It’s sadly ironic that Escape From The Universe never quite escapes its own shortcomings.
Polish developer Cat-astrophe Games (a cute name and even cuter logo) achieve great things with its first Switch outing but solid core mechanics and aesthetics are derailed by a broken economy. The game is forever caught in a loop between a baseline fun shooter and a tediously designed progression system.
Escape From The Universe Review
The core concepts of Escape From The Universe should make for a fun, arcade-esque gaming experience. You don the spacesuit of a human who has survived the destruction of planet Earth and is now fated to roam the great expanse searching for a new way to live.
You’ll do so by piloting your ship through treacherous missions which task you with a variety of survival scenarios including combat, chase sequences, on foot shootouts and precision flying.
Escape From The Universe deviates from your standard side-scrolling shoot-em-up in that it allows players to dictate the speed of the action. Depending on where you position the ship on the screen the game will adjust the level so that it flows by as fast, or slow, as you want.
Changing this up on the fly works a treat when it comes to dodging large asteroids and clusters of enemy fighters; simply hang back to the left of the screen and the game gives you the breathing room needed. It’s a brilliant bit of difficult management which gives players the agency to decide their own pace of play.
Set Flight Paths
This precise speed control becomes particularly useful if you need to start a mission again (which will happen a lot but more on that later). Many of the game’s missions will change with each new run of them, meaning you’re not likely to experience the same level layout in a row.
The thrill of the unknown wears thin faster than you’d like however as despite these changes between runs, I never found the shifting placement of enemies and obstacles to be wildly different, rather just minor variations on a pattern.
Which isn’t frustrating so much as it is disappointing; Escape From The Universe has a solid grasp on its basic flying mechanics which keep most missions at least somewhat engaging.
The ship handles smoothly and is usually nimble enough for you to weave in and out of danger at a moments notice. The higher speeds will make this tricky though, especially given how easy it is to miss crucial health refills and shield boosts, but zipping through space blasting away at aliens always felt like what I would want from an arcade shooter.
Credits Will Do Fine (No, They Won’t)
So it’s bizarre then that Escape From The Universe seems intent on hampering progression and player engagement. Completing missions will net you the game’s currency, credits, which weigh down the entire experience with an unbalanced economy.
Credits are used to purchase ship upgrades, as continue tokens for when you fail during a mission and to also unlock progress in the main campaign.
The first use is as close to balanced as the economy gets, with offensive and defensive upgrades priced reasonably considering how many credits I was earning in missions.
It’s the other two uses, which directly impact the flow of the game, which throw the entire experience off. Escape From The Universe charges a lot to continue a mission after you’ve been defeated, with the price rising exponentially the further in you get.
For less-skilled players or even the unlucky ones, this can trap them in a credit loop which drains your precious money for the privilege of not having to do multiple stages over again.
This issue only compounds further when you take into account the need for thousands of credits to unlock progress in the main story missions. In order to purchase more mainline quests, you’ll need to complete more than a few side quests but the sunk cost of continuing those missions in a timely manner throws the entire equation off.
Capital A Aesthetics
The inevitable frustrations of the broken economy slam up against the game’s use of a pseudo-retro appearance. Escape From The Universe imbues every bit of its tone with an arcadey, lo-fi synth flare that feels very, very Aesthetic.
It’s the kind of vibe you’d expect from a YouTube playlist dedicated to chill out music and neon laden VHS scan lines. It’s goofy, fun and borderline un-ironically cool; the galaxy is full of strange monolithic structures and imposing threats.
This near-miss with something charming also becomes an issue with the writing. Early on in the game, there are moments of intrigue and clever writing but as time goes on and scenarios begin to feel very samey, Escape From The Universe starts feeling hollow.
There are a few instances where you’ll be asked to make a choice which will impact the direction of the narrative and these made for welcome spikes of interest but overall there isn’t much to latch onto narrative-wise.
Lost In Space
Given the type of experience Escape From The Universe is seemingly trying to be though, shallow writing and limited level design shouldn’t actually be an issue. What makes an arcade shooter so much fun is the shooting, the essential ‘gameness’ of it all and in that regard, this experience mostly succeeds.
But the woefully broken economy drags the entire game into a black hole that it never truly breaks free from. It simply isn’t fun to grind this much in such a lite game.
I can see the good game hidden away underneath these issues but Escape From The Universe only ever feels like a fading star instead of a guiding one.
Escape the Universe was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the developer.
Game Title: Escape From The Universe
Game Description: Pilot your trust ship through a dangerous galaxy as the last of humanity seeks a new home in this retro-inspired side scrolling shoot-em-up.