Escape The Red Giant
The sun has turned into a red giant so you need to jump from asteroid to asteroid performing tricks to build combos that will award you extra points as you try to outrun the red, burning death - for as long as you can because sun, sun, sun, here we come, come, come....
Escape The Red Giant
is an arcade launcher game from a Finnish development company. Although it was released in 2009 it still feels fresh nearly four years later, which is due to a combination of addictive gameplay, a wonderful soundtrack, and timeless, endearing graphics that are surprisingly engaging for something that uses very little animation.
You control an astro boy (apparently named Spip The Boy
) who begins each launch attempt standing on an asteroid (which is, presumably, not too far from Earth). Your job is to send him upwards and try to keep him as far away from the red giant as possible, which becomes increasingly difficult as the giant's expansion accelerates over time. The trick in this game is that you can't control where he moves in space (which, when you think about it, is logical). You can only control him when he lands on an asteroid by pressing either the left or right keys to rotate him anti clockwise and clockwise, respectively, before you hit the up key to launch him off the astroid back into space, and hopefully to the next asteroid.
The key to staying away from the red giant is to pick up enough speed, which you can achieve by landing and rotating on an asteroid at just the right angle, as well as by picking up Kaboom chocolate bars that are scattered throughout space. Make a mistake, though, or crush an asteroid (which you can do by pressing the up key - if you're going fast enough you'll crush it; if not you'll back bounce off it), and your speed will reduce drastically. Depending on how close the red giant is, a slower speed isn't necessarily a problem, and crushing asteroids, which is considered a trick, can contribute to your combo score and combo multiplier, but if the red giant is too close you will quickly find yourself in a lot of hot, erm, plasma.
As you're shooting through space the gravity of the asteroids subtly affects your movement so you will never stay in a straight line for long and instead your path will start to curve, more drastically the slower you're going. This may or may not be to your advantage, depending on the situation you're in as sometimes you want to be landing on asteroids, while at other times you really want to be avoiding them. You are helped (slightly) with a little scanner on the right-hand side of the screen but all it does is indicate the position of asteroids, Kaboom bars, and the red giant relative to you. It doesn't give any information as to the size of an asteroid.
There are no upgrades and only one pickup (the aforementioned Kaboom bar) so each launch attempt really boils down to a combination of skill and luck. The game is also completely unforgiving. If you don't time the combos perfectly the multiplier immediately drops back down to zero.
Generating combos is the main mechanic in this game, which is underemphasised by the instructions that lead you to believe that primarily what you want to do is go as high as possible. You do, but you can only go so far as the red mass expands faster and faster and eventually you won't be able to outrun it, so that leaves finding something else to utilise your time as effectively as possible, and the answer is combos. Your combos and the choices you make that help to increase your speed (plus a lot of luck) can also extend how long it takes before you are enveloped by the red giant.
There are lots of ways to perform tricks that add to your combo points and combo multipliers. Some of them are easy, some happen by accident, and a few require skill that will only develop as you play the game. The tricks include how you land on an asteroid, how close you get to the sun, how fast you're going, how far you jump, and how many asteroids you pop. You'll also score when you reach waypoint milestones, such as the Moon or Saturn, and pick up Kaboom bars, which give you an instant speed burst.
There is a lot of luck required in this game but skill is also a huge factor and the better you become at combos and zig-zagging through asteroid fields, the greater the importance skill will hold over luck. It's a weird experience for most new players who don't understand the mechanics, as they are expecting to be able to manoeuvre the astro boy physically using the keyboard and want to be able to upgrade abilities, but if you can get past how you think it should
be and accept it for what it is
, it becomes a really enjoyable experience - and something different.
In fact, this game's one disappointment is its instructions, which don't explain what you need to do, and how, in enough detail (but by the end of this review you'll understand exactly how to play the game properly). This leaves most players very confused and frustrated, which is probably why this game hasn't received the recognition it deserves. People are expecting something else, and when they don't find it, they think it's a bad game.
When I first started playing Escape The Red Giant
I found it amazingly relaxing for a situation that is so dire and which offers the surety that you will perish every time. Part of this was also the bliss of ignorance as my main intention was to see how high I could go and the high score was irrelevant to me. However, when I started learning more about how the combos work, and how to use certain tricks to your advantage, thereby resulting in a better high score, a lot of the Zen went out the window (it's not unheard of to hear me muttering "oh shit, oh shit, oh shit" as I make a mistake and accidentally barrel headlong into the rising red). One of the reasons is a deceptively pleasant twinkling sound that plays when you lose your combo, which makes you think something happy has happened (but due to the bad instructions you just don't know what) when, in fact, it's indicating that you've just lost all your hard work. I had played this game many, many times before I realised what that sound means.
On a happier note, there's a different tinkling sound that indicates that you've added to the combo multiplier and another that indicates that you've reached a space milestone. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is fantastic and adds to the relaxed atmosphere of the game. It comprises a title-screen track and an in-game song, both of which you can download at the developer's web site
I really enjoy playing this game and even though, at the time of writing, I haven't managed to make it past Pluto I keep trying - not just because I really want to see the graphics of the milestones that exist further afield but also because it's untaxing fun.