An old-school platformer that harkens back to the days of the venerable Nintendo Entertainment System (the NES), Exception features the classic ‘get to the exit point’ game design found in everything from the original Mario games to DOOM, while eschewing the overly complicated controls, combos and lengthy tutorials found in many modern games.
While the gameplay concept may be old school, the execution is not. Using a mix of 3D rendering and cell-shading (cell-shading creates a cartoon-like look), Exception is a good looking game (one particularly nice touch is how the graphics become increasingly low-res as damage is incurred). Set inside a computer beset by a virus, Exception’s liberal use of neon lighting, not to mention subject matter, give the whole game a fairly strong Tron vibe. While there is a story, told by a digital comic, like nearly all old games (and to be honest, most new ones) this is really not necessary to enjoy the game – something that Will Traxler, the developer, seems to acknowledge by the fact that players can skip over the entire thing. No, the fun is to be had in the gameplay itself.
For anyone familiar with 2D or 2.5D platformers, much will be familiar – players run, jump, cling to walls, avoid traps and hazards, and smack bad guys with a glowing light-sword. What players may not be familiar with is the novel take on level design. As players move through the level they come across glowing contact points. Running into them or hitting them with a sword will cause the entire level to transform. This transformation may be as simple as flipping the level on its side or upside down, or it may cause the level to reconfigure itself, or even rotate the level, making what was background art the level. This means that a level which looked blindingly simple can suddenly become a whole lot more complicated.
I really enjoyed the fact that, just when you think you’ve seen everything the game has to throw at you, it suddenly mixes things up, adding new wrinkles. These may take the form of moving hazards, walls that threaten to squish the player if they miss their timing, or an oncoming threat which forces you to push onwards. The levels also get harder – much harder, with some punishing any mistake with instant failure. Fortunately, these are mixed in with easier levels which keeps the game from becoming either boring or frustrating.
Also, a large part of the fun comes from seeing just how quickly and efficiently you can navigate these levels. The on-screen timer (which resets each time the player is defeated), and the online leader board challenge players to figure out the levels’ layouts, how they morph, and plot the best way to maintain momentum as the level reconfigures itself. It’s here where the game shines, and hitting a perfect run at breakneck speed is a definite thrill. The longest time I took to complete a level was over 70 seconds; the shortest: under 13 seconds. Of course, it takes quite a few goes to get the best speed possible, and with 128 levels, there’s a lot to keep players occupied. While the controls could possibly be a little tighter, they’re still good and the feeling is somewhat reminiscent of parkour game N.
Exception is well made, fun to play and good looking, For those who enjoy the challenge of speed-runs, and those who like good 2D platformers, Exception is definitely worth checking out. ■