Escape Doodland is a game of contradictions. It’s cute but brutal, silly but more fatal than bear hugging a bomb, and has a great deal of heart but will destroy yours repeatedly. If you don’t catch my drift, it’s a very hard game, and yet I felt far less frustration in it than I typically do in platforming games of its ilk. It’s also impossible to capture just how much every element of the game drips with charisma and style, which is why videos exist!
How about one more contradiction? In a written review with over 1,500 words, I’m telling you in the second paragraph that you should just go ahead and snag a copy if you like difficult auto-running games with a good sense of humor and a terrific hand-drawn art style.
Title: Escape Doodland
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by developer
Interface: Handheld Switch console
Available on Nintendo Switch, Steam (Windows)
Doodland is a grotesque world created on a piece of paper. It is invaded by Omnomus, a cruel monster that loves the taste of inhabitants of this land. Each part of the world has a unique atmosphere. You will have to run, jump, swim and fly to overcome many demanding obstacles.
Hey, let’s throw one more contradiction in here, shall we? I’ve been a gamer for over 30 years, but I typically hate super hard games. Dark Souls and literally anything that’s referred to as being Souls-lite or Souls-like? Get out of here! Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, and practically every roguelike game that doesn’t allow you to keep some kind of progress? Not a fan. Yet here I am, willingly taking on a game where each level gives you two difficulty modes: “hard” and “harder”.
Escape Doodland is one of my only forays into difficult platformers, and it may or may not have been because your special abilities all revolve around farting. The game is rather straightforward: you run your little Doodler’s (the name of the super cute inhabitants of Doodland) butt off while trying to get away from Omnomus, a horrific flying monster that may be a bit slower than you, but it also doesn’t have to worry about all the crazy platforming you’ll have to do and obstacles you’ll need to avoid. Omnomus is so terrifying, in fact, that you won’t even have to worry yourself with the actual act of running away, just jumping, double jumping, strategic flatulence, and (hopefully) not dying.
Each level is a nonstop runfest with a wildly different theme. You’ll be going for an exhilarating stroll in Doodland at first, and then running through storm clouds before jumping through woods, flying through the air, taking a friendly dip in everyone’s favorite type of levels – water levels! – and even jumping on giant teeth. Themes and graphics aren’t the only differences as new types of obstacles and even new ways to play the game are woven throughout the game. Each level begins immediately after the last ends, meaning that really the only thing stopping you from having to play the entire game without dying is the grace of the developers. Levels display a bar across the top with your progress and the numerous checkpoints on the level; if you die before you reach one you’ll restart the level, but if you can reach a checkpoint you’re given a limited number of lives to complete the rest. Death brings you back to the last checkpoint with one heart lost, and if you make it to the next checkpoint you’ll gain a heart back (if you’ve lost any). But, as you’ll likely find out quite often, running out of lives on a level puts you right back at square one.
In addition to the pits of insta-death there are two types of obstacles: those that kill you and those that knock you back. Being knocked back sometimes kills you anyway since Omnomus is behind you and hungry for a tasty Doodler treat, but if you can regain your composure you’ll often be able to escape its clutches again. Fatal obstacles, like smaller-but-equally-hungry monsters, are… well… they’re fatal and make you die. You can’t even fart on it to save yourself, although a well-timed blast of gas can often keep you out of their clutches.
You may have noticed a few mentions of passing gas, and yes, it’s actually one of the most important things in the game! Your Doodler is able to utilize three distinct variations of cutting the metaphorical cheese: farts that can dash, jump, or stun. These allow you to propel forward quickly, boost up into the air, and stun Omnomus when it gets close to eating you respectively. Just like in real life, breaking wind that close Omnomus’ face forces it to back off and let you get away. You can’t just let loose willy-nilly though, each of these types of gas has a cooldown timer (likely to prevent you from killing everyone in Doodland with all of your crop dusting) and requires a match. Matches are strategically placed around levels and are kept even if you fail, so they’re hardly ever in short supply. I actually had almost a hundred stockpiled for future flatulence exploits myself!
In addition to collecting matches and mere survival, your goal is to pick up beans. These are usually either a little out of the way or on more challenging paths, and they’re returned to their original positions if you fail a level. Completing each level awards you with between 1-3 golden beans based on how many ordinary beans you picked up, and while you’ll get to keep all of the regular beans you snagged along the way, you’ll only get golden beans that you didn’t already have. For example, if you beat the first level once and collected enough beans to get two golden beans, then tried again and earned enough to get all three golden beans, you’ll only collect one additional golden bean. You can also earn one extra golden bean by defeating a level on harder difficulty, but it has that name for a reason: you won’t be tempted to go after harder regular beans, sure, but there are also no checkpoints, so death forces you to replay the whole level!
Regular beans are used to purchase things in the shop, such as unlocking additional Doodlers that you can choose from. They don’t have different stats or anything that I noticed, but they ARE all super cute and even sound different! You can also use them to buy more matches, three golden beans that are each increasingly more expensive, and power ups that work across all of your Doodlers. You can equip three at once, one of each type; for example, you can equip power ups that let you use farts more often, stun Omnomus longer with your stunning farts, and get an extra heart at the first checkpoint of each level so you have better odds at survival. Golden beans, on the other hand, allow you access to each level. Aside from the first level, each has a golden bean total requirement to access it. You don’t even have to beat a level to move on if you have enough golden beans, so if you get stuck on a particular level you can just earn more golden beans on the levels you can handle and skip it. It’s also nice that the final level requires only 20 golden beans, less than half of the 43 that can be obtained overall. People looking for additional challenges still have reasons to go after the remaining golden beans as you can unlock a couple extra Doodlers with them!
What really makes Escape Doodland a terrific game is the amount of life the game has. You don’t run just, you kinda bounce or prance or skip. The music has a life of its own, shifting from whimsical and fun at first, then disappearing completely for the creepy woods and coming back to life just enough to be noticeable in the ice caves to continue its life throughout the game. You feel your Doodler’s fear when it screams as Omnomus gets close to chomping it up, and of course the gaseous toots sound terrific. The checkpoint dude and Omnomus have little varying outfits and effects depending on the level or what’s going on, and the animation between absolutely everything is packed with style. I decided to watch a video of someone far better than me playing the game after I played it myself and it was stunning just how much I missed when my eyes were so locked on the next platform, pit, obstacle, or collectible. And that’s not even speaking about the variance in levels, including a hilariously explosive wild west, a giant beast’s insides, and underwater levels full of hungry fish. Oh, and did I mention that a dog actually lifts its leg and pees all over one of the levels?
Escape Doodland was a great surprise and a fantastic first release for an indie duo. I’ve played countless AAA games with far less polish and heart, and the game includes enough optional challenge for the most hardcore players while being only mildly frustrating for people like me who are awful at challenging games.
Plus, hey… I never in a million years thought I’d have a legitimate reason to Google “fart synonyms” for a review!