Chairs

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

The Short: You wake up in a blank room with four, color coded chairs. If you can figure out what the heck is going on, you’re in for a real treat.

Recommended if you like feeling taunted by pedestrian objects, stewing in time out

Description: I have had a lot to say about hozdesign over this past year. Most of their games really disappoint me. But now I can say that in addition to G.R.E.E.N., I also really like Chairs. 

Hozdesign has a talent for creating uncanny spaces. They populate their worlds with very common objects but subvert the meaning of those objects by expecting you to use them in bizarre and unexpected ways. They also create very streamlined spaces that are simplistic but in a cheeky way as if to say — while jabbing you in the rib cage — “The solution is so simple. Haven’t you figured it out by now?”

Chairs contains many difficult puzzles but manages to avoid becoming “Beyond Hard” by constraining the number of codices the player is expected to keep in their mind’s eye. I will say that in my version, I encountered a pretty ridiculous glitch that forced me to start over. I kept collecting colored tiles and they kept disappearing. For a long time I thought this was part of the game but it wasn’t. It was a total glitch. Starting over once fixed it 100%.

Difficulty: Hard
Difficulty Elements
great cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | unique solves | tricky ending

G.R.E.E.N.

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

The Short: Dungeon-esque geometry for the puzzling insane. A unique and challenging experience.

Recommended if you like maddening mazes, granite, Inception  

Description: At last! At last! A game by hozdesign that I can wholeheartedly recommend. This game is fantastic. It has all the usual hallmarks of a hozdesign game minus the drawbacks. First, let’s talk about the aesthetic. It’s moody, atmospheric, and mysterious. You are forced to wander through a curious set of rooms that do not seem to operate according to any natural laws of man. Doors close behind you, one-way windows taunt your sense of direction. I really liked the music for this game as well. Also, if you’re into trees that grow through stone, have they got a room for you!

But what’ really special about this game are the esoteric, challenging puzzles. There are giant spheres, cubes and cones to collect but can you determine where they truly belong? No codes, no keys, no matches, or any run of the mill items in this game. This is a really unique puzzle environment and definitely takes some out of the box thinking. Bravo! Bravo!

Difficulty: Hard 
Difficulty Elements
good cascade | invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | Absurdity | unique solves

Facility 47 ($)

Published by Inertia Software. I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

The Short: You wake up in an abandoned, ransacked, science facility in the Antarctic and can’t remember who you are or what you’re doing there. Sounds fun, right?

Recommended if you like movies set in abandoned, ransacked science facilities, contamination breaches, reading other people’s mail

Description: This is a fun game with good narrative elements. At some point though, your gameplay is halted until you pay Inertia Software $3.99. I would probably pay up to $2.00 to continue playing this game but I would not judge you if you decided to pay the full $3.99 because as puzzle-adventures go, Facility 47 is a good one.  It starts with a great science fiction premise and commits to the fun and claustrophobic tone.

When it comes to movies and television shows, I admit that I am partial to deserts, those both sweltering and freezing. If something takes place in Arctic or the Sahara, I am hooked. Facility 47 capitalized on its premise. The natural elements and Antarctic equipment are all a big part of solving these puzzles. The puzzles themselves are good and imaginative. It’s not all just inputting codes and turning dials. Instead, break into lockers, repair expensive scientific equipment and get your hands dirty in the bathroom.

The actual look and feel of Facility 47 is very by-the-book but they do a good job with it. Chrome, ice, and darkened hutch-like spaces. But what really makes this game fun are all the small details in the world of this facility. Stray notes, funny images posted on the refrigerator, and a very lived-in living room all add up to a fully realized space that is atmospheric and engaging. In terms of the actual meat of the story, I honestly didn’t care very much about all the different, missing scientists but the letters and emails were easily skimmed and not overly obtrusive to gameplay. If you like that sort of narrative element, these were well done but if you do not like that it is all easy to ignore.

 

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Difficulty: Medium
Difficulty Elements
good cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | both typical & unique solves

Dark Room

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.

The Short: Turning on a light switch never felt so satisfying.

Recommended if you like black outs, exposed pipes, and rotating 180 degrees.

Description:
As part of my continued mission to play all games published by hozdesign, I am happy to have encountered Dark Room. Unlike some of the other games offered up by hozdesign, Dark Room is actually fun and reasonable to solve. From a design standpoint, it’s nothing special. I would even add that it’s below average for hozdesign who usually are able to come up with really creative, fun spaces. Despite being called Dark Room you are not playing in any kind of space related to photography. It is literally just a dark room.  Still, Dark Room manages to keep both feet out of Design Netherworld. So that’s good.

Let’s begin. You find yourself in a dark, unlit room. There are back-lit pieces of furniture and tools. Can you find them? Once you figure out how to get the lights on the game gets going. This isn’t a thrilling or highly imaginative gamespace. It has some funny elements (leaning tower of Pisa? Okay) along with some standard-issue tools and features one might find in a basement: pipes, faucets, a circuit box. This game opens up about three quarters of the way through into a second room. So be assured that the blocked-off ladder in the beginning isn’t just for show! The second room has a visual joke that may or may not make you smile. All in all Dark Room is a fine way to spend your time.

Difficulty: Medium
Elements of Difficulty:  good cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric interfaces | a touch of Absurdity | both typical & unique solves

Mirror

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.

The Short: A funny twist on escape games and mind bending details. Too bad hozdesign made it and not somebody else. Maybe then I would have had fun.

Recommended if you like potted plants, alternate dimensions, wall decals

Description: Welcome to the MIRROR room. It looks relatively calm at first. Maybe some kind of lobby or waiting area? But just when you think you’re settling in, this game throws you a disorienting curve ball. Absurdity reigns as you conduct trial and error tests on the various puzzle arrays in MIRROR. Cat decals, bath tubs and an authentic bizzarro world (a la Star Trek) await you and your sleuthing abilities. Unfortunately though, this game is probably going to defeat you.

I have a LOT of beef with other hozdesign games so playing MIRROR is part of my ongoing campaign to play every single thing that hozdesign has created. I want to judge them fairly. MIRROR was fun to play for an hour or so but shortly fell into the typical trap that hozdesign always sets. They create puzzles that require heroic leaps of logical inference.

They like to set up elaborate codices as reference material to solve puzzle arrays. For example, a grid that equates numbers to Greek letters. Fine. But then that single codex will actually apply to more than one puzzle which is difficult for a player to discern in the moment. But the most insane thing that they do — and they do it all the time– is creating solutions that involve two or more codices which all simultaneously apply to one puzzle. You are expected to figure out which codex is primary, which ones are secondary and the order in which information must be translated across each system. The sensation is literally nightmarish.

I don’t think MIRROR is possible to solve without a walkthrough. So while it gets lots of points for being very clever, I just cannot recommend this game in good faith.

 

Difficulty: Beyond Hard
Difficulty Elements:  a lot of cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | a lot of Absurdity | unique solves

RED

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.

The Short: More RED flags, courtesy of hozdesign

Recommended if you like dark alleyways, tomatoes

Description: Let’s begin with what is good about this game. Aesthetically, RED is cool. A nighttime puzzle complete with eerie lighting and harmonious cricket noises. RED follows a typical escape game trope of presenting a weird and spooky vibe while never actually delivering any horror elements. It’s like a zen garden of creepy, after-dark hangouts. I like it.

What I didn’t like about RED is the extreme difficulty.  I was very suspicious of this game because I had a really terrible experience playing ESC which is another game by hozdesign. RED turned out to be eminently more solvable but still, the finale puzzle of this game was beyond hard. It was actually just straight up sadistic. Even after a concerted effort to solve it (and I really thought I was on the right track), I finally succumbed to watching a walk through. I had to read and re-read this solution three times to make sure I grasped what it was telling me. Hozdesign really fails at creating puzzles that have one, understandable solution that truly contains a “eureka” moment regardless if you solve it or have it shown to you. Instead, they tend to offer up puzzles so complex and multi-faceted that it’s fairly impossible to know you’re on the right track even when you’re halfway through.

Games are no fun when the creators don’t play fair. Sorry, RED but I’m just not a fan.

Difficulty Level: Beyond Hard
Difficulty Elements: good cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric puzzle interfaces| no Absurdity | unique solves

Escape from Escape Room

Published by noprops. I played this on android. 

The Short: Absolutely bonkers.

Recommended if you like mental gymnastics, Don Hertzfeldt, niche humor about escape games

Description: This is a great game if you are really into escape games. It’s almost like The Stanley Parable’s genius kid sister. Very challenging and the puzzle solutions are definitely high on the “absurdist” spectrum. I could not have solved this without hints and a walk through but I definitely enjoyed myself. You begin in what appears to be a normal room. And then, everything changes. Technically, I must situate this game into Design Netherworld but Escape from Escape Room is such a parody of games like the Neat Escape series that the bad aesthetic only enhances the hilarity.

Worth mentioning: Escape from Escape Room is a short form game. It won’t go on forever.

Difficulty: Hard
Difficulty Elements: high Absurdity | invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric puzzle arrays | cascade