With its fast-paced gameplay, Tron-esque graphics, and impressive level flipping, Exception – the work of lone developer Will Traxler – makes a good first impression. That is, if you ignore the story. You play a robotic hero inside the computer of an old lady who’s guilelessly downloaded a virus, resulting in dire consequences for the digital world behind the monitor.
This introduction, though, is entirely skippable – as are the comic book-style cutscenes between levels – which just proves how superfluous the plot is to the game.
Exception is all about gameplay. Speedy, twitchy, arcade gameplay. Your little robot flings itself around each side-scrolling level, wall-jumping at top speed and swatting away enemies with a laser sword. Gradually, new obstacles are introduced: electric panels, jets of fire, and deadly liquids that steadily up the ante, while overly simplistic bosses punctuate each set of levels.
Format: Switch (tested)/ PS4/XBO/PC
Developer: Traxmaster Software
Publisher: Traxmaster Software
Release: Out now
There are glowing orbs scattered around that, when touched, flip the entire level around. This not only looks cool, but also requires you to comprehend a level’s geometry in order to both complete it at high speed and collect the hidden bytes. It adds a welcome puzzle element. While occasionally disorientating, level flipping also reveals secret pathways and shortcuts if you’re skilful enough to exploit them.
Reaching the end of each level takes little more than 30 seconds. The emphasis, then, is on short, sharp flashes of action, smashing time limits, and hitting the top of the leaderboard, all to a pounding synthwave soundtrack that’s continuous from level to level. There’s a hypnotic sense of flow to the game that gives it that ‘just one more level’ appeal. Soon, that old lady is forgotten.
Collecting the bytes has another effect of unlocking extra abilities, but these prove disappointing. The ability to throw your sword like a boomerang, for instance, sounds great, but it doesn’t change the gameplay in any drastic way, making these collectables more hassle than they’re worth. This isn’t the only disappointment, either.
Any game like this requires absolute precision, but Exception features loose controls that, in later levels especially, have the tendency to send your character careering off platforms. Worse, flipping the perspective retains your character’s momentum in that direction, often straight into danger. All of this breaks the flow the presentation so carefully constructs. Couple this with a forgettable story (which you will more than likely skip), and a sense of repetition soon sets in.
But when the levels are so short, it’s not long before you’re jumping back in for another bite-sized burst of dazzling, energetic screen flipping. And with only two buttons required, Exception makes for an ideal handheld experience on the Switch. For speed-runners especially, this game is a dream – even if it’s not quite exceptional.