With so many games being released on the Switch on a weekly basis, it takes an awful lot to stand out from the crowd. It only takes one unique idea, though, and what could well have turned out to be a fairly bog standard game is transformed into a unique, compelling experience. Exception is exactly that. A game that quite literally flips the action platforming genre on its head and delivers slick gameplay with some truly gorgeous visuals.
Taking place all within the confines of a simple laptop, Exception shows us just what happens when we unwittingly click on a harmful link. Whilst waiting on word of her grandson’s soccer game, adorable pensioner Alice (going by the username alice34) clicks on a link promising ‘free’ software, and in doing so unleashes harmful entities on the system keeping her laptop in working order. The story as a whole is passable, but really nothing special. The devs clearly knew this too, giving you the option to skip any cutscenes before they even begin, allowing you to dive right into the action.
To bring balance to a system in chaos, you must navigate your way through a multitude of levels, defeating enemies and avoiding obstacles such as lasers and lava along the way. What makes Exception unique, however, is that every level has the ability to transform, flipping itself in ways that you wouldn’t think possible. To do so, you’ll need to complete a portion of the level and reach a coloured icon which will then transform the environment. It’ll flip over itself, under itself, side to side and even diagonally. After a brief animation showing the transformation, you’ll then be able to scale the environment in entirely new ways. What were once floors are now the walls, and the ceilings are now moving platforms. It’s pretty wild stuff - think of the gameplay twist in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and you’ll be on the right track.
The actual gameplay itself is fairly straightforward: you can run, jump, slide under obstacles and wall jump. You’ll also have a blue saber that you can swing around to your heart's content, destroying any unfortunate being that may cross your path. As you progress, you’ll unlock new abilities such as ranged attacks, though for the most part we found that the basic selection of abilities were more than sufficient for dealing with most of the levels.
Exception’s difficulty comes mainly from its ability to completely throw you off course when the level transforms. You’ll get so used to traversing the stages in one way, that when the levels flip themselves around, you’ll suddenly need to observe it in an entirely different way. Obstacles that once posed a minor threat may all of a sudden seem significantly more difficult to manoeuvre around once they shift positions. The enemies themselves aren’t particularly formidable, and even the bosses don’t pose much of a threat, but it’s a nice change that the majority of the game’s tension and difficulty lies with the level design itself.
Although the level design is superb for the most part, they unfortunately don’t last very long. You can expect to finish the majority of the stages well within 30 seconds, which is perfectly fine if that’s what you’re after, but we feel as though the overall experience would have benefited from a few more lengthy levels, really making use of the transformation element. That said, there’s a good focus on speed running, with each stage presenting you with a timed leaderboard at the end to see where you’re placed in the worldwide rankings, so there’s plenty of incentive to play through the levels again once you’ve surmounted them once.
Graphically, the game looks lovely. The devs have really honed in on the whole cyber ecosystem, with everything from the characters to the background feeling like they’re a part of a computer system. As each level starts, the environments morph into the screen, like a Transformer taking shape, its metallic parts shining as they move around. Similarly, elements like fire and electricity look wonderful, with multicoloured embers flickering over the screen in every direction. It's a real visual treat.
For all Exception does right, there are a couple of drawbacks that hamper the experience somewhat. A lot of players may find the gameplay a bit cumbersome for a while thanks to the unnecessarily acrobatic nature of the main character's movements. Jumping in particular can prove to be a bit irritating sometimes, with seemingly simple gaps proving more difficult than you might initially think. The boss battles are also missing some of the magic applied to the rest of the game. The design of the machines themselves are basic at best, and their movements are limited to just one or two attacks, making most of them a breeze to deal with.
Exception is, by and large, a great game that introduces a unique and compelling twist to the platforming genre with its transforming levels. There's plenty of incentive to play for the long haul with a good focus on speedrunning and simply stunning visuals, but those looking for a good story driven experience may be disappointed. There's room for improvement, though, specifically with its sometimes cumbersome jumping and relatively poor boss fights. Its short overall length might put some people off, too, but if you're after a slick-looking action platformer, this is a virus you'll want to catch.