FriendRoom

Published by Ablues.  I played this on android.

The Short: Is it vaguely creepy that I am snooping around a child’s room? Maybe. Are virtually-rendered teddy bears a genre of terror unto themselves? Almost certainly.

Recommended if you like pajama parties, open containers of snacks, xylophones

Description: This is easily the best thing I have seen by Ablues. FriendRoom is an entertaining set of puzzles in a fully realized environment. I really credit this game for successfully recreating what a girls’ slumber party actually looks like. The puzzles are pretty okay.

Aesthetically, this game has good components and bad ones. I liked the cluttered nature of the room. It felt realistic. There’s lot of detail work of toys, books and wall hangings and the elements of the room go together well (which is a nice change from some of the other creations by this same publisher). Still, FriendRoom had a bit of that weird stiffness that’s quite common to generic escape games, almost like a vinyl gloss that seems to cover everything. Also, I really think teddy bears need to be permanently banned from escape games. They are inevitably creepy.

The puzzle arrays in this game were pretty good. Some were contained in one space while others are scattered around the room which makes them harder to identify and increases the difficulty of the game in a good way. My one big complaint about this game is a design flaw that caused me to get seriously stuck for a long time. There is an item you retrieve very early on in FriendRoom that is slender and black. You don’t use it for a long time. So, if you forget that it is in your inventory, it will literally become invisible to you because it fades very easily into the black background of the inventory blocks. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A little item labeling goes a long way.

Difficulty: Medium
Difficulty Elements:
good cascade | both readily-apparent and invisible puzzle arrays | straightforward interfaces | no Absurdity | Typical solves

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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

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

Weird Escape

Published by Tengeri Games.  I played this on android.

The Short: Weird but not like, that weird.

Recommended if you like Edward Gorey, ink blots, German expressionsism

Description: I didn’t care for this game but I do have some nice things to say about it. Weird Escape is a very curious creation. First off, the artwork is wonderful. Stylistically we are in the world of pen & ink horror not unlike Edward Gorey’s famed Gothic creations or Franz Kafka’s lesser-known scribblings. So, kudos to the designer, who I believe is named Jenki G.

Speaking fairly,  Weird Escape is actually an extremely good version of a Doors Galore. It might even be the only good version of a Doors Galore that’s ever existed! Doors Galores tend to be the most ill-designed, scornful things you can find, whereas Weird Escape is definitely a beloved child born to a nurturing family. I guess it’s as the saying goes, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

Still, this game is not too exciting. Objectively, Weird Escape just doesn’t have good puzzling going on. It’s very simplistic, with one trick per door, and the drawings themselves, while cool, do not extend into any animation territory. Everything is perfectly static.  The short puzzle chains are also standard issue puzzle varieties that can be found in almost every other room escape you’ve ever tried. So, despite the name, Weird Escape really isn’t all that weird. Still, this was a memorable experience.

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