Published by Valve Corporation. I played this on Windows.
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 review. Portal 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 puzzling. Portal 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!
Difficulty Elements: great cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | unique solves
Published by Atami-Lab. I played this on android.
The Short: Beards figure prominently in this manly excursion.
Recommended if you like tilted frames, Dexter’s Laboratory, hair pomade
Description: At this point, friends, I have played too many escape games. Lately, it’s hard for me to find a fresh, interesting escape to spend my time on. Visits to the Google Play store are monotonous swipe sessions of games I have already played (or skipped). Given that background, Beard was welcome nectar in a drought!
Beard is a stellar game. It has good puzzle quality and really fun, special artwork. You are situated in a house replete with manly statues, portraits and curious contraptions. Decode the many references in this jocular home to unlock the secret of the beards. The difficulty hovers between Easy and Medium. I would argue that the funny little machines add a degree of difficulty because they have esoteric interfaces. Besides that fact, though, this game is breezy. There’s even a few translation goof ups (“pictures flames“?) to make it all that much more charming.
I have one small complaint about though. There is no item labeling in Beard and I do think some was in order. In a few cases, the hyper stylized artwork obscured some of the objects’ meanings.
Difficulty Elements: good cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric interfaces | no Absurdity | both typical & unique solves
Published by mipp. I played this on android.
The Short: A little rough around the edges but charming overall.
Recommended if you like sterile work environments, Monsters Inc.
Description: Mipp seems to be a good company. I really enjoy most of their game offerings even though LaboEscape is a little on the dopey side. Fade in on a sterile laboratory where you, presumably, have just come out of stasis. Scare up some standard tools like screw drivers, jump drives and employee directories to facilitate your escape from your unseen captors. The high note of this game is the adorable “scare” about half way through. Monsters get loose in the lab. They’re hella cute.
Puzzling quality is pretty average or maybe even slightly below average in this game. There’s very little cascade and most of the objects you retrieve will strongly indicate what you need to do to solve puzzles. There’s very little left to mystery in this jumpy, boxy game and, in terms of aesthetics, Design Netherworld just about covers it. You could definitely do worse than Monster LaboEscape but, for your sake, I hope you want to do better.
Difficulty Elements: low cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | typical solves
Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.
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 Elements: great cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | unique solves | tricky ending
Published by mipp. I played this on android.
The Short: A deck of well-deployed text boxes and okay puzzling.
Recommended if you like cornball humor, animal figurines, hobnobbing with demi gods
Description: This is a middling escape game that gets extra points for silliness. Behold:
Yes, that’s right. God himself greets you at the outset of this game to introduce the premise. Your ancestors have all previously completed these puzzles and escaped from this room. Can you?
The room itself is a design netherworld concoction. Were it not for the helpful text boxes that crop up everywhere in this game, it might be hard to tell objects apart. That being said, the actual content of the text boxes tends to be funny in that kind of “Ah. It’s a joke.” kind of way. Snoop around the traditional Japanese space with screen doors, fan prints, and a mountain replica complete with paper lanterns. Collect all of the keys, “shine” the bamboo, and fulfill your low-key destiny.
Difficulty Elements: okay cascade | readily apparent puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | typical solves
Published by KaMiZoTo. I played this on android.
The Short: A fun, mitigated, disaster.
Recommended if you like meta humor about gaming, antagonistic narrators, glitch art
Description: It’s all right there in the title. There is No Game is a fun, combative way to spend 15 minutes or so. Did you ever read The Monster at the End of This Book with Grover from Sesame Street? If so, this is the glitchy, 4.0 sequel you have been waiting for all your life. For those not acquainted with the canonical majesty of Muppet literature, well, I am sorry for your loss.
This game runs high on Absurdity. You will be guided and jeered at by a surly, invisible narrator. It’s difficult to say where you are in this game. I guess if I had to assign a general physical location, I’d have to say that you spend most of this game in the title card. It also won’t take you terribly long to solve everything so if you enjoyed this one, I recommend upgrading yourself to The Stanley Parable or Escape from Escape Room. Go forth: poke, prod, and destroy the metaspace. Have fun and remember, it isn’t a game.
Difficulty Elements: good cascade | lots of Absurdity | invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric interfaces
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