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

Yellow Room (Reboot)

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.

The Short: A nearly good game.

Recommended if you like wildlife dioramas, arabesque archways

Description: A near miss really sucks. Yellow Room (Reboot) came very close to being a good game but committed a small sin. But as many Catholics may tell you, a sin is a sin no matter how small. At least I think that’s what the bible says?

Let’s start with what’s good. Yellow Room (Reboot) takes after its siblings in the hozdesign family. Aesthetically, it’s a great minimalist design with some cool arched ceilings, an expanding gamespace, and has some signature funny elements that hozdesign always likes to throw your way. The soundscape is good too.

In the puzzling realm, Yellow Room (Reboot) has some mad tricks up its sleeves. Overall, the puzzle diversity in this game is really great and there’s plenty of unique solves to explore. But the designers got too clever for their own good on one particular puzzle array. Spoiler Alert, I am going to tell you about it here in detail. There is a moment in the game where you have a transparent sheet with markings on it. It fits perfectly over a painting on the wall which also has markings on it. One would think that a code would be visible once the transparent was laid over the painting. It isn’t. You cannot read what’s there. It is illegible. I was convinced that I needed a second transparent to read the code and spent a lot of time doing nothing in this game trying to find the second transparent. Finally, after watching a walk through, I discovered that hozdesign believes you can read the code that’s already there. You can’t. It’s too garbled. I was disappointed, yet again, by hozdesign. And it really really sucks because literally everything else in this game was fun. SIGH.

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

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

NOIR

Published by hozdesign. I played this on android.

The Short: Another highly imaginative space presented by hozdesign. Unique and exciting game mechanics and atmospheric music but with unpolished puzzles that you cannot solve. [Sad face]

Recommended if you like nostalgia, doomed romance, blacks and whites

Description: NOIR is a short-play game featuring some pretty great minimalist graphics, a wonderful sense of mood and, unfortunately, puzzling that falls flat. Hozdesign excels at making inventive game mechanics like alternate dimensions, secret passageways, literal reversals and esoteric visuals that can really engage a player. NOIR is no exception and if you’re looking for a truly new and unique experience NOIR will deliver on that promise. The central problem with hozdesign, as I’ve discussed before, is their failure to design puzzles that are as satisfying as their graphics and game mechanics. The puzzles lack a nub, a crux, that single satisfying idea you grasp suddenly in your mind’s eye and declare “Oh!” or “Aha!” or “Eureka!” as the case may be. I felt a bit cheated by NOIR in particular because in solving one of the last puzzle arrays, I was actually on the right track for several minutes but could not satisfy the game’s definition of the “solve.” Then! Insult of insults, I solved it by accident. I commonly come away from hozdesign feeling frustrated but as of writing this post, I refuse to quit them because so much else about the games are good. I am just waiting for them to get it right.

Difficulty:  Beyond Hard 
Difficulty Elements
good cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | esoteric puzzle arrays | some Absurdity | 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

Fox in a Box: Bank

I played this IN REAL LIFE. This is the Fox in a Box website.   

The Short: Fantastic.

Recommended if you like to believe you would survive a zombie apocalypse.

Description: Occasionally I will try to explain escape games to somebody new and they will ask me, “Wait do you do this in real life?” No, I say. I do this on my phone. Then they ask how that is possible.

That’s how I felt about a real-life escape games. How would I know if I were doing something rightly or wrongly? How would I avoid breaking something? But I’m here to say that I have tried it now and it is FUN.  Though, it seems essential to go with a group.

Fox in a Box runs a tight ship. They have to start your group on the dot and to the minute to ensure that you get your full hour to solve their themed rooms. My group of friends played the Bank room. We were robbers and had to find out how to unlock a hidden safe that contained a valuable diamond. To make things even more thrilling, all the lights were off and we had to use flashlights. I am an easily entertained person and I can tell you that my pulse was quickened! The puzzle arrays were quite difficult but there is a helpful Hint Giver just an intercom away. This room had amazing cascade. The puzzles were a good combination of straightforward and esoteric. Overall, super fun. Fox in a Box did a wonderful job designing this room.

Did we beat the room? No. But we were so close it was painful.

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

Cryptica

Published by Pixibots. I played this on android.

The Short:  Fun with hieroglyphics minus the worry of raising the dead.

Recommended if you like runes, grids, neutral tones

Description: Cryptica is not an escape game. It’s a spatial reasoning puzzle game with sort of an Aztec-y aesthetic. In each level, you are presented with a grid. The grid contains at least one Active Stone and that Active Stone’s match-spot. You must move the Active Stone or Stones to their respective match spots to win. The trick in this game comes when you get multiple Active Stones. All Active Stones move in unison so when you move an individual stone once to the left, you move all of the Active Stones once to the left. The game is further complicated by Inactive Stones that work to block the Active Stones.

I love the shit out of this game. It has a really intuitive interface, great audio accompaniment to game play, and it’s challenging in just the right way. This is also a game where you can really get “in the zone” by playing multiple levels in a row, your brain really starts to think along the grid. The next time you’re meeting someone for coffee, especially your one friend who is always 15 minutes late, download Cryptica and feel the time fly by.

Difficulty Level: Medium
Difficulty Elementsreadily-apparent puzzles