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 A-S-G. I played these on android.
Iterations: one through four
The Short: Simplistic game series with great atmosphere. In certain version you can actually “Skip” the puzzles if you find them too challenging. I find that hilarious. I mean, why are you even playing?
Recommended if you like pensive fog, the spirit world, velvet chokers
Description: This is an updated review. I already played and talked about the first Escape the Ghost Town before I knew there were three additional games.
Escape the Ghost Town has an interesting aesthetic. At first, I was tempted to situate this game within Design Netherworld but then I checked myself. At the very least, Escape the Ghost Town is not making its digs in downtown, south central Netherworld. If anything, it’s more out in the Netherworld’s most respected suburbs. This game features standard issue haunted houses with spooky garden grounds, weird marble statues, sheds full of saws, and heavily carpeted indoor spaces that strongly imply musk and dampness. The music is actually quite nice. The overall effect is a cohesive game space that usually trades in “passable” but occasionally creates a somewhat interesting room or sequestered garden area.
Escape the Ghost Town is a perfectly nice set of games. They’re fairly easy.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Difficulty Elements: low cascade | readily-apparent puzzle arrays |no Absurdity | typical solves
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 Elements: readily-apparent puzzles
Published by hozdesign. I played these on android.
Iterations: Episodes One – Six
The Short: Unhinged adventures with precocious ducklings.
Recommended if you like Wallace and Gromit, primary colors, negative space
Description: I have many gripes about hozdesign products but the Mr. 3939 series is actually really good. Cute ducklings, interesting aesthetic and – my favorite– it’s all a tad mind-bending.
The minimalist roomscapes throughout the Mr. 3939 series all share common tools and decor so as a series everything feels unified. It’s all enhanced by a very restrained and cartoonish soundscape. In terms of difficulty, these games offer up mostly esoteric puzzles interfaces but there’s also plenty of basic codes to be found, keys to be turned and hammers to be hammered. Some of the more unique details include stacked chairs, framed photos of fruit, and dragon-doors are all graced. It’s all served with a healthy dollop of Absurdity. So, in addition to sussing out which doorknobs do what, you may need to take a few logical leaps of faith.
Difficulty Elements: good cascade | both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | both typical & unique solves
Published by MobiGrow. I played this on android.
In Short: Gold standard escape game.
Recommended if you like tranquil living rooms, low key music, and being safe in the knowledge that winning is its own reward.
Description: Can You Escape? has the most basic format I know of for escape games: There are multiple rooms to escape from. Each room is different and unrelated from the others. There is no over-arching story but there are plenty of keys, matches, and codes to look for and some relaxing lounge music for your listening pleasure which gives it that vacation vibe. Can You Escape? is a totally decent game. I like the room designs. They’re all a bit different and there’s definitely some tongue-and-cheek decorating choices. So the question is, can you escape Can You Escape? ? There’s only one way to find out.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Difficulty Elements: low cascade | readily-apparent puzzle arrays | no Absurdity | typical solves
Published by Fireproof Studios. I played on both android and Microsoft Windows.
($) Iterations: One, Two and Three
The Short: My fucking favorite.
Recommended if you like pocket watches, Gothic literature, pivoting around a fixed axis
Description: The Room is challenging, beautiful, memorable, and fun. The interface alone is enough to fangirl over. Really smooth game play, streamlined tutorial process, and an intuitive goal: open the box! I recommend playing these games in chronological order. Also, strongly recommend playing this with a device that offers touchscreen.
These puzzles are hard! Despite the difficulty, I never felt cheated by this game. Every solution was a eureka! moment and never a let down. The mythology is kind of kooky but the overall vibe created by both the visuals and the music was truly unique if not enchanting. The theme music reminded me of the Harry Potter franchise which I think is pretty cool even though I’m not really into Harry Potter stuff. A little bit creepy, a whole lot of antiques, discover the power of ‘the null’ for yourself. I preferred The Room One and Three over Two but I have been debated on this point by others. More photos of the incredible design below:
Difficulty Level: Hard
Difficulty Elements: lots of cascade| both readily apparent & invisible puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric interfaces | some Absurdity | both typical & unique solves
Published by Cyan/Broderbund. I played this on Microsoft Windows.
$ Iterations: Myst, Riven, Myst III: Exile, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, Myst IV: Revelation, Myst V: End of Ages
The Short: Before there was Lost we had Myst. The irony is, the fans of each rarely overlap.
Recommended if you like mysterious islands, time travel, math
If you’re into escape games, or video games at all, it’s hard to imagine you’ve never heard of Myst. As a result, this review is merely a formality. I’m not here to describe Myst. I’m just here to tell you how I feel about it.
Continue reading Myst (Multiple Iterations) ($)