Exception is a 2.5D action-platformer that mixes the perspective-shifting of a game like Fez and throws in the precision movement somewhat akin to Super Meat Boy. These mechanics combined with a techno aesthetic come together to make a pretty enjoyable experience.
Story and Writing
In Exception, you take the role of Thread-6E6665637464, who for the sake of ease and my own sanity I will refer to as T6. T6 is one of the millions of threads in the computer of an old woman. He performs his duties as expected, but wishes he could do something more.
Cue the old woman downloading a virus and everything going to hell in a handbasket. Thread gets knocked out and wakes up to learn thousands of cycles have passed since he took his nap. The computer has been taken over by the authoritarian dictatorship of a mysterious thread named Titan.
The story is presented in a comic book style, going through different panels and characters communicating via text boxes. The story is then given to you in chapters after the end of each world. It’s not bad, but it seems less like a stylistic choice and more like a way to save on having to animate cutscenes, something I’ll get into later.
As far as the actual quality of writing, it’s fine. The actual structure of what you are presented is a bit odd, with the majority of the cutscenes taking place before the first level as a sort of prologue. There are also some allusions to real-life events which are done with the subtlety of an episode of Dora the Explorer.
The story also tries to have a twist in it that is telegraphed way too hard. There is a single line of dialogue which will almost instantly make you go, “Oh it’s that.” It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it makes the dramatic revelation at the end much less impactful.
The story does feel like it has some thought put into it, and while it is appreciated, it ultimately doesn’t add anything significant to the experience. The developers seem to think so as well, as at the end of each chapter, they give a “Watch Later” option when the story comes up. For most people, the gameplay will be what makes or breaks the experience.
As mentioned before, the main influences for Exception seem to be based around games like Fez and Super Meat Boy. For the former, it is apparent in the level design, with the stages twisting around as you change perspective. As for the latter, the movement in the game is generally based on speed and precision.
The main focus of the game seems to be based around a simple formula. Run through the level as fast as possible while avoiding hazards. Exception manages to use this formula and do it well enough to provide a fun experience.
The level design for the game is pretty strong, with the developers taking full use of the shifting environments. You will constantly be moving between the foreground and background, and twisting the level on its axis. It is also done simply enough not to become too jarring to the player.
The controls work well, managing to give the player enough of a fast feel while also not feeling uncontrollable. Triangle jumping and dashing through enemies just feels really good. The game also has a nice balance, requiring enough precision to be a challenge, but not overly frustrating.
The difficulty curve in general is done fairly well. New concepts are introduced at a steady pace, and as the player progresses they all come together well. Again, it manages to be just hard enough without making you want to give up.
The game also does a good job at making the loop of dying and restarting a level a quick one. When you die, be it to an enemy or a trap, you are near-instantly put back at the start of the level. This may seem like a small thing, but it makes multiple attempts you may have to do much easier to stomach.
That isn’t to say there are no issues with the game either. In particular, the abilities you unlock through playing are virtually useless. The only one I ever intentionally used was the down dash, and even then it was only because it was required to beat a boss.
This problem also affects the game’s replayability value. The main incentive for getting better times and picking up special items is to gain and upgrade their abilities. Take that away, and the only thing to draw you back would be the leaderboards.
Even without this, there was never any strong urge for me to go back and play any more of the game. It wasn’t that the game was bad, quite the opposite, but when I finished a level, even if I knew there was a better time I could get, I still had no desire to play it again. It may be a subjective thing, but it was prominent enough for me to think it could be an issue for others.
Combat is also a bit of a letdown. Most enemies die in one hit, and those who don’t are almost guaranteed to cause you damage. This is made worse by the game penalizing you and affecting your final level time.
The worst of this comes from the boss fights. Found at the end of each chapter, these fights will be either pathetically easy or painfully annoying. They wind up just throwing off the pace of the game, with the controls not really working very well for them.
Graphics and Sound
Graphically, the game is a bit of a mixed bag. Actual gameplay looks great, and later stages use the shifting environment to create really good visuals. It also manages to vary its designs without looking inconsistent.
Enemy designs are a bit weaker, but still varied enough not to get stale. The actual player character looks neat and manages to stand out enough to make it easier to focus on. The only thing I didn’t really like was the use of pallet swap enemies for end game levels.
The story cutscenes, on the other hand, are a bit rough. When looked on up close the models aren’t great, and the style of presentation is the kind you would see from the Xbox Live Indie days. It tries to hide it a bit with a filter, but it’s still not great.
Fortunately, the game manages to have an awesome soundtrack. The music, which includes tracks from various artists, is a Synthwave-style to get the heart pumping. It also strongly compliments both the aesthetic and the gameplay.
The general sound design is solid, if not spectacular. Everything is mixed properly, and none of the sound effects you’ll hear regularly will get on your nerves. You won’t really notice it, which means it’s doing its job.