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  1. What do you do when you find yourself overwhelmed by the expectations of others? If you were in The Artful Escape, you'd go on a psychedelic space-trotting adventure to find your own path in the universe. This is a stylish and, despite the surreal alien environments, sincere exploration of self-doubt and self-expression, though as a game it does feel disappointingly simple. You play as Francis Vendetti, a teenage musician who is living in the shadow of his famous folk singer uncle. On the 20th anniversary of his uncle's legendary album, Francis is set to make his career debut at a concert in his small hometown. The problem is, everyone expects him to sing folk music like his uncle, but his heart is set on wild, space opera guitar jams. That's when Francis meets a cosmic rock star and jets into space for a mind-opening journey. It's a well-told story of artistic expression, doubt, the fear of living up to others' expectations and the importance of finding your own path in the world (or universe). The message might feel a bit one note—more time might have been spent on the other characters Francis meets, for example—but it's a worthwhile and meaningful message all the same. In addition to the story, the surreal, psychedelic visuals and rocking soundtrack are the true stars of The Artful Escape. The colors are mind-bending and the alien landscapes are beautifully bizarre, though also familiar enough that they're easily navigable. Not surprisingly there are some excellent tunes to be found here, both emotional folk ballads and slick guitar licks and electronic melodies. The music that you play and have control over is a bit too oversimplified, but the soundtrack still has some awesome songs. The voice work is also top notch and even features some recognizable actors who do a fantastic job of bringing this surreal and story-heavy experience to life. It's good that the story and presentation are so strong in The Artful Escape, because the gameplay is practically nonexistent. There are occasionally some light 2D platforming sequences—Francis can jump, double jump, and play a guitar riff for an extra boost in height—but these are extremely simple and the penalty for failure is minimal. The platforming controls are fine and decently fluid, but there's never any obstacle that will even remotely challenge the player. You'll often face branching dialogue choices, but these are just for flavor. Aside from picking a new name and similar little details, your dialogue choices don't matter. Finally there are the guitar performances, which allow you to hit A, X, Y, L, and R to play different notes on the guitar. Sadly you don't really get to make your own music—sometimes you can freely riff but there's not a lot of variety with five notes—and instead the guitar sections are a simple Simon Says game. Another character (or alien entity) plays a short sequence of notes and you repeat with the aforementioned buttons. And don't worry, it's as much a visual puzzle as an audio one, since there's always an indicator on screen to show what buttons/notes are being hit. These play-and-repeat sections are okay but like the platforming they never grow into anything challenging or complex. Keeping the game accessible to any level of player is all well and good, but it makes for a lackluster gameplay experience. The game also clocks in at a pretty brisk four hours or so, with basically no replay value to speak of. The Artful Escape is a gorgeous and affecting experience that weaves a relatable story around stunning visuals and music. You don't have to be a musician to appreciate the emotional turmoil at play here, nor the importance of self-identity. As a game it comes up lacking by quite a bit, with only the most basic of gameplay elements included, but if you don't mind a gameplay-light experience you'll at least enjoy The Artful Escape's undeniable style. Rating: 7 out of 10 Guitar Solos
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