If you choose to enter a burning building, you’re probably one of two things, either a man of action or a fire-fighter. Mr. Escape, your Exit DS protagonist, happens to be a bit of both. Not only does he willfully enter these high pressure situations, but he also helps to evacuate hordes of people less athletic than himself. Being the thrill seeker he is, Mr. Escape isn’t content with just getting in and getting out, he has to make things a bit more interesting as he mulls possible escape routes. Saving lives isn’t only a risky business, it’s a heady one.
As you leap into Exit DS, you’ll be greeted with ten different scenarios. Each represents a different location that Mr. Escape will have to brave, ranging from apartment buildings, to hotels and shopping malls. Each location is further divided into ten separate levels, which will surely keep Mr. Escape busy saving lives for some time.
Over the course of the first scenario, Exit DS will teach you the ins and outs of Mr. Escape’s abilities, along with the abilities, or often inabilities, of the survivors you’ll be rescuing along the way. The amount of rules and actions that the game throws at you can be a lot to digest. Not only does Mr. Escape have to operate within a certain amount of set parameters, each of the five different survivor types (adult, large adult, injured adult, child, dog) have their own specific parameters. Even if you forget some of the instructions there’s no need to worry, Exit DS has an extremely handy glossary that lists all of the movement/character parameters for easy reference.
Maneuvering these harrowing buildings by default is handled with the DS’ stylus. After tapping Mr. Escape to select him you’ll be able to drop way points. If you tap on a spot Mr. Escape will either walk or run to it depending on the distance. In addition to movement, you can tap a box and he’ll push it, tap an item and he’ll pick it up. If you hold the L button you can issue as many as nine orders to Mr. Escape before he’ll start acting. Setting up way points with the stylus works well because it allows you to give one character a set task to complete, while assigning actions for another.
Despite the main appeal of Exit DS’ control scheme, there are a number of small issues that end up hampering the experience. For example if you have multiple characters occupying the same space, there isn’t any way to select one specific character. Most often the game will select Mr. Escape, since he’s the most useful character. Another little nuisance is the game’s need to center the camera after you select a character. The camera centering has the players’ best interest at heart but is completely unnecessary given your ability to freely move the camera using the d-pad. Lastly, the game will sometimes read your inputs incorrectly, thinking you dragged the stylus rather than just simply tapping. This can lead to undesirable actions, including mistakes which could make the level impossible to complete. Exit DS does feature full directional pad control if the stylus control really begins to bug you, but it felt odd having direct control and the title not playing like a platformer.
Once you’ve gotten used to the eccentricities of Mr. Escape and the stylus, Exit DS can actually be an extremely rewarding experience. As you negotiate the levels you’ll have to spend a lot of time figuring out how each item, object and survivor can be used to get everyone to safety. You’ll learn that everything you find in a level will ultimately serve a purpose, even if it isn’t immediately clear. To make sure that you’re always thinking on your feet, each level will come accompanied by a set time limit. Fortunately, time will rarely be the reason for failure since Exit DS gives you more than ample time to devise and execute your escape.
Other than time and wrapping your head around the game’s puzzles there isn’t a whole lot in terms of obstacles for the player. Given the short levels and large amount of them, its obvious Exit DS is geared towards knocking out several levels in each and every sitting. Unfortunately, many of the restrictive parameters introduced early in the game inhibit the player from progressing too briskly. Exit DS will regularly infuriate as you realize you’ve trapped a survivor accidentally or simply pushed a box up against a wall. Given the wide range of skills for Mr. Escape and his ability to cooperate with others, it’s absolutely mind boggling that the game doesn’t allow you to pull boxes. Obviously it would have made the game somewhat simpler, but a slightly more forgiving game is far more preferable to minor miscalculations resulting in restarted levels and inadvertent trial and error.
Exit DS is an incredibly frustrating title because at its most basic core it’s fun and incredibly well designed. It’s an absolute shame that Mr. Escape’s adventures are marred with imprecise controls and one insidious game design choice. Solving each and every escape is extremely gratifying but those feelings are always short lived, while you discover you’ve screwed over your next escape yet again.