Portal ($) [Multiple Iterations]

Published by Valve Corporation. I played this on Windows. Seal of Goodness

Iterations: Portal,  Portal 2, The Lab (and many other interesting spin off properties)

The Short: The modern classic.

Recommended if you like psychotic robots, teleporting, and cake!

Description: I know, I know. I should get out of here with this reviewPortal is a decade old today (happy birthday!) and it’s been reviewed to death. For good reason of course as it is much beloved and treasured by pretty much everybody even vaguely familiar with gaming. It is the mind-bendiest of the mind-bending, has a completely original tone, and packs a punch with phenomenal puzzlingPortal was an instant classic and remains a canonical addition to the gaming universe.

Now Portal is much more exciting than most of the escape games I talk about on this blog and I wanted to review it for a very important reason. If you read anything about Portal online, be it a synopsis, description or review, nobody will call it an “escape game.” And yet, Portal is the most textbook example of an escape game that I can think of. A series of rooms containing discrete puzzle arrays, where the ultimate goal is to escape all of the rooms and, eventually, the whole facility.  It’s true that Portal transforms into a first person shooter half way through but the puzzling is absolutely foundational even as the adrenaline pumps up. The only reason nobody would call Portal an escape game is because “escape game” has a particular connotation. It is a bad connotation.  But I am here to defend escape games everywhere and declare that they are fun! And cool! And there should be more of them! And Portal is an escape game, dudes! Deal with it!

 

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Difficulty: Hard
Difficulty Elements:
great cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | unique solves

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Blue

Published by hozdesign.  I played this on android.

The Short: “I’ll allow it.” – Heben Nigatu

Recommended if you like alleyway furniture, isolation chambers, peeping through keyholes

Description: I’ve noted, ad nauseam, my ambivalent feelings towards hozdesign games. On the one hand, they maintain a very cool aesthetic style across games. The rooms themselves are always off kilter in a fun and challenging way. The puzzle quality, however, can be unpredictable. Blue is right on the line for me between being a technically “good” game versus another disappointment. I, personally, was not able to complete this game without a walk through and when I did watch the walkthrough, I was very irritated to learn that I had arrived at the correct solution but something about the way the room was visually designed confused my ability to execute on that solution. I am willing, this time, to chalk this up to human error and I will not fully penalize the game. I still won’t give this a Seal of Goodness though. After all, what are we without our standards?

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

Coming soon! Rusty Lake Paradise ($)

The Short: Rejoice! Another surreal piece of storytelling is coming your way, courtesy of a very bizarre Dutch studio.  

Description: Few can resist the hypnotic pull of Cube Escape, the celebrated art horror series created by publisher Rusty Lake. Both frightening and comical, beautiful and strange, Rusty Lake never shies away from making memorable experiences. Their newest game, Paradise promises to be a superb addition to this awesome collection of escape games. The premise, as quoted from their launch announcement page:

“Rusty Lake Paradise is set on a small remote island in the 18th Century. After your mother passed away the island seems to be cursed with the 10 plagues. It’s your job to go around the island, interact with your family and help them vanquish the plague. The game offers ominous situations and bizarre rituals. Paradise builds upon the distinctive atmosphere and excitement from the Rusty Lake series. For the background graphics we collaborated with a well-known Dutch artist, Johan Scherft.”

The game is expected to be released in Q4 of 2017. So, any day now!

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Wall

Published by hozdesign .  I played this on android.

The Short: Infuriating.

Recommended if you like unlit basements, bricks, tearing your hair out

Description: I’ve said it before but I will say it again. Hozdesign, you have a lot to answer for. I do not understand who is solving these puzzles without walkthroughs. This blog is fast approaching its 100th post. I am not a novice player here. I have encountered my fair share of stumps and brain farts, only to watch a walkthrough and go “Oh! Of course! Silly me.” Not so with hozdesign. It’s a veritable vipers nest of unsolvable games. Too often have I felt cheated by these solutions.

Wall is a great concept. It’s challenging, imaginative, and well-designed in terms of the aesthetics. But these puzzles are just too damn hard. There are too many canyon-sized leaps of inference asked of the player. The codices and reference objects are difficult to understand. It’s not a game. It feels more like a punishing mental exercise conducted by your cruel, pipe-smoking, Sensei.

Note: I believe these games by hozdesign are good:  Mr. 3939, G.R.E.E.N., and Chairs.

Difficulty: Beyond Hard
Difficulty Elements:
 cascade |both straightforward & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | no Absurdity | unique solves

Don’t Escape

Published by scriptwelder. I played this on Windows in a browser.

The Short: Low-bit graphics and a clever twist on the genre.

Recommended if you like pixels, potions, werewolves

Description: You are a werewolf, still in human form. You have until sundown to lock yourself inside of a cabin to prevent yourself from committing senseless carnage. It’s a great idea and this game pulls it off well. The animation is very old school. It has that 64-bit, highly pixelated vibe going on along with helpful screen text. The eerie music and sound effects are pretty spot on, running the gamut from creaky doors to ominous white noise.  If you ever played a computer game before 1996, Don’t Escape will feel like a delightful nostalgia piece.

From a puzzling perspective this game is also pretty good though it’s more focused on item combination than manipulating aspects of the space. This is a short game that you will probably have to play multiple times to solve. Enjoyable. Fine. Werewolves.

Difficulty:  Easy 
Difficulty Elements:
ok cascade | both readily apparent and invisible puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | typical solves

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

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 is funny, challenging and an outstanding brain teaser as escape games go. There’s a tipping point of madness in this game when you will almost certainly feel insane, staring at four blank walls and four high-backed chairs wondering what you’re missing. Still, this game manages to avoid becoming “Beyond Hard” by constraining the number of codices the player is expected to keep in their mind’s eye. Still, you may need to resort to brute force trial and error with your Items if you want to defeat the chairs.

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