Faraway Puzzle Escape ($)

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

The Short: Despite their age, mysterious ruins never get old.

Recommended if you like counter shading, sandstone, alone time

Description: What an awesome game. Faraway really nails it with fantastic artwork and a great soundscape. Swivel and glide through an a-cultural clutch of ruins to collect various brass implements, handwritten notes, and magic tiles. After the first 7 levels you will be invited to spend an additional $2.99 to keep playing and I wouldn’t be surprised if you wanted to pony up because this is a great puzzle world.

In terms of difficulty, Faraway does a great job of escalating things through the levels and introducing new game mechanics. Complete with cool contraptions Faraway includes an ancient system of electrical( or is pneumatic?) wiring to work with and also some laser satellites of antiquity. This is the type of game where you can re-play levels to improve your score by collecting all 3 of the handwritten notes from your unseen friend instead of merely 1 or 2 of them. I did not bother to do that but it is a nice dimension to keep the game engaging even after you’ve played through. And, if you’re into that #desertlife, I highly recommend Sphinx.

For the sake of transparency, I should tell you that this game made me sort of motion sick. The viewer does not give you 360 degree rotation so some rooms feel kind of stuck and weird. That’s really my only complaint though.

 

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

Bank Escape

Published by MobiGrow. I played this on android.

The Short: This might be a train wreck but nobody died so. Also, groovy music.

Recommended if you like predictable spy movies, good riffs on bass

Description: This game is pretty terrible but in that way where it is so bad I kind of love it? The graphics were conceived in the hearth, of Design Netherworld. Just picture a giant smoking factory, badly pixelated and glitching around a sprawl of copy/pasted urban scenery. That is the forge from which Design Netherworld belches forth. Sorry to get all LoTR about it but Design Netherworld is my one true foe.

So in addition to being from Design Netherworld, Bank Escape has some pretty loony toons logic behind some of its puzzles. It has also got a bad case of the Obvies. For instance, say you find a glass of water. Shortly thereafter there will be some electrical equipment with a big sign that says NO WATER. Hmmm…. I wonder what I should try next? Additionally, a lot of the items you pick up are not easily discernible. Am I holding a rod? A fan part? A lobster cracker? But the best part of Bank Escape is the music. As you sleuth around the maximum-security bank (you are a bank robber, by the way) this dubious bass line just repeats over and over again. And when you do solve a room, you’re rewarded with a gritty little guitar solo that reminds you that, at least in the realm of Bank Escape, you are one bad ass.

Difficulty Level: Easy
Difficulty Elements
: little to no cascade | readily-apparent puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | typical 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

Escape the Lighthouse

Published by Big Bad Bros. I played this on android.

The Short: More time was spent making this look cool than making this fun to play.

Recommended if you like sighing, grey scale, the Miyazakis (father or son)

Description: Escape the Lighthouse deserves commendation for creating very cool artwork and sound design. Beyond that though, this wasn’t a great escape game. Very short on cascade and the puzzles themselves were sort of non-diegetic? Let me explain. Usually the puzzles in an escape game are part of a puzzle array. The puzzle itself is literally part of the room. It is the mugs in the kitchen, the desk in the hall, a piece of paper hidden under the couch. You have to engage with the space to solve it. Escape the Lighthouse toggles between actual rooms in the lighthouse and then these disembodied puzzles like you might play in a puzzle book. It’s not as fun.

Difficulty: Medium
Difficulty Elements
little to no cascade | no Absurdity | readily apparent puzzle arrays | typical solves

Matryoshka

Published by Kotorinosu. I played this on android

The Short: Fantastic game. Do I detect a bit of humor at my expense?

Recommended if you like tranquil blues and Russian nesting dolls

Description: It has been a little while since I actually played this game but I wanted to get this post out of my draft queue so I’m going to do this purely from memory.

This game is medium hard. Kotorinsosu really succeeds at making games with good cascade.  Matryoshaka is no exception. Puzzle areas and tools tend to get re-used which expands the potentials in the game and makes gameplay a more dynamic experience.

Something else I really like about Matryoshka is the vague sense of cheekiness about how all of the different puzzles work together. I credit this as a design success. So much of what’s enjoyable about an escape game is learning the “rules” of the tiny space you’re invading. Really good creators know how to include a certain self-contained attitude or tone within the gamescape such that when you successfully solve something you can also roll your eyes a little, as if a good friend has done something that is just “so them.”

Difficulty Level: Medium
Difficulty Elements: good cascade| readily apparent puzzle arrays | both straightforward & esoteric puzzle arrays | low Absurdity | both typical & unique solves

What’s Inside the Box

Published by Bart Bonte. I played this on android. 

 

The Short: Compelling proof that sometimes less is more.

 

Recommended if you like diagrams, balsa wood, floor pillows

 

Description:
I am a huge fan of kinetic/mechanical puzzles that exist in a virtual space. Think of all the people through history who dreamed up mechanical solutions to small problems or maybe just designed a few charming curiosities. Now imagine those people had an infinite work space in the form of computer programming. How many technical solutions and curiosities might they come up with? How many puzzles can be designed if you presuppose a plane, otherwise known as the face of a cube? Hundreds? Thousands?

 

I know there’s at least 40 levels in What’s Inside the Box because that’s where I got stuck on a particularly hard one. This is a great game. Puzzle difficulty ranges greatly. Sometimes the puzzle is related to some code or pattern on the face of the box but a good number of these puzzles take into account the natural laws of physics that affect a box. Others still require you, the player, to utilize the meta-components of the game itself.

 

Game play is streamlined, elegant even. I heart What’s Inside the Box.
Difficulty:  Medium
Difficulty Elementscascade | unique solves | readily-apparent puzzles | low Absurdity