Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR | Review

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Please, Don’t Touch Anything VR Review | Covering for a colleague taking a bathroom break, you find yourself in front of a mysterious console with a green screen monitor showing a pixelated live image of an unknown city. Also present is an ominous red button with the simple instruction to not touch anything! Push the red button once or press it many times. Your choices and actions will lead to outrageous consequences and over 30 unique puzzle endings.

Developer: Four Squares, BulkyPix
Date Played: June 2022
Console: Oculus
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: ~2 hours

Every time I saw a warning on this game that read “Not for the faint hearted” I thought “Hah! How bad can this be?! It’s just a game where you’re sitting in front of a console pressing buttons.” Then I found myself worshipping Satan, being scared out my mind by demon standing behind me, and watching the human race get wiped out… Repeatedly.

That said, I still wouldn’t describe it as a horror game. I’d describe it as a fixed perspective escape room game. Which is a fancy say of saying “button pushing simulator”. It’s just you and the console, and a lot of different outcomes. Where most escape rooms just have one (you escape), this has multiple. But the idea is the same, you’re solving puzzles and performing actions in a small 2x2m room to achieve them all. And let me just say… It was some of the most fun I’ve had in VR in a long time!

 

 

About Please, Don’t Touch Anything

The original “Please Don’t Touch Anything” was a short pixel art game released by a Russian indie studio Four Squares for PC way back in 2015. It received a large amount of praise and the studio, in collaboration with Escalation Studios then went on to release a 3D version of the experience just a year later with virtual reality support. Later the game was launched on Nintendo Switch, and has continued to be met with praise for many years since.

Skip forward to 2022, and I’m idly scrolling through the Oculus store with a 30% off voucher in hand looking for a new title to try out. I wanted something short, fun, puzzley, a little bit creepy. After punching those filters into the search engine, there was one title that kept coming back to me: Please, Don’t Touch Anything. Well, of course I wanted to immediately touch it.

 

 

“I’ll be right back, don’t touch anything!”

The game begins with you in a small room with a large console in front of you. Your colleague appears at the door and says he’s popping out for a quick bathroom break and for the love of god, he implores you not to touch anything on the console. With a wave, he’s gone. It’s just you and the room. Oh, and a giant red button.

Amusingly, on my first playthrough I didn’t touch anything. My colleague appeared back from the bathroom and thanked me for being so diligent, and the game ended. I was immediately respawned into the room and it begun again. This time, I hit the big red button and triggered a nuclear apocalypse…

So far so good.

If you can tell from that brief description, Please, Don’t Touch Anything is a game of many many endings. Thirty endings to be exact. It’s best played with no expectations – you walk in, you press buttons, or you don’t, and you get a curious ending. The game restarts and you’re immediately hooked on a need to uncover every single one. What happens if you push this button? How do you get the hammer? Is that a UV blacklight? With each playthrough a new facet of the world reveals itself. How will you destroy civilisation this time? Or will you simply press a switch 50 times and nothing will happen. Perhaps you’ll make it your mission to clean up this (very messy) room. All valid game choices all with unique endings.

It’s also a game packed with many pop culture references. From TV, from films, and from other video games. Delightful nods to puzzlers past and some very creepy moments I’d only seen on the silver screen suddenly brought to live in VR. I love it!

 

 

Button Pushing Simulator Now in VR!

If you’re familiar with the original 2D version, there are enough changes in the VR/3D version to make the game feel innovative and fresh. Endings are different and things have been added. For the whole part, it’s a game that works well in both 2D and 3D but as a big fan of virtual reality I think it works really, really well in this medium. For starters, you’re pushing buttons and toggling switches and this feels extra immersive in virtual reality. Want to pick something up? You can simply bend down in real life and pick it up and manipulate it in real life.

In terms of controls, it’s not perfect, but that’s to be expected for an early VR experience. My hands in the game didn’t always move to where I wanted them to be and I found it was often quite tricky to stretch over objects and reach things. For the best gameplay, you need a large space to play in at home so that you can move around freely. You can play this standing up or sitting down. It might be slightly more immersive (and easy on your legs) to sit down, but I played it largely standing up. If you don’t have a large space, you can stay rooted to one spot and use the in-game mechanic to teleport around fairly easily too. No motion sickness here!

 

 

Where are the Puzzles?

Like any good puzzle game the primary ‘puzzle’ is figuring out what to do. Then figuring out how to do it to get the output you want. For sure, there are plenty of ‘classic’ puzzle mechanics the escape room enthusiast will recognise, like Morse Code or binary inputs, but it’s largely a game of sequence memorizing and inputting a variety of data pieces into your console creatively. You might find a 4 digit code on one playthrough that you suddenly remember 10 playthroughs later and input it. You might spot a symbol which ends up being a map to guide you around a grid of buttons. There are a few ciphers, and some very fun uses of black-light, and so on and so on.

In short, I think it’s a fantastic game for the escape room enthusiast to play. It’ll push everything you know about solving escape rooms to the limit, and then some. A unique game that doesn’t quit fit into any category box, but definitely one I think you, dear reader, will enjoy. Puzzles a-plenty.

 

 

The Verdict

I really, really enjoyed playing Please, Don’t Touch Anything. It’s tongue in cheek humour was the perfect setting for a quirky little puzzle game like this. When writing about any VR game I like to consider whether such an experience would be possible in any other medium other than VR. There’s nothing in it that wouldn’t necessarily be possible in another medium – the example being that it’s also available as a non-VR title, but it’s so much better in VR.

I’d not hesitate to recommend this to any other escape room enthusiast and I think it’s got a rightful place in the Oculus catalogue as a game puzzle fans should definitely check out.

Please, Don’t Touch Anything can be purchased for Oculus Quest 2 on the Oculus store page here.

The Altas Mystery (VR) | Review

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The Atlas Mystery Review | Explore the haunted halls of the infamous Atlas Theater, a 1940’s era movie palace that played host to a shocking Hollywood tragedy. Solve intricate puzzles, discover startling artifacts, and evade sinister forces to uncover the twisted truth behind the theater’s dark history.

Developer: Top Right Corner
Date Played: April 2022
Console: Oculus Quest 2
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

The Atlas Mystery… Just, wow!

This is one of those games that I’ve been aware of for a long time. As frequent readers might know, I’m a game developer in my day job so I spend time on (read as: doom-scroll) “game dev twitter” a lot. Given the overlap with “escape room twitter” it wasn’t long before I spotted The Atlas Mystery. Let’s just say it ticks a lot of boxes for me. Virtual reality, 1940s noire, an old abandoned movie theatre, a grisly murder… And ghosts?! Ugh, a thousand times yes please!

 

 

The Atlas Mystery is a classic escape room game in every sense of the word. Whereas other ‘escape room VR games’ do things in virtual reality that simply would not be possible in real life, The Atlas Mystery takes another approach: it pushes the players to do exactly things they would do in real life, but in a virtual setting. Funnily enough, this style of gameplay was oddly refreshing. I found myself pushed to gently twisting dials with a shaky hand, holding up film negatives to the light, unplugging and rewiring complex panels, and even using a handheld shovel to scoop freshly popped popcorn into a cup. Yes, really!

 

Alone in the Atlas Theatre…

I’ve played many real life escape rooms that don’t even come close to the spooky atmosphere that The Atlas Mystery creates. It’s a vast space, and no matter how much you squint there are certain dark corners that remain eerily shrouded in shadow. In particular, near the start of the game I found myself standing behind a counter faded with a completely dark, unknown space beyond the barrier. Having replayed the game a few times now, I’m sure there’s nothing out there in the dark – but there’s no other feeling quite like it standing there, convinced shadows of bad omens are just inches away if only you reach your fingertips out into the dark.

*shudders*

In particular, I loved being about to run around such a huge space uninhibited. Okay, okay, spooky shadows aside, this video game truly felt like you had an enormous space to play around with. A whole lobby area, plenty of side rooms, a lift taking you to other floors with winding corridors, and film rooms a-plenty. The best part? None of this space felt dead in any way whatsoever. Even the long stretches of corridor felt well placed to build up nerves to a state of heightened tension. Then, at the end, each new room was packed with exciting puzzles and objects to interact with.

 

 

Is that a gun?!

One of the absolute best reasons to play The Atlas Mystery however has a clue in it’s name.

Yes, that’s right… The ATLAS!

No, no, I’m kidding. The MYSTERY.

This game has a really well-thought out storyline in it that, whilst I glazed over at the start, I found myself retracing my steps to pick up every little scrap of paper I found to piece together the story in my head. It’s an eerie sort of murder mystery, and I won’t go into spoilers, but I will say it’s well worth the read. There’s been a terrible and grisly Hollywood tragedy, will you be able to figure it out?

 

 

Crack the Codes, Unlock the Doors

In terms of difficulty, I personally found The Atlas Mystery definitely to be on the hard side. I believe a well-seasoned escapist may solve this in around an hour, but I took well over 3 hours over a couple of days. I found the game so difficult in fact there were a few moments I thought I might put the headset down and call it quits. But no sooner than I’d wake up the next morning, I’d already find myself itching to return to those eerie, empty halls of the film theatre in search of a clue I may have missed.

Some of that ‘difficulty’ comes down to the controls however, which is an issue hard to overcome in virtual reality. On more than one occasion I’d have the correct tool but be unable to ‘place’ it carefully enough that the result would trigger. A good example of this are the keys, and there’s a fair few keys in this game. Encountering these hiccups, I’d assume I’d got the puzzle incorrect, and move on trying many more things before returning to try again. With many interactable objects in this game there’s a certain “sweet spot” to touching them that I found very easy to miss. Despite that, I congratulate the development team on their originality in this space. VR is not an easy medium to create a game in (take it from me, I’ve worked on plenty!) and their commitment to making each object feel real within your hand is fantastic.

Besides, once you get the hang of the little movement quirks in the game, it’s easy enough to pick up.

As a final note on control and movement, since you can move around either by teleportation or with the joystick, I’d probably also put this at the “medium” risk of motion sickness. Remember – teleportation is often a lot more comfortable for new VR users, so if you plan on spending a long time in The Atlas Mystery, it’s best use the teleportation function!

 

The Verdict

For a while, I wasn’t sure where The Atlas Mystery’s dice would fall for this review. It was a slow burning game that took a while to get me hooked on it, but once it did I kept coming back for more. The puzzles were challenging, but immensely satisfying once you finally figure them out and by the end of the game… Could it be… I actually wanted more?! A lot more! More floors, more environments, more story, and most of all more puzzles.

I would say it’s not a perfect game. But I think the developers still did an exemplary job creating a fun and lengthy escape room that felt full of- well, life is the wrong word, but full of unease. I enjoyed spending time in The Atlas Mystery and I definitely think it would appeal to the average escape room enthusiast. With a lack of really good VR escape room games out there, The Atlas Mystery will fit well into the existing catalogue and will be sure to be a cult favourite among enthusiasts.

 

 

The Atlas Mystery can be played on Oculus, and Steam VR. To chose your platform, head to their website here.

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

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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

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