Oxenfree | Review

Image

Oxenfree Review | Oxenfree is a supernatural thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift. Play as Alex, a bright, rebellious teenager who brings her new stepbrother Jonas to an overnight party on an old military island. The night takes a terrifying turn when you unwittingly open a ghostly gate spawned from the island’s cryptic past. How you deal with these events, your peers, and the ominous creatures you’ve unleashed is up to you. YOU determine every aspect of Alex’s story while exploring Edwards Island, uncovering the base’s dark past, and changing the course of your friends’ lives.

Developer: Night School Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: Nintendo Switch
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 4 hours

I’m so glad I managed to squeeze in one last video game in 2021, and I’m especially glad it was this one. Because Oxenfree has swooped in at the very last minute and takes the title of being my favourite game played in this entire year. No joke! After originally launching in 2016, it’s one of those games that has been on my wishlist for years. With the Christmas break comes more time off to finally work through my ‘to-play’ pile, and all I can do now is regret that it took me 5 whole years to pick it up!

But, it seems like I’ve played it just in the nick of time – for Oxenfree II – Lost Signals is due to release some time in 2022. If you’ve ever wanted to play Oxenfree but needed a sign, this is your sign.

“Alle alle auch sind frei”

Contrary to popular belief, Oxenfree is not about Oxen. You’ll free exactly zero Ox in this short, supernatural thriller. The phrase actually comes from a German nursery rhyme, “alle alle auch sind frei” or olly olly oxen free” here in the UK which loosely means “all are free” in both translations.

This sets the scene for the game which is mixed up in supernatural horror of submarine vessels, abandoned military outposts and lots and lots of lost radio wave signals. You play a group of late-teen high schoolers sneaking off to the abandoned Edwards Island, an old military outpost with no phone signal for an annual party.

With phrases like “supernatural thriller”, “terrifying turn” and “ghostly rift” packed into the game’s description, it’s fair to guess that the evening goes horribly, horribly wrong. The main character Alex quickly uncovers a sift in the space time continuum and lets through malevolent voices of the dead (or undead) leak into the radio waves. The five friends must work together, solve puzzles, and escape the island before dawn, but nobody will return quite the same person they left.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how scary Oxenfree actually is. It’s not your classic ‘jump in your seat’ horror game, but the kind of slow paced but horrific ghost story of Victorian parlour novels. It chills to the bone.

Unlock Doors… With Radio Waves?

One of the cool things about playing Oxenfree from an escape room enthusiast point of view, is how we approach the puzzles. The first thing of note was the method of unlocking the numerous locked doors across Edward Island. That is, by radio.

At the start of the game you’re told by one of the other characters that mobile phones don’t work so everything runs off the radio. As such, you’re given a handheld radio that can receive information. Pretty handy, given there are information boards around the island that can be listened to if only you tune into the right frequency. The radio also picks up all sorts of random chatter, distant waves from the mainland, and snippets of conversation that don’t mean much.

Around halfway through the game you discover a very unique use of your handheld radio – opening doors. It seems as if many locks on the island can be triggered by simply turning to the correct frequency. It’s not a puzzle I’ve ever seen before, but it worked so well in Oxenfree. Your handheld radio becomes not only your only lifeline to your friends and the outside work, but also your skeleton key.

But that’s not all, as a player you’ll also need to navigate through time loops, explore a vast map, recall information scattered to the wind, and of course solve the mystery. There’s a huge mystery at the centre of Oxenfree and whilst there’s no real way to “win” the game, you can certainly lose if you end the game and haven’t fully made sense of what just happened.

Like Ships that Pass in the Night

Like the famous phrase “like ships that pass in the night”, your slow meandering through the world of Oxenfree feels like a ship on the ocean. Your radio is your beacon light, but more often than not lures you into the rocks to crash and die than serves as your saviour.

To give too much detail would spoil the story, but it’s important to reiterate that if you race (or should I say pace quickly) through the game at the minimum (4-5 hours) you won’t get to see the real ending. On my first play through I did exactly that. Followed by lots of Googling questions. I then played Oxenfree a second time, and noticed a lot more and took more time in each location to explore the details. There were questions I hadn’t known I needed to ask, and alternate endings that changed the meaning of the game entirely.

If I had one piece of criticism of the game it would be the pace. Your character walks very slowly. After spending 10 minutes walking to the top of a hill, the characters would have a short conversation and I’d have to turn right back around again for the long walk back. But on the other side, the pacing works so well for a narrative driven game like this. Each dialogue choice you make and each path you take in the game to get from A to B has consequences. As the clock slowly creeps from midnight towards dawn, there’s a sense of timelessness as if the night will last forever.

The Verdict

Oxenfree is an incredibly powerful game and an example of fantastic storytelling in video games. From the gorgeous, moody artwork, to the eerie music that you can’t quite get out of your head even once you’ve put your console to sleep. It’s a supernatural mystery game that will stick with me for a long time.

To play Oxenfree, head to the developer’s website and choose your platform here.

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

Image

Down the Rabbit hole Review | Down the Rabbit Hole is a VR adventure set in Wonderland prior to Alice’s arrival. You will guide a girl who is looking for her lost pet by solving puzzles, uncovering secrets and making choices about the story along the way.

Developer: Cortopia Studios
Date Played: October 2021
Console: Oculus Quest
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

My first encounter with Down the Rabbit Hole was, amusingly, in VRChat. VRChat is a land of absolute madness and debauchery where pretty much anyone can don their headset and be transported to an amazing land with folks from anywhere in the world. Actually, I’ve played some good escape games and made some friends there.

But one of the coolest ‘worlds’ I’ve been to in VRChat was a promotional space modelled off the intro sequence to Down the Rabbit Hole. It was so intriguing that I wasted almost no time purchasing my own copy of Down the Rabbit Hole the next time I spotted an Oculus sale.

I actually had almost no intention of reviewing the game for The Escape Roomer- you see, I didn’t even realise it was a puzzle game. But somehow the incredible, rich worlds filled with mystery just felt so right for the escape room audience. I was captivated from the very first moment to the very last, and binged the whole thing in just one day!

Oh yes, there are puzzles a-plenty!

Welcome to Wonderland…

Down the Rabbit Hole is a prequel to the story of Alice in Wonderland we all know and love. The theme is a staple of escape rooms all over the world (like this one, or this one, yep and this one, or even this one), but somehow Down the Rabbit Hole manages to make it different with the introduction of a new girl – not Alice! She descends into the rabbit hole and meets a host of wonderful (and familiar) characters before going up against the Queen of Hearts herself.

As a story, it’s fairly predictable. It’s probably quite hard to do anything other than loosely follow the source material, and that’s okay. But one big change the studio did make was casting an American voice actress for the classic British character. For some reason, this did bother me… A lot. If the game is a prequel, then this should be set in the very early 1800s and in Britain. Needlessly Disney-ified? Perhaps. But let’s move on…

Our main character falls down the rabbit hole whilst chasing her pet, but is soon joined by a ‘4 and a Half’ card who is shunned by his society. You see, the Queen of Hearts is a supremacist who believes only the whole cards are real cards. Whilst your main focus is to find your pet, by the time you descend to the very bottom of the rabbit hole you’re too embroiled in the world just to leave it as is it. Who else will help the half-cards?! Or find the missing letters?! Or help prepare for the Queen’s tea party?!

In a final note on the story, the game ends quite abruptly. There is some element of multiple choice, but largely the endings are bittersweet. You might save the day but you can’t save everyone, and even if you can are you willing to turn your back on the ‘real world’?

I’m wondering if the open-endedness of the story may lend itself to a possible sequel on the table? Well, a girl can hope!

Things are Getting Curiouser and Curiouser

So I’ve established that the story telling is okay. But let’s talk about what really makes this game shine: Environment and Puzzles!

This game is breath-taking.

No, seriously. A little louder for those in the back. This game isn’t just a pretty game it’s an absolute work of art and simply existing in this world for a few hours with your VR headset on is a privilege.

Players have two viewpoints. On the one hand, you are the camera in the middle of the rabbit hole looking at the story play out in these tiny, brightly coloured rooms lit up all around you. Using roots to pull yourself further down or pull yourself up, you can follow the story as it goes round and round in a feeling like you are the person tumbling down the hole. Look up and you’ll see the moon and the stars far above you, and look down and you’ll see the darkness stretching out forever.

On the other hand if you need to take a closer look you can switch to the perspective of the main character as she runs around each room. Especially useful for getting up close to treasure chests and opening small locks.

Frankly, I’ve never played anything quite like it, and it’s a perfect example of what wouldn’t be possible in real life but is flawless in VR. Game developers – take note! This is how a good VR game is presented!

“Six Impossible Things”

In terms of puzzles, they’re fairly straightforward making this a widely accessible game for puzzle enthusiasts of all skill level. For one, there’s a meta puzzle running throughout the whole game where a number of invitations to the royal party have gone missing. You need to collect them all. But then within each level is a number of mini-puzzles to tackle and solve before you can move on.

One of my favourite puzzle sequences was a world in which you could be flipped upside down from your partner and swap between the right-way-up and the wrong-way-up characters as you worked together to find a way through. It was a little like the classic Ibb and Obb, but made all the more brilliant for the giant teacups floating around.

Other puzzles involved painting hedges different colours, concocting a potion to make yourself shrink after accidentally trapping yourself inside a house, and may more involved finding 4 digit (or symbol) codes around the world.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole – it’s not often I get to binge a VR game without the pressure of reviewing it (some irony that I did review it in the end!), and it was a lot of fun to relax into this world. The world and the immersivity in this is incomparable. Sure, I didn’t gel with the characters much – but the world itself is it’s own character and I love that.

After a discount, this game came in at about £10 which is the same as a couple of cups of coffee. Instead I got to experience one of the most impressive VR world’s ‘ve ever seen. Definitely worth it.

I’ve chosen to award this game a Diamond badge for being visually impressive, though it’s also easy to argue that this game deserves a Best in Genre badge for being a brilliant Alice in Wonderland game.

To try out Down the Rabbit hole for yourself, head to downtherabbitholegame.com

Ratings

Rainbow Reactor: Fusion | Review

Image

Rainbow Reactor: Fusion Review | Clock in to the Rainbow Reactor, a fast-moving VR adventure that fuses story-driven exploration with frantic color-matching gameplay. Explore a sprawling, forgotten factory that produced the cleanest energy around (probably…) Once operated by the eccentric Alfred Luzian von Hoffenhasselbrock, the Reactor is filled with clues, secrets and grumpy robots! Can you clean up this mess, solve the mystery of Alfred’s disappearance and bring the color back to the Rainbow Reactor?

Developer: Tunermaxx
Console Played On: Oculus Quest
Time Taken: 6 Hours +
Difficulty: Easy
Number Of Players: 1

Wait… Rainbow Reactor? I’ve heard of that game! If this looks familiar, there’s a good reason! Rainbow Reactor: Fusion is the sequel to a popular VR game of the same name (Rainbow Reactor) from a few years back.

This time, the developers have added a whole story mode. With more story comes more mystery and more exploration to be had. It fleshes out the Rainbow Reactor world, and frankly I am here for it!

Adventure Meets Colour-Matching Meets Escape Game

Rainbow Reactor: Fusion is what you get if you combine the traditional “match three” mini-game popularised on mobile, with a creepy old abandoned factory with a dark past, hidden objects and things to discover and unlock, with a sassy robot. It’s a mix of so many genres I don’t even know where to begin on this… But this is after all an escape room reviews site, so we’ll stick to what we know best: good old fashioned puzzle and mystery!

Despite throwing a lot of genres into the mix and hoping for the best, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed playing Rainbow Reactor: Fusion. Each of the different genres complemented each other well, and were paced out so nicely throughout the game to provide some variety. for sure, it didn’t need to be VR, but it was made all the better for it with some very fun exploration sequences!

So what is the escape room aspect of this game…

Escape the Factory

You play the distant relative of the eccentric Alfred Luzian von Hoffenhasselbrock who has come to the Rainbow Reactor after the factory has fallen into disrepair. Since the factory powers the whole district, it’s up to you to get it up and running again. You wouldn’t want a huge energy crisis on your hands, would you?

So not technically escape from the factory… It’s more like:

  • Break into the factory
  • Build up trust with the resident AI Dottie by completing tasks for her
  • Clean up the factory
  • Restore it’s power
  • Save the World
  • Then… escape from the factory

If this sounds pretty wacky then that’s because it is! The whole atmosphere of the game felt like a cross between Jazzpunk and Portal 2. There’s something so fun about returning to an abandoned site with nothing but a floating robot to help you figure out exactly what the heck is going on. This is Rainbow Reactor: Fusion. Now with added mini-games!

Light on Puzzles, Big on Fun

To solve the mystery, you have to jump through hoops. Scattered around the factory you’ll find a number of fuses, collect three of each and you can power on a number of Kiosks hidden around the site. These show you snippets of videos which slowly unravel the who, what, when, where and why. Other puzzles you’ll encounter involve elaborate systems of pipes and valves. After all, one of your primary goals is to get the factory working again – but don’t expect any instruction manuals, you’ll have to figure it out yourself!

I particularly enjoyed these moments spent exploring the factory and tweaking dials, following pipes, and trying to figure out what particular objects did. True, Rainbow Reactor: Fusion is light on puzzles – but it is big on fun.

If you’re not actually into all that puzzle stuff anyway, you can jump straight into arcade most and just play the match three mini-game, which consists of scooping up balls of paint and carefully throwing them into large, hexagonal grids in front of you to match colours and make them disappear.

As mentioned, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. After watching the trailers I was a little bit dubious about having a popular mobile idle game loop one of the core gameplay mechanics – but Rainbow Reactor: Fusion really owns it and makes it it’s own. Inbetween solving hardcore puzzles in other VR games, I found myself drawn back into that old abandoned factory to play a couple of matches in arcade mode and see if I could beat my high score!

The Verdict

Overall, surprisingly fun! It may not appeal to your average escape room player – unless you’re also the type of player to enjoy an idle game or two on your phone inbetween escaping from rooms. But if you’re looking for more of an all-rounder game for your Oculus, one that gives you puzzles and had a party mode for your next game night, you could do a lot worse!

Be sure to give yourself plenty of space via the room scale boundary, and definitely keep the volume up loud when you play – you’ll not want to miss the catchy music!

Check out the developer, Tunermaxx’s page here.

Ratings

Goosebumps: The Game | Review

Image

Goosebumps: The Game Review – The walk home from school today is going to be a lot spookier than usual… Your sleepy neighborhood’s been overrun by monsters! Werewolves prowl the woods, Gnomes roam underfoot, and scarecrows walk at midnight. But these aren’t ordinary monsters—they’re R.L.

Developer: WayForward
Console Played On: Nintendo Switch
% Completed: 100%
Time Taken: 6 hours
Recommended For: Fans of Goosebumps!

POV: You’re me and you realise there’s less than 3 months until Halloween but unfortunately it’s way too early to start getting spooky (I mean, summer has barely started). So that means no Halloween candy, or putting up decorations, or snuggling up under a blanket to watch a ghost film… So what’s the next best thing? Reverting to a book series that made me the spooky pumpkin witch I am today. Goosebumps!

But did you know, Goosebumps also have a game out? Goosebumps: The Game was originally created for Nintendo 3DS back in 2015 to tie in to the Goosebumps film. Later, the game was ported over to the Nintendo Switch in time for the Goosebumps 2 movie.

And listen, I don’t know about you, but I really liked those films. In a kind of “oh god this is terrible but also so nostalgic kind of way”. Co-incidentally, that’s exactly the attitude you need to play Goosebumps: The Game. I’ll explain why:

Goosebumps: Taking you back to the 90s

For fans of the original book series, Goosebumps: The Game scratches the itch… But it’s definitely not a game to be taken too seriously. Instead it’s light-hearted, humorous, and reminds you what it’s like to be a kid whilst cramming in as many monsters from the books as possible.

Me: “Mum the house is literally infested with ghosts and there’s a werewolf looking at me and I think the walls might be closing in”
Mum: “You’ll be fine honey, oh dinner is in the fridge.”

In Goosebumps: The Game you play an early teen / late childhood character who, after finishing up school for the day, returns home to find their home has been turned into a spooky haunted house. None of your family are anywhere to be found, and your mobile phone (your source of clues in the game) is fast running out of battery. The terror soon spreads to other parts of the town with malicious monsters popping up in all locations ready to do unspeakable things to you and the other townsfolk. The game comes to a head with Goosebumps’ most iconic character of all – Slappy the Dummy, from Night of the Living Dummy.

Seriously, why does that particular book still make me shiver, 18 years later?

Your world is turned upside down, but your cries for help are mostly unanswered so it’s up to you to save the day.

A Classic Halloween Point and Click Adventure

This game is a classic point and click adventure game. We’ve chosen to feature it on The Escape Roomer largely due to the amount of problem solving you need to do – and if you’ve ever played a game in this genre you’ll know what we’re talking about.

You start out at your high school and as you move about the world, clicking through to each new location, your map grows bigger. Of course, you can trace and retrace your steps as many times as you like. In fact, you’ll probably have to if you missed any hidden items. I found that even the most obscure items I picked up and placed into my backpack has a surprising use at some point in the game. That plastic dinosaur? Yep, you’d better hold onto it!

Whilst it probably isn’t, Goosebumps: The Game feels pretty big! There’s a lot to explore. I spent at least the first 4 hours of the game wandering around just doing my own thing, dying repeatedly. This was a mistake as my core lifeline was my mobile phone which depletes in battery little by little. A few hours in, I’d lost my access to clues. Oops!

At some point however your goal becomes clear – it’s to find out whatever the heck is going on and put a stop to it. Easier said than done, but at least by the time you figure this out, your backpack will be holding a room’s worth of unusual items to help you.

Who are you calling ‘Dummy’, Dummy?

Clue-less, I did find myself using a fair bit of online walkthroughs and realised I’d missed a lot at the start, but the beauty of this game meant that most puzzles have multiple ways to solve them, meaning you’re rarely completely stuck.

Those unwilling to check your mobile phone for clues, or Google an online walkthrough should prepare themselves for a lot of trial and error. Unlike a lot of other games in the genre however, this trial and error was a lot of fun. You don’t really know how to use an item until you do it. I found myself dying A LOT until something stuck. It’s a kind of “wow I had no idea I could use that plastic dinosaur in that way” moment. But never once did I feel bored because at the end of the day, you can always leave and come back later with a fresh perspective.

The Verdict

I think it’s no surprise to say that I loved this game and I’m fairly sure if I were going to make a game, I’d want to make it like this. It’s got everything you could ever possibly want: Mystery, Puzzles, Halloween-Vibes… Assuming you’re like me, and those three things are all you want.

It was also refreshing to see the game ported onto the Nintendo Switch. The developers have done a good job, as the joycons rumble tensely along with the game, and keypad shortcuts bypassed the mouse-click mechanic likely popular with earlier, PC players.

I think returning to Goosebumps at the age of 25, you need to not take these things too seriously and go in with a sense of childhood innocence. It’s a lovely, if slightly predictable game, but one that took me right back to where I wanted to be.

Goosebumps: The Game can be purchased for around £10 on Nintendo Consoles and PC.

Thimbleweed Park | Review

Image

A haunted hotel, an abandoned circus, a burnt-out pillow factory, a dead body pixelating under the bridge, toilets that run on vacuum tubes… you’ve never visited a place like this before. Five people with nothing in common have been drawn to this rundown, forgotten town. They don’t know it yet, but they are all deeply connected. And they’re being watched.

Time Played: 30+ hours
Console: PC / Nintendo Switch / PS4
Recommended For: Fans of the mystery and macabre in videogame form

The signals are very strong tonight… 🐦

Thimbleweed Park is what you get when you cross 80s retro adventure games with Twin Peaks, add X-Files’ Scully and Mulder to the cast, and destroy the 4th wall altogether. In short: It’s wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better puzzle game to spend the last *checks notes* 7 months playing.

Grizzly murder and terrible hotdogs

For a game set in the 1980s it’s got none of the neon garishness we associate with the era, no. Thimbleweed park is beige and brown full of dark corners, grizzly murders, and terrible hotdogs.

It all begins with two secret agents arriving in the mysterious town of Thimbleweed Park to investigate a body found underneath the bridge. Pretty soon, the body is the least of the agent’s problems, as they soon explore the town and talk to the denizens to find out what they know. There’s an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town, a very haunted hotel, a bakery that only sells mechanical tubes, a fairground with one resident, and a vast labyrinth of sewer tunnels… To name a few of the delightful places you’ll get to explore in Thimbleweed Park!

More curious than the setting… I couldn’t have asked for a more unusual cast of characters in this mystery adventure game. Over the course of the game you play as five unrelated characters as their lives verge towards an apex that is the game’s finale:

Agent Ray – One of the two main characters we meet right at the start of Thimbleweed Park. Agent Ray is here to get stuff done and take no nonsense from anybody.

Agent Reyes – He is the second secret agent we meet, and a slightly more mild mannered counterpart to Agent Ray. From a different city, he is also assigned with investigating the murder.

Dolores Edmund – A budding young video game developer – keen to create adventure games no less – and one of the heirs to her uncle’s pillow estate. After leaving to work for a game design company, she returns for the reading of her uncle’s will, but not all is as it seems.

Ransome the Clown – One of the *beep* main *beep* characters who can’t stop *beep* swearing. Ransome was cursed after being characteristically rude to the town witch who then condemned him to spend a lifetime eternity living in the abandoned fairground. In 1977 and 78 he won the “Meanest Clown” trophies.

Franklin Edmund – The late father of Dolores Edmund, Franklin is the only playable ghost character! This means he can’t interact with the living, but he plays an integral role to solving puzzles from afar.

Point & Click Nostalgia

Thimbleweed Park is the modern day, logical conclusion to classic 1980s and 90s point-and-click adventure games. It utilises a “Use X on Y” mechanic that took my Gen Z brain a very long time to get the hang of. I also opted to play this game on Nintendo Switch, as I believe some games are best played hiding under a blanket at midnight and I wanted the flexibility of taking Thimbleweed Park with me on my own adventures. But the Switch is very unforgiving and between the left joycon strafing and the pixel-perfect clicks in some puzzles, I almost gave up many times.

I think I would have liked this game more back in the 90s – a simpler time when I had nothing better to do with my life. There’s a quote on the internet somewhere that calls Thimbleweed Park alienating to an audience who didn’t play games like this, and I kinda see it. The adventure aspect of Thimbleweed Park dragged a little bit. Between January and July I had an on-again, off-again commitment to this game and each time returning from a break feeling further away from the plot than before.

But each time oddly felt like coming home, with each resident’s funny manner of speech and quirks, repeatedly eating the mouldy hot dogs, and returning to the crime scene to poke the body. A strange kind of home, but home indeed. Perhaps I took so long because I didn’t want the game to end!

Two Modes: Casual or Hard

When setting up the game you can choose from many settings (including whether you want the toilet paper to face in or out), but the most important decision is whether to play Thimbleweed Park in Casual or Hard mode. I chose to play it in Hard. Regrets? Nah, not really. I’m here for the puzzle game and so I wanted to solve some puzzles.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a really hard time with it. The puzzles in this game, as with many classic adventure games are centred around performing actions in a certain, mostly logical way. The multiple characters allow for a deeper level of complexity as you often have to navigate many characters to different areas to perform sequences simultaneously.

Sounds simple? Well, there are a lot of puzzles that I can’t fathom how you would be able to solve them without hints, and others which I still don’t understand. Spoiler Alert: I mean who else knew that you can steam stamps off envelopes by placing letters in microwaves with bowls of water? Not me, I lost hours of my life to that ‘puzzle’.

The flip side is that most of the game is delightful and the aha moment of finally piecing something together is brilliant. I really do enjoy the genre and wish I’d been around when it was at it’s heyday before 2000.

The Verdict?

The grizzly murder was committed by none other than… Oh wait, you meant did I enjoy the game? I did!

I often apply a metric whereby if the amount of hours I spent playing the game is greater than the cost I paid for it, £1 = 1 hour, then the game was good value for money for me. It falls down at escape room games costing £100 + for 1 hour’s play, or Skyrim that I’ve played over 600 hours in, but let’s suspend disbelief and apply it to Thimbleweed Park. I spent £15 on Thimbleweed Park and I played it for well over 30 hours. 30 hours of frustration and wonder…. Well worth it then!

If you want to purchase Thimbleweed Park yourself, head to their website here.