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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Escape from Doctor’s Office

Published by Gamekb.  I played this on android.

The Short: I think this is actually a veterinarian’s office?

Recommended if you like epic fails, situational comedy, drawing blood

Description: I love a good translation error. Misspellings and grammatical mistakes are both charming and unavoidable when navigating between earth languages. Still, I think it’s important to remember that while the latest listicle featuring silly Engrish is hilarious, it’s good to stay humble and remember that people everywhere are doing their best.

That being said, Escape from Doctor’s Office is a translation error on a whole new level. The English itself in this game is actually fine, so kudos to the writers who worked on that. Instead, the translation error seems to have occurred in the text-mapping stage of this game’s development. All of the “helpful messaging” seems to have been beamed over from a totally different puzzle paradigm. The result is a hilarious dadaist excursion that I can only communicate in pictures:


There are other things wrong with this game at the level of play but I think I’ve been critical enough for one day. Now I would like to end this post with a quotation from an author I really enjoy named Kakuzo Okakura who himself was bilingual in Japanese and English.

“Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade,–all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of colour or design.” – The Book of Tea

Mr. Okakura, if only you could see what has happened in this crazy age of computers.

Difficulty: Medium
Difficulty Elements: 
okay cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | both typical & unique solves

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

Colors

Published by Brazen Cat.  I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

The Short: Fun with colors! Fun with puzzles! Three cheers for Brazen Cat!

Recommended if you like primary colors, protruding podiums, running to and fro

Description: Brazen Cat wins. Every single game I’ve played by them has knocked it out of the park. Colors is a great game, though it does feel aesthetically different from its sisters Cylinders and CubesUnlike those two games, Colors is a little less sterile and maybe even less sophisticated in style overall. Still, Colors  is just as fun and also it is a much bigger game, with four rooms to run around between, in search of color codes.

The puzzles in this game are all very different which keeps it fun and challenging. In terms of difficulty, it’s a healthy medium. Most everything is straightforward enough but there are definitely a few stumpers in this game that took me a while to get over before I could keep hurdling towards the end. Framed pictures on the walls will give you all the guidance you need to get the wiring hooked up in these four rooms. Collect some gems, mix a color wheel, and unlock the various circuit breakers.

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

SOHO

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

The Short: Another day, another factory standard studio apartment to escape from.

Recommended if you like low lighting, spotless surfaces, Beethoven

Description: I feel like I have already escaped from this room many, many, times. A couch, a desk, hardwood flooring, and unadorned drywall. It’s not fair to criticize SOHO in particular because I play these games in a somewhat random order. Who’s to say that SOHO wasn’t the first game to devise this ordinary style of adventure? And yet, I’m pretty sure they weren’t.

This game is perfectly fine. The graphics are better than average. The puzzling quality is good. Aside from the fact my deja vu has deja vu, I can’t say this game is bad.

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

unreal: birth

Published by Factory.112.  I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

The Short: Intriguing, if short, escape from a bunker.

Recommended if you like rooms with no windowscreepy closed circuit television

Description: This game gets a big thumbs up. In addition to being a good, base-line game, I think something a bit more sophisticated is actually going on here.  Perhaps I’ve been in the desert too long but unreal: birth feels to me like a better realized vision of an escape game than most items available in the Google Play store.

Aesthetically, unreal: birth is right on the line between realistically textured and simplistic. It’s nothing special but it’s definitely good enough to suspend one’s disbelief and the animation doesn’t have that glitchy sense of stiffness that is common in too many of these games. But the puzzles are what really makes this game interesting. It all gels nicely in a way that implies some kind of overarching narrative. The technology and machinery in the game all feel related, as opposed to scrambled or conveniently fantastical.

Based on the name, I wonder if unreal: birth is  the beginning of a larger series but I haven’t been able to discover any more iterations, at least not in the Google Play store. If you liked this and want more like it, I recommend Spotlight

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

Beard

Published by Atami-Lab.  I played this on android. Seal of Goodness

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.

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