I know exactly how this is going to sound, but sometimes reviewing video games is quite the ballache. Sometimes you put a game down after playing and you just want to scream from the rooftops just how truly great it is without really going into much context. That’s what I would love this review to be. Just a ferocious monologue of how much fun Exception is and why it should be on your radar without hesitation. That’s what I really want to do. But I won’t. I’ll explain why.
I’m definitely not going to make a really obvious title pun at any point during this review*.
Developed by a single human named Will Traxler being over five years, Exception is a game I knew next to nothing about ten days ago. After a chance retweet appearing on my timeline, I watched the trailer and immediately went to work to ensure we could cover it. I mean, you followed that link and saw what I saw, right? A non-pixellated 3D platformer that looks like the result of a hardcore boozy night in with Resogun, Katana Zero and Celeste? Exception had me by the balls before I even knew anything about it and I’m so very glad I caught that retweet, as whilst I’ve played games similar to it this generation, I don’t think I’ve played one with as much style.
I’ve filled this review with videos and screenshots (captured from my Nintendo Switch review code) I’ve taken from my time with the game as honestly, it does more justice to what Exception is compared to anything I could put into words.
Exception is all about quick bursts and that all important ‘one more go’ mechanic that makes games such as this. Each level should take you no more than ninety seconds to complete and as soon as it’s over you’re onto the next one, parkour-ing your way through the neon haze of this futureworld (set inside the malware-infested computer of an elderly woman, no less) where everything is against you. The colour that jumps off the screen (particularly on the Switch) is quite something, and runs beautifully. Granted, there’s not an awful lot to see on each level but what’s there is beautiful to behold, with orange and blue hues becoming blurs as you tear through each level as quick as you can.
There’s obviously pitfalls, simple deaths that can be avoided with a split second press of the correct button, though if you do die you’re taken straight back to the beginning of the level to try again without checkpoints. This worked in my favour though as I appreciated the chance to tear through sections of each level I was struggling with at first, but then learned like the back of my hand by the time I died at my tenth attempt (the above video is a good example of how quickly you can power through levels with enough stabs at it).
Of course the games biggest draw are those obscenely cool level transformations. When you reach a particular point a quick jump into a ‘level flipper’ (probably not the technical term) makes the level completely change, and when you were heading up, down, left or right you’re now going right, left, down or up and the entire level moves with you. This will either teleport you to a different part of the level or it will just flip around you, allowing you to proceed thanks to the subtle arrows letting you know which way towards in order to complete the course.
It’s a terrific trick that doesn’t ever get old, and as the transformations get more and more creative as the game progresses you’re waiting to see just how imaginative they become. It was these moments that sold me in the trailer, I had to play the game for myself and thankfully they more than live up what I was expecting. There’s something so effortlessly smooth in the design that allows the level to completely change with a quick jump. It’s a blast. The original synthwave soundtrack is a fantastic addition to proceedings. I will be nailing down a copy of the soundtrack as soon as possible.
Each level is ranked up to four stars and my first run of the game I did get my fair share of one star rankings. It’s not a big deal to me as there are times when I was thankful a particularly tricky level was over, but there’s definitely something to be said about a platformer that still takes the time to let you know how you’ve fared. The online leaderboards are currently where the fun really is though and it’s all focused on how fast you completed the level. At the time of writing I currently top the leaderboards of at least six levels (on the Switch, at least) and I’m going to take that to the bank as I’m sure as soon as Exception launches I’ll be knocked down into obscurity.
Each level times you on your speed along with any bonuses you may have suffered throughout your run which are cut off your overall time, examples being if you teared through a level whilst hugging walls a significant amount, if you completed the levels unharmed and picking up bonuses such as health or just looking cool as all heck. There’s plenty of challenge in each level and it’s fun that the competitive aspect of the Exception is so fun. I can just hear Greg and Sean cracking their knuckles ready to annihilate my scores. I can enjoy it for the moment at least.
Movement is slick and smooth so long as you’re confident enough. As Exception progresses timing is everything, so moving through levels as quick as possible whilst looking cool enough to take down every enemy and jump past/over/under each hurdle and pitfall is essential. Your enemies aren’t overly difficult with one swipe enough to take down most of them, though some may require you go for the head to be downed (see the top video near the end as an example). You’ll also have to deal with homing missiles that have a lovely habit of following you everywhere. Still, you’re more than equipped for such nasties as you unlock various new move sets throughout which will allow you to more efficiently attack enemies charging towards you at any angle.
You can take up to three hits before you’re downed, and you know when it’s coming as the screen’s resolution dissipates until you’re simply a small crumple of pixels running around the screen. If you’re having trouble with the enemies it’s worth knowing you can also easily parry any projectile coming your way with your trusty swipe attack. Exception is built around speed and powering through levels as quick as you can so there’s little time wasted with pesky mechanical enemies you can slice through like a hot knife through butter. And it’s oh so satisfying.
Exception knows what Exception is and it plays to these particular strengths remarkably well. There is a story that is tying all of this madness together, told through hand-drawn stills and comic-style speech bubbles between the levels. I say that Exception knows what it is because, if you want to, you can skip the story entirely. At the end of each world (which house each level, eight to a world) there’s an option to watch the cut scenes or simply get back to the action, with the game offering you the option to catch up with the story whenever you like via the main menu. It’s a glorious mechanic, and whilst I was doing my best to get through as much of the game as possible for the sake of review, I was able to just kick back and enjoy the story like it was a companion to the game. The story has absolutely no bearing on the levels so you’re not particularly missing anything if you choose to not read the story at all, but it was certainly welcoming to have that as an option.
Below wasn’t my strongest performance, but it’s worth watching just for the transitions.
There’s something so utterly nostalgic about Exception, and that’s probably the one thing about the game I gravitated to the most. It’s a game built for the sole purpose of just being a damn fun video game, the kind of hack’n’slash we remember playing way back when, before absolutely everything was completely rubbish and video games were everything. Exception strips everything back and gifts us a retro-esque experience with visuals that stands toe-to-toe with some of the best platformers this generation has to offer.
It’s easy to pick up, it’s difficult to master and offers badass bosses at the end of each world whilst sword-fighting robot viruses intent on taking over an old lady’s computer to a synthwave soundtrack blasting over beautifully designed neon-infused levels.
I have absolutely no idea what else you could possibly want out of a video game.
Worth mentioning that I did come across a bug which crashed the game on a few occasions, which appears to be an issue affecting the Switch version. I have reported this to the developer and they informed me they are aware of the issue on a patch has already been sent to Nintendo for fixing. As the bug has been fixed – though it may not be ready for launch – it has not been reflected in the final score.
Exception is available now on PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One and PS4
Developer: Will Traxler – Traxmaster Software
Publisher: Traxmaster Software
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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