to chance than logic. Phenomedia has included an undo button, but it only works three times per stage and goes back just one step; another mode, where you could work back and forth, undoing and redoing as many times as you please, would have been extremely welcome.
Other letdowns are the level design and difficulty curve. The first half is practically a breeze, and you can complete each stage in under a minute, especially when bot-destroying spaces enter the mix and you simply have to lure your enemies onto them. At about the halfway mark, however, things take a turn – easy levels are mixed with much more difficult ones, unpredictably ranging from moderately challenging to mind-numbingly hard. One stage will take thirty seconds to complete, the next will take hours. These longer-lasting areas are smart yet simple in design and represent TINcan's biggest draw. They also serve as a reminder of the great potential that this title held, making the bland parts feel all the more disappointing.
Adding replay value is the inclusion of a separate leaderboard for each stage, challenging you to return and complete it within fewer moves. There are 80 in all, and you can return to any you've completed, so there's certainly some replay value here, though it's a shame that more of these areas weren't more cleverly designed.
The presentation is extremely dull, with simple, blocky and downright ugly character models moving around mostly empty gray spaces that all look more or less alike. The top screen displays an isometric 3D perspective while the bottom shows a flat top-down view, and it livens things up somewhat to have the two choices side by side. The soundtrack for each level is the same uninteresting factory-evoking song. Finally, though no life count appears on screen, after a number of deaths you'll view a very depressing game over sequence – though you're allowed to immediately return to the level at which you left off – where your designer misses the meeting and loses her job. "What am I supposed to do now? Where will I go?" she laments.
TINcan Escape! has the solid foundation of an interesting innovation on the puzzle genre, but it's let down by too many easy stages, hard-to-predict AI, an uneven difficulty curve and not enough variation or creativity in the majority of levels. All in all, this robot's too rusty to provide anything more than a decent experience.