Enigmagram: Third Edition | Review

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Enigmagram Review | Send an Enigmagram to a loved one in three simple steps. First, create your secret message. We’ll then send out an envelope containing the puzzles and an anonymous letter explaining what they need to do. The answers to the puzzles make up a passcode, which they’ll use to unlock your message from an online location.

Completion Time: Around 45 minutes
Date Played: Over a couple of weeks
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium difficulty
AKA… Not too hard, but definitely some puzzles that require a little more than surface level thought!

 

Your mission has been set by whoever has sent you the Enigmagram. You must solve the puzzles and use the answers from each of them to gain access to your personal hidden message.

Are you up for the challenge?

 

The Enigmagram 3rd Edition. Photo (c) Enigmagram

Note, if you’re looking for our early review of the first edition, please head here.

 

About Enigmagram

The concept of Enigmagram is incredibly simple, but incredibly smart. The perfect gift for a friend or loved one who enjoys puzzles – with that added layer of personalisation. These two ideas combined make for a far more thoughtful present/celebration than just a simple card bought from a card shop.

I had been following the company for some time now but was still surprised to see that this was the third edition of the game, but after playing it, it really feels like they have perfected this short-form style of puzzle adventure.

 

The Challenges

What impressed me most about the challenges contained inside the Enigmagram was the variety. There were puzzles that required logic, puzzles that required observation, puzzles that required mathematics – something for every different part of the brain.

The thing I loved about the entire experience is that they are of course limited by the size of what you can fit into an envelope, but instead of this being a hindrance, the Enigmagram team have found innovative ways of making the puzzles transcend the paper limitation and feel much more substantial.

I think one way that they achieve this is finding clever ways of making the puzzles feel more physical. The first puzzle in the game has a lovely rip and tear element – which I think sets the expectation and tone for the rest of the experience.

Each of the following nine puzzles then brings something else to the table, which is another of the things I enjoyed about Enigmagram – no two puzzles felt the same. This is obviously quite important in a shorter experience, but very easy to overlook when designing.

There are puzzles for everyone – people who enjoy arithmetic, people who enjoy word challenges, puzzles that require visualisation, riddles – a relative puzzle smorgasbord. This variety really brings a real depth to the Enigmagram.

This brings me to my next point – is Enigmagram just for the person you’re purchasing it for to play? In my opinion, no. I would be much more fun for everyone if you played it with them.

That’s not to say that a solo individual couldn’t take on the challenge and enjoy it, they absolutely could! I personally, however, would have got a little frustrated If I hadn’t had my partner playing it with me. This is certainly not a criticism of the game, more a criticism of my own mind. But with the variety in the puzzles provided, I personally think it takes several different types of mind to solve them efficiently. There is a certain logic puzzle in the game which I couldn’t get my head around at all – but my partner solved it in a few minutes. I think this is a real plus point for Enigmagram – not only are you providing a lovely gift, but the taking the time to play it together adds to the experience.

After you have solved the ten puzzles then it’s all wrapped up nicely with the login on Enigmagram’s website – the secret message provided by your sender. I think this is a wonderful way to finish the game, it provides closure to confirm that you have completed everything, whilst also adding that layer of personalisation that I have discussed before.

The beauty of this is of course that your sender can end your game with literally any message that they want. The Escape Roomer team had been left an interesting message by Enigmagram… let’s just say that we both know the game and we’re going to play it.

 

The Enigmagram 3rd Edition. Photo (c) Enigmagram

Was Enigmagram fun?

We really enjoyed playing through the ten puzzles in our Enigmagram. They are excellently balanced, with some easy wins and some slightly trickier twists

The real fun of the experience however is in its simplicity. You have been challenged by the sender to reveal the message, and the fun is to be had in proving that you are worthy of finding out this secret.

I would definitely recommend it for puzzle aficionados, but it is also a lovely gateway into the world of tabletop puzzle games for people that don’t just want to pop down to Clintons and buy another £2 birthday card. It’s a lovely gift and a triumph for simplicity.

The Enigmagram can be purchased from their website here.

Oxenfree | Review

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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.

The Panic Room: CSI Stranglehold | Review

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CSI Stranglehold Review | Blood has been spilt across the streets of London! ‘The Eastside Strangler’ has yet to be caught, leaving a gruesome trail of bodies in his wake at a breakneck pace. You don’t have much time before he strikes again! Be swift and sure, follow in the footsteps of the previous detective on the case and finally bring justice to his neck of the woods!

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

An outstanding example of what a great online detective game should be. A game which will test your powers of deduction which is guaranteed to be a winner with everyone!

Your mission, if you choose to accept it – A string of murders have been committed throughout London, known to have been carried out by the mysterious Eastside Strangler. In an unrelated event, the detective on the case has passed away. You will be picking up his case files, reviewing the evidence and seeing if you can solve the crimes!

We really love the story line. One of the great things that The Panic Room manage to do in all their games, is have an overarching simplicity to their stories. They then build in fantastic detail which provides believable characters and makes their games an experience as opposed to just a series of puzzles – this game is certainly proof of all this!

Another huge positive to this game is the level of audio and video content. The quality is very strong, the characters are given an extra dimension and all of the audio/video clues serve a great purpose in building the gameexperience. Be sure to download the audio soundtrack to play in the background for this game – it adds some great tension! 

In terms of game puzzles, these certainly vary in difficulty which mean that this game can certainly be a real favourite for family, friends and enthusiasts alike! The games are based around the detectives notebook as the primary focus, where he has scribbled and jotted notes. These notes are subsequently reference points throughout the game. We really enjoyed this aspect, as on their own, the notebook “scribbles” mean absolutely nothing – when coupled with the various evidence files, you begin to unravel the crimes and you find yourself with a good number of light bulb moments! All puzzles are brilliantly compiled and stick strictly to the theme. 

As with the other Panic Room CSI games, there are on screen clues available to be revealed if you get stuck or need a subtle nudge in the right direction. The first hint is normally more cryptic, followed by others which are a little easier to follow. This is a great way of pushing you along the game without spoiling it. If you are still really stuck, you can also reveal the answer – but try not to, everything is possible to answer and you will get a much greater sense of achievement!

An honourable mention certainly goes to the finale of this game. Using all your powers of deduction you have to work out the culprit. Over the final few puzzles, the tension certainly ramps up into the finale crescendo. The “pay off” finale video is brilliant and pulls the story together perfectly. 

We think that this a real masterpiece of an online detective game. Filled with great puzzles, stacked with outstanding audio/video content with a fantastic simple, yet highly detailed, story line. Be sure to have a go at CSI:Stranglehold as this is not one to miss! It will leave you gasping for air!  

CSI: Strangehold can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

Behind the Frame | Review

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Behind the Frame Review | Guide brush strokes and solve a variety of puzzles to help an aspiring artist complete her masterpiece amid her brusque neighbor’s gaze and his pesky cat. As her painting starts to take shape, uncover an emotional tale of chance and artistry revealed behind unrelated yet familiar moments.

Developer: Silver Lining Studio
Date Played: December 2021
Console: PC
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 1 hour

From the moment I first heard the phrase “escape room puzzles in a Studio Ghibli-esque world” I was sold. A game like this deserved my full attention, so I patiently waited until Christmas 2021 when I’d have more time to spare before downloading it. The cosy evening of the 23rd of December was the perfect time. A time when the wind and rain howled outside, for me to make a big mug of tea and dive behind the frame into a peaceful and wholesome world.

A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

The story centres around you, an aspiring young artist living in a small studio apartment who dreams of of exhibiting her work in New York. Opposite, an elderly painter living with a tabby cat is occasionally glimpsed in a series of dream-like animated sequences. Each day you rise, make eggs on toast, pour a cup of coffee, and work on your painting. To your dismay, each time you power on your laptop you find your application to go to New York has been deleted, and your painting seems further from completion than ever before.

Your goal is to solve enough puzzles to discover more colours to finish your painting in time for the exhibition. But oddly, the details around you never change. The calendar on the wall displays the same date. But, as you play through this short game you quickly discover there’s a greater story unravelling around you in the stillness of art. Your life flits in and out of reverie and darker secrets bubble to the surface.

Who is the old man who lives opposite? More to the point, who are you?

Puzzles in Paintings

Behind the Frame is a puzzle game – and a point and click escape room at that – but it’s also a very narrative, emotionally heavy story. With each new chapter you learn a part of the whole story, but each time it feels like you’re scrambling to recover memories of the bigger picture.

In the escape room world really good storytelling is often missing from physical rooms and puzzle games. With just an hour’s time limit, it’s hard to write detailed narratives. The developers of Behind the Frame on the other hand have started with the story first, and then woven the puzzles throughout the game to support and advance the narrative – and it shows! It’s an incredibly moving story told through satisfying art-based puzzles.

In terms of puzzles, the setting dictates a lot of what can and cannot be done, and most puzzles centre around memory. Players will be shown a detail, and will later need to recreate it in their artwork to progress. In other sequences, players will encounter something in their environment and will need to recreate it on a wooden block puzzle they find in their home. In both cases, the game requires you to pay attention and use your artistic skill to solve the mystery.

At other times, you’ll discover hidden objects around your room and sketch or assemble them like jigsaws in your handy notebook. At no point during this game did I feel any of the puzzles were particularly challenging – but that’s part of the beauty. Behind the Frame is best played in one sitting, and each puzzle will take seconds to solve as not to disrupt the flow of the story.

Studio Ghibli, Eat Your Heart Out

…Haha, I’m kidding. Nothing can surpass a Ghibli film. But Behind the Frame comes close.

There’s a good reason this video game keeps being compared to the infamous Japanese film producer, despite the two having nothing to do with each other. Behind the Frame uses a combination of animated sequences and point and click gameplay. both of which feel lovingly hand drawn and perfectly in place with the style we see in many vintage anime films of the Studio Ghibli era.

What’s more, the story is heartbreaking and full of a sense of loss for a time we aren’t sure we ever knew. Players are encouraged to find the joy in every day life through the peaceful sound of coffee cups clinking and brushstrokes on paper. I am at once immediately at home playing Behind the Frame.

The Verdict

Behind the Frame is a magical puzzle game like nothing else I’ve ever played. It’s a marriage of my two favourite video game genres: escape room and wholesome, and this is a game I’ll be returning to over and over whenever I need a break from reality.

The game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and mobile devices – however I’d recommend playing it on PC or Nintendo Switch to get the most out of your artistic journey.

The only issue? it’s far too short. At six chapters long, the game is playable within 30 to 60 minutes. I went back and played it twice in order to collect 100% of the Steam achievements – another unchallenging pursuit – and still felt I needed a little more. More paintings, more stories from the girl’s life, more of everything. I need more of the magical whimsy Behind the Frame sprinkled into my life on a cold December evening.

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

Ratings

The Panic Room: CSI Mafia Murders | Review

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CSI Mafia Murders Review | A shooting has happened at the Mafia operated Bonnetti VIP Lounge! The Family has given you approximately 1 hour to investigate the crime scene uninhibited, but you’ll need to solve the case before the police arrive to brush it all under the rug!

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

A top-notch online murder mystery experience, where your inner detective will be tested and your enjoyment will thrive. 

Your mission – a robbery and multiple murders have occurred and “the family” wants to know who it was. It is your job to help the family (said in my best New York Italian accent) work out who did the job before the cops track them down, so you can handle them in your own special way! An old friend managed to gain access to the evidence locker at police HQ and now with it in your hands its time to track them down! 

Safe to say, we loved the story. A real true crime case, which doesn’t just tick the “you are a detective” box; its adds this brilliant twist of actually beating the cops to crack the case. It evolves brilliantly and as the evidence stacks up, so does the tension.  

The first thing to mention is the brilliant opening video. It sets the scene very well, tells the story, adds some great imagery and really gives the game its feel. Then add in the New York Italian soundtrack to your game and your atmosphere is complete. 

The puzzles within the game are also very strong – each evidence pack is a puzzle on its own however, don’t just read it as an answer to open the next lock – read a little further into it. Why? Well lets just say, in order to solve the mystery you need to have your detective hat on and not just look at things at face value. The puzzles aren’t hugely difficult on their own for more experienced gamers,  and the experience lends itself well to families with older children (I would say 10 years plus given the subject matter) and keen enthusiasts who love a who done it mystery. Likewise, getting your friends and work colleagues together over video conference software for this would be brilliant.

Another great point in this game is the quality of the evidence which vary vastly from puzzle to puzzle. Some are audio clues, others visual, others are video based. The written documentation is clear yet detailed enough to provide just the write amount of red herrings, so keep a clear head and you will be bound to succeed. If stuck some well structured clues are sat on each web page and you also have the option to reveal the answer – only use this as a last resort – everything is achievable and you’ll certainly get a much greater sense of fulfilment! 

The finale builds the game very well and pulls on all your powers of deduction from the previous puzzles to work out what has unfolded during the robbery. From your exhaustive list of suspects, who actually did it?! We really enjoyed this detective element in the story and makes the game more like an experience than just a set of online puzzles to answer and move on to the next. You can click back and forth through all the evidence once open just in case you have missed anything, but a keen eye will certainly be able to deduce the suspects as you progress through the game.  

When all is said and done, its safe to say we loved this game. Its a very well rounded, well produced online game, with stacks of strong puzzles and a great story line. A great game for enthusiasts and new comers alike, this online experience certainly put the bullet in our gun!  

CSI Mafia Murders can be purchased on The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

The Panic Room: Mansion Impossible | Review

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Mansion Impossible Review | Geoff the ghost has been stuck in this mansion for many many years, never being able to solve the mystery of what is keeping him inside. You have entered the mansion yourself and find that you too are now stuck and need to solve the puzzles and escape the mansion before midnight!

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

This child friendly online game is sure to be a hit with all the family, with some spooky challenges and ghastly goings on! 

Trapped within a huge mansion, you stumble upon a friendly helpful ghost! He knows the secrets of the mansion and the clues hidden inside its walls. Escape before the clock strikes 12 or be locked inside forever! 

The first thing that strikes you is the child friendly appearance of the audio and visual elements of the game, however still providing enough substance for parents to really enjoy the game too. The story line sits brilliantly with children, and the ghost is a great touch to add a little drama to the game without being scary or adding too much tension! Also, be sure to download the backing track to the game – it provides that extra atmosphere which the family will love! 

Similarly, the game play is also very simple to follow – work your way through the rooms of the mansion, solving the riddles and puzzles in each room. Don’t be fooled – just because this game is aimed at a younger audience, doesn’t mean that your own grey-matter is going to be tested! For more experienced gamers many of the puzzles are self explanatory (although, like me, I am sure you will find yourself over thinking them!). The whole family are sure to bring something to the table with this game as the puzzles are well varied and created with the user in mind. Some well placed clues provide just enough of a hint to get you through should you need them! 

There are some particularly strong puzzles in this game which I really enjoyed – a personal favourite is the final puzzle which really pulls together the rest of the game and gives a solid resolution to what you have found in order to escape the mansion – it is also very different to most other online puzzles in not being the normal “enter number/word” answer.    

All-in-all, a beautifully created, well thought-out online game, which provides a great atmospheric experience for the family all to enjoy! 

Mansion Impossible can be purchased on The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

The Panic Room: CSI Deadline | Review

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CSI Deadline Review | Something strange is happening in your comfortable company. A few days ago, your boss ‘Jerry Hoskins’ died in his office. The official story: Suicide. So then why is his office now closed for investigation?

Curiosity has got the better of you. It’s decided! Time to sneak into the office to see what you can find. Was he killed by someone in the company? Or was it really just a suicide?

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 Hour

The Panic Room have done it again with a brilliantly strong CSI style murder mystery, with an impressive story line and great engaging puzzles.

In terms of story, you are an employ for Gen Win Solutions – a pharmaceutical giant. Upon your arrival to work, you are advised by police that the company boss, Jerry Hoskins has sadly taken his own life in his office. Knowing Jerry better than most, you feel that this would not be possible and have your suspicions. You and your group of fellow employees take it upon yourself to investigate further, as the police feel that this is clearly an open and shut case. 

Instantly I was hooked – the CSI series of games by The Panic Room all have really strong stories and this was no different. A believable story line, which as it evolves, gives great depth and further realism. Much like all other CSI games, the opening story is easy to understand and grasp and then as the case deepens, you find yourself unravelling subtleties and niche information. 

The first point of note in this game is that it feels much smoother in terms of game play that the other CSI games (and I am a big fan of all of them!).  A new and improved password system has been a real boost to game play and the interaction with on screen documents is much smoother.

Being the music geek I am, I loved the soundtrack to this game. Certainly not as intense as the rest of the series, however packed with subtle sound effects, giving a great office ambience, coupled with some well placed background music. 

As ever, no spoilers, however I really enjoy the opening video to this game as you are met by another Gen Win employee. It plays a great balance in being able to understand the company as well as giving you some hints on how the game works – I found the actor in this very believable and it is a very cute opening touch.

I found the puzzles within this game the strongest point of all. They are well produced, neatly presented and given the “office” environment you are working in, surprisingly varied.  An added element within this game is the use of slightly more interactive images, so there are aspects of “point and click” coupled with the more traditional “here’s a set of pictures, now solve the puzzle” games. This makes you feel like you are a little more involved with this “detective” case and actually rummaging around to find evidence of what actually happened. 

That being said, there are a number of evidence items you come across throughout the game will help you solve the case! You may not think it at the time, but I would certainly suggest jotting down what you see,hear and read – much of it will come in handy later! This all adds to the detective feel of the game.  

With the above in mind, I think that, given puzzle difficulty and interactivity, this game would suit families with older children/teens as well as enthusiasts. There are certainly some trickier puzzles within this game which will get the grey matter working, however if a little stuck,  a quick click of the hint button will get you back on track. Two or three puzzles in this game were real highlights, where the innovation of creating puzzles never ceases to amaze me!

Again, this game builds nicely as you pull together all the evidence and clues to work out actually what happened to Jerry. Using your powers of deduction, gathered clues, puzzle answers, subtle hints you’ve found along the way, this is a great finale to your hard work.  

Yet again, The Panic Room have pulled it out the bag with another outstanding CSI game. Stacked with puzzles, well presented, neat soundtrack and a very nice game play flow, this one will not disappoint. Gather your friends and family for a day in the “office” you will never forget – but don’t forget to meet your Deadline!

CSI Deadline can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

Wacky Wheels: Longest Night in Bell-Ville | Review

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Longest Night in Bell-Ville Review | Winter is coming to Bell-Ville and the villagers are totally unprepared. Not only do they have to prepare the celebrations of The Longest Night, they also have to make sure that they safely cross ‘The Frozen Wastelands’. Can you help them get ready on time?

Completion Time: 1 hour
Date Played: December 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: Families

A puzzle wrapped in a story between the pages of a magical book that arrived on my doorstep just before Christmas Eve… What could be more magical and festive? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is the latest “Mystery Story” from Netherlands-based creators, Wacky Wheels. With their very highly rated play at home games finding a lot of popularity in the escape room industry, I was very excited to finally have my hands on a Wacky Wheels experience.

But how did it hold up? And what exactly is a mystery story?

Wacky Wheels Mystery Stories

To put it simply Wacky Wheels’ mystery stories series (this being the second, after The Fugitive’s Escape) are puzzle games in a book. If you’re familiar with play-at-home escape rooms in general, you’ll know that most can be printed at home, mailed to your home, or even bought in a box. There’s no reason Longest Night in Bell-Ville couldn’t have been any of those things, but the creator has made the choice to put this story in book format. And heck, it works so well.

The reason this works so well for this particular game is how the story is set up. It’s a linear experience where players read each page as they work their way through the game. The main character (in this case, you!) works their way through different locations in the fictional town of Bell-Ville and the story slowly unfolds across the 30 pages towards a conclusion.

Of course, there are puzzles along the way too – no puzzle game would be complete without them of course. These can be found at the bottom of every page and can be solved in any order. So if you’re stuck, you’re encouraged to come back to a puzzle later. To validate your answers along the way, you’re given a QR code and will need to create an account on the website to log your answers as you go. In all honesty, you can still play the game without doing this… But more on that later!

Welcome to Bell-Ville

The story of The Longest Night at Bell-Ville is an excitingly festive one. You play a resident of Bell-Ville, a floating world travelling the world from within a giant snow globe. One of the biggest annual celebrations – the longest night – is nearing, but the town is woefully underprepared. What’s more the town is about to pass over the Frozen Wastelands – a dangerous place! No wonder everyone in this town is panicking!

And yet despite that, your job isn’t easy. One quote in particular around mid-way through the book sums up my thoughts exactly:

Why is everybody in Bell-Ville always communicating in riddles?!

To ‘save the day’, you must complete 11 tasks, and each task comes with it’s own puzzle to solve. These tasks range from finding food, music, activities, lighting the lights, and so on. Typical party preparation stuff.

But despite the drudgery of running around and doing everyone else’s jobs for them, the story is so light hearted and fun it’s a joy to read-or should we say, play? The Longest Night in Bell-Ville perfectly plugs that post-Christmas, pre-New Years Eve week when you lose track of what day of the week it is anymore. The characters are written well, the illustrations across the book are absolutely gorgeous, the dialogue is fun, and the puzzles are enjoyable too!

So, how did I get on?

In terms of puzzle difficulty, we’d put this at around ‘medium’. A few took just minutes to solve, and others had me scratching my head for a while – and roping in family members to take a second look over my shoulder.

I chose to play The Longest Night in Bell-Ville as a solo puzzler, and did so whilst on a family break with almost no access to the internet. Which in hind-sight was possibly a mistake. On the one hand, I had a great time reading and playing through he book curled up in front of a fireplace with a mug of mulled wine at my side. On the other hand, I missed out on some of the competitive, leader board fun.

When I later did gain access, I’d forgotten most answers and one of those I did remember my phone’s auto-correct unhelpfully corrected into an incorrect answer. Or so I think? The online element doesn’t provide correct answers, simply logs your score on the leaderboard. So it’s hard to tell!

In the end I decided to skip on the online- part altogether and simple enjoy the game as a fun, book-based analogue experience. The truth? I kinda prefer it that way! I like my books more when I don’t have my phone with me and it would have been nice to be able to check my answers too – but that’s just my humble opinion! The Longest Night in Bell-Ville can be played in any way you like and is just as fun.

The Verdict

The Longest Night in Bell-Ville is a fantastically fun little festive themed puzzle book that we think would have a perfect Christmas gift for families or solo puzzlers of all ages. Despite some tech issues (my fault), playing the game was a real highlight of my Christmas break and I’d be sure to recommend this. It’s very well-priced at £8.50 and is available in both English and Dutch.

To purchase The Longest Night in Bell-Ville, head to Wacky Wheels’ website here.

The Panic Room: Sherlock Holmes Detective Story | Review

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Sherlock Holmes Detective Story Review | The year is 1912, the location: London town. You and your group think yourself to be a top-notch group of detectives and are itching to take on your first big case. What better start than a case that Sherlock himself has been trying to solve? You’ll need your wits about you, a keen eye for detail and don’t forget to take notes! Time to bring out your inner detective, with this brilliant online game, with classic styling, challenging puzzles and great story telling. 

​Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~ 1 hour

The year is 1912. The location, London Town. Think yourself to be a crack team of detectives? What better than to work on a case that Sherlock himself has been trying to solve! Try and catch up with Sherlock and crack the case of the missing Mrs Haversham.

As stories goes, this is a classic and it hit all the right notes. As the story evolves there are also some great twists, which aide in providing a great sense of reality.  Once again, the Panic Room team have it nailed with an overarching simplistic story, coupled with some outstanding in game detail, which give the characters depth and realism.  

The game starts with a brilliant, black and white stylised video which sets the tone beautifully, It is evident from the get go that this game has a very different feel to the great CSI series of games by The Panic Room. The tension and urgency is replaced by a classic, stylised game which is more fitting to the era in which the game is set. It combines the feel of of their My Dearest Emily game with the detective puzzles of the CSI series- a real match made in Heaven!   

In respect of puzzles, these are really strong. Cleverly,  all the games have a similar theme throughout, by using both a visual and audio clue for each puzzle and working on locations around the streets of London. Trying not to give away spoilers –  it amazes me how well this game has been designed in spite of these features – it adds to the realism of the game and makes it feel like a proper detective case.  

When it comes to difficulty, I would suggest that these sit in the medium to hard range. First timers might struggle on a handful, but don’t be dismayed – a great on screen clue system is in place which provides just the right level of helping hand without spoiling things. Firstly you can choose a more cryptic clue and then if that doesn’t guide you well enough, a clearer clue then follows. If worst come to worst you can reveal the answer – try not too though – everything is achievable. Just put your mind to it, sit back and think of the obvious!   

This game has a real sense of charm brought on by some brilliant interviews with the characters, including some nicely inserted subtle musical aspects. The combination of the charm and the strong puzzles makes this a really enjoyable prospect. 

In spite of the less pressurised experience, the finale of this game culminates nicely, bringing together all your evidence gathering skills and naming the culprit. 

We really enjoyed this game, in particular with the slightly more relaxed feel, some really strong puzzles, brilliant theme and awesome story telling!  Playing this game is Elementary my dear Watson! 

Sherlock Holmes: Detective Story can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

The Panic Room: CSI Grounded | Review

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CSI Grounded Review | Are you ready to solve a mile-high mystery? A murder: The suspects are 30,000 ft in the air. Someone killed Avery Stone on Flight 9201! But who, and how?

Everyone on board is a suspect! The evidence you need to solve this crime is locked inside evidence packs. Solve the clues, unravel the mystery, and find the killer before the case crashes and burns around you!

Date Played: 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

Put your detective hats on in this high-tech online murder mystery! 

The story… A murder, a mystery. The suspects 30,000 feet in the air. Someone killed Avery Stone on flight 9201 – but who and how? Everyone on board is a suspect. Solve your way through the clues, unravel the mystery and find the killer. 

A real solid storyline gets this game off to a strong start. The depth of the story is pretty unbelievable with attention to detail which no other online game could dream of – particularly as the game evolves. 

Another major plus to this game is the level of tech involved. Numerous embedded and online videos, plus the use of QR codes add something different to this game. It really does make you feel like a detective. The video and audio quality is very strong. The use of different audio techniques really adds to the style of this game. (coupled with a tension building hour long backing track which really adds to the pressure!)

In terms of puzzles these vary vastly. There are a couple of some very easy self-explanatory puzzles which we got in a matter of seconds. On the flip-side, there were some which will test even the most experienced escape gamer. Some well places clues will certainly guide you in the right direction (and yes, we did use them!) 

A pen and paper coupled with an extra mobile phone with a camera are a must in this game. With the volume of puzzles and evidence involved, coupled with some extra downloads on clues etc it can become easy to get bogged down, so take your time, write down the clues and your will be certain to succeed. 

All round, a very impressive online experience, which uses audio and visual clues in a modern way, yet still clinging onto the traditions of a murder-mystery game. Invest your time and your patience and this is one you wont forget in a hurry! 

CSI Grounded can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings