Professor Puzzle: Curse of the Dark | Review

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Curse of the Dark Review | Investigate the mystery of a doomed village and its cursed castle in this thrilling escape room game! You couldn’t resist the allure of Mordengraf: a remote mountain village, overshadowed by an imposing Gothic castle and haunted by a spate of mysterious disappearances. Could there be truth in the hushed whispers of a ‘creature’ stalking the area? As you look for answers, your investigation takes a sinister turn. Captured by an unseen force, you must escape the castle’s dungeon or become the creature’s latest victim. But you only have three hours before the creature resumes its hunt.

Completion Time: 3+ hours
Date Played: 6th May 2022
Party Size: 3
Difficulty: Medium

It was only a little while ago that I had the pleasure of playing through Professor Puzzle’s “Danger in the Deep” so when I heard that they had another escape game out but double the length, I jumped at the opportunity. The former is easily one of my favourites of 2022 so far, and I was eager to see how their sequel would perform. It was time to dim the lamps, light some candles, pour some red wine (because of course, vampires), and crack open the game.

The story goes that you, an investigator, receive a mysterious letter from someone known only as “J”. A monster lurks in the castle at the corner of a village and many of the villagers blame the monster for the recent disappearances. Your job is simple: investigate and get to the bottom of the mystery. But before long you find yourself sucked into the castle and soon to become the monster’s next victim. That is, unless you can puzzle your way out!

 

 

How to Play Curse of the Dark

Curse of the Dark is nothing if not very ambitious. Written in large letters on the front of the box is a total play time of “180 minutes” which of course, can (and probably should) be split into two parts at 90 minutes each. Our team of 3-4 players decided that we’d set aside an entire evening to complete the experience. From 6pm on a dark and stormy Saturday evening we sat down to a bottle (okay, maybe two bottles) of red wine, plenty of snacks and spooky music in the background.

180 minutes? Pfft.
We ended up concluding the game with a successful win at around midnight 🤯

This would put the game in more comfortably at 6 hours long, but even I’ll admit that’s a bit silly. The point being is this game, despite the recommendation, be enjoyed at any pace by any sized group and is definitely the most fun when you break it up with wine and snack breaks. So long as your goal is to have fun, you can’t go wrong with Curse of the Dark. So don’t be worried if you take a lot longer than the recommended time.

Where Curse of the Dark differs from *checks notes* pretty much every other escape game I’ve ever played, is it’s fantastic use of space. It’s somewhere between a tile-based, almost “worldbuilding” game with Cluedo, and Unlock! mixed in. As a team of intrepid investigators, you reveal and place new tiles that build up an immense, sprawling castle around your movements as the game progresses. Past the halfway mark and you’ve already strayed into 3D territory with an enormous stained glass window and not one but two brilliant tall towers standing at either edge of the board. Until we flipped each new tile it was impossible to know where our story would take us, but each room was as fantastical as the previous and each twist and turn as exciting as if we were watching a movie.

Visually, this game is gorgeous. Each tile is a top-down view of a specific room, but as mentioned the game occasionally forays into 3D, building up a complete picture of an enormous ‘spooky castle’. I happen to know *taps nose* that each tile was modelled in 3D on a computer and then rendered top-down to create a large but well proportioned environment. The edges of each tile often had an overlap or matched up directly to where the next room was. Only a few times did we need to slide the whole model across because we’d built too close to the edge, but thankfully figuring out how to lay out your castle isn’t one of the puzzles. There’s a handy guide as you go.

 

 

See the Day Turn into Night…

In terms of puzzles, there are 22 in the game, but if that number sounds low I can assure you it is not. Curse of the Dark is big. No, I don’t think you understand. It’s packed with possibly hundreds of pieces, cards, tiles and objects. We found that throughout our experience, objects we’d discovered earlier in the game often didn’t come into play until hours later – resulting in more than a little panicked rummaging throughout the boxes. So a fair warning when we say that this game is big – it’s worth keeping track of what you’ve used and are still to use.

By the end of the game we found that there were a few cards we hadn’t drawn from the deck, but thankfully the game has a very robust clue system to keep you on track if you’re unsure. On only one occasion did we accidentally brute force a puzzle, and only then we realised this because we’d left a card we’d needed to solve the puzzle in the deck without spotting it. This goes to show that the puzzles whilst not too difficult nor too easy, seem well pitched for an enthusiast to comfortably potter through.

Throughout the experience, my favourite puzzles involved anything that was 3D – what can I say? It’s a lot of fun picking up the great big bell tower and pretending you’re King Kong as you push and pull bricks out haphazardly. Other puzzles take you away from the physicality of the game and onto a simple web-based application which worked well, but the bulk of it took place via a system of cards and ’tiles’. As with many games, there were some puzzles we got right away, but plenty more we needed to use hints (a scratch-off system). In each we were looking for a secret hidden symbol to proceed.

 

 

…Through the Darkness, There’s the Light

In terms of the question of age rating and accessibility , Professor Puzzle recommends 14+. In terms of theme, I’m not so sure about that. There’s the odd splatter of blood and an allusion to nefariousness, but it’s ultimately quite a light-hearted, Vampire themed romp and nothing I wouldn’t have loved as a kid. The real question is whether or not somebody is able to sit still for the full 3 hours and remain engaged and interested – so I’ll leave that at the discretion of parents.

There are a few puzzles that involve sound, so someone who is able to hear well is recommended, but I believe it may be possible to solve those with the visuals. Some of the scenes are darker and will involve Similarly there are some moments in the game where colour is referenced, but if I remember correctly, none of the solutions hinge upon being able to identify colours, so it’s also colour-blind friendly.

Unlike previous games in Professor Puzzle’s catalogue, Curse of the Dark comes with a free download of the printable elements of the game. This means that after destroying certain components during your gameplay, you can print them off at the end to reset the game perfectly back to the beginning. In an era of being more environmentally conscious, I commend the creators for making this game not single-use, and encouraging folks to re-gift it on. That said, I won’t be giving up my copy of Curse of the Dark any time soon. Oh no, by contrast I plan to reassemble some of the coolest 3D components and put them on my shelf in pride of place.

 

 

The Verdict

If you can’t tell from my gushing, the verdict is we really did have a great time playing Curse of the Dark. From the fantastically fun puzzles that consistently manage to surprise me, to the beautiful visuals (2D and 3D), to a very spooky vibe that made our board game night perfect. There were a great many “a-ha!” moments, so many I’m sure my co-players got sick of my insisting “wow thats a clever puzzle” by the end of it. For that reason, we’ve chosen to award it our Badge of Honour which is awarded to games that achieve five stars from us across the board, and it’s well deserved too.

For sure it will attract a slightly more niche audience than other games in the Professor Puzzle catalogue coming in at ~3 hours of gameplay. Compared to other ‘escape room in a box’ games you see on the high street, this one is three times the length. But in this way it’s also excellent value for money.

Typically in ‘The Verdict’ I like to recommend who I’d buy this for. The answer for this one is simple: everyone. I could see myself playing this with family members old and young, enthusiasts and newbies alike. I’ve no doubt it’ll be a big hit for Professor Puzzle and can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

A big round of applause from me!

Curse of the Dark can be purchased from major retailers, pre-order it here.

Eleven Puzzles: Parallel Lab | Review

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Parallel Lab Review | The detectives are following Cryptic Killer’s trail. After escaping Cryptic Killer’s trap, the detectives thoroughly investigated the area where they had been held. Sadly they have found nothing that could move their case closer to catching the killer… Or so they thought.

Date Played: May 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 2 hours
Difficulty: Medium

 

Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

 

Over the past 2 years, we’ve all become quite familiar with digital escape rooms, and I personally have had hit or miss experiences with them. After a few disappointing experiences, I decided to give virtual rooms a miss unless I was playing by myself, which means I didn’t play the first instalment of this series by Eleven Puzzles (that said, you can read what Rebecca and Mairi thought about the first instalment over in our review).

Fortunately for me, Eleven Puzzles reached out and invited us to play their latest digital escape room-style experience in exchange for a review (this review, in fact), and I was definitely intrigued by the premise and drawn in by the art style!

 

A very friendly parrot! | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The Premise

If the name hasn’t quite given it away yet, this virtual room requires at least two players, on separate devices. This is because you will each be exploring a slightly different version of the same room, and communicating to solve various puzzles. As you are independent, you are free to explore without being tied to the other person’s screen which was my main bugbear of other digital games. I loved the free roam aspect, but reliance on communication as there is no way to complete the puzzles otherwise. I assume this would be the same for any number of players and is definitely a huge positive.

 

The Puzzles

“Parallel Lab” is based in a series of rooms as you progress further into the lab and dive deeper into the story. There are 3 or 4 puzzles in each room, and it’s pretty clear where they are. By working together methodically we were able to get through each of them, but the answers aren’t always straightforward. Eleven Puzzles did a great job of presenting unique and interesting puzzles that were at the perfect level of difficulty – no hand-holding, no super obvious puzzles, and no tenuous leaps in logic. However, they’re also very supportive – allowing you to use hints with no penalties, and offering you a number of hints and nudges before revealing the answer – very similar to the increase in hints you’d get in a ‘real’ escape room!

I have to say I really enjoyed the puzzles in this game. Although there were a couple which we struggled with, they also brought a great sense of satisfaction when we’d had that brain wave – most of the time we just weren’t communicating enough! They were all perfectly suited for the room they were in and addressed a number of different skills and techniques.

My only critique of the puzzles was that they felt a little imbalanced at times – I found myself waiting for my teammate to complete something tricky on their side, but were unable to do anything on my side in the meantime. Later on, this was reversed – I was working on something a little more in-depth, and my teammate had to wait.

 

One of the rooms | Image courtesy of Eleven Puzzles

The playability

Technology-wise this ran extremely smoothly and easily. The game is played in a browser, so we hopped on a Skype call and logged in fairly quickly. The initial instructions were brief but informative, and ultimately the technology provided no barrier to playing. My only qualm with the setup is that I would have loved to see some of the puzzles my partner did!

 

The Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I went in with fairly low expectations but was absolutely blown away. The interactivity and independence are a real positive, and the puzzles themselves were just as good as any physical room. I’m not sure how well this would work for a larger team, as you may end up talking over each other, but certainly paying £15 for 2 players is more than worth it.

 

Parallel Lab can be purchased by heading to Eleven Games’ website here.

Treasure Trails: Greenwich and the Time Machine | Review

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Greenwich and the Time Machine Review | Ahoy, me hearties! We need pirate adventurers for this self-guided treasure hunt around Greenwich. Hunt high and low through the riverside borough of Greenwich and reveal stories of its rich maritime history (including the famous Cutty Sark – the last remaining tea clipper)! There’s green, there’s mean, and there’s a time-travelling machine!

Completion Time: ~2 hours
Date Played: 23rd April 2022
Party Size: 2
Location: Greenwich
Difficulty: Easy

Looking for a family friendly outdoor puzzle trail in London (or even around the UK for that matter), look no further than Treasure Trails!

Once you’ve done a lot of the puzzle trails in London you’ll know a lot of the themes revolve around things like defusing bombs, catching a serial killer, busting international drug syndicates, or finding the antidote to a deadly poison in the waterways – which are all great in their own right, but sometimes you just want to go on a traditional pirate treasure hunt equipped with a map and eyepatch.

Enter: Greenwich and the Time Machine.

 

 

About Treasure Trails UK

Treasure Trails was founded in 2005 and is a company I have personally grown up with. In fact, no family holiday was complete without my mum downloading and printing a treasure trail booklet to the local town or countryside spot we were visiting. Despite the ever-obscure areas, Treasure Trails was reliably there.

But despite my fond memories, they’re not just for kids. On a sunny Saturday morning Georgie and I got together in Greenwich – a location a short boat ride away for the both of us, to take on one of London’s most popular Treasure Trail to find out what it was like playing ‘as a grown up’. And let me tell you, it was still just as brilliant as the first time, many years ago.

In London there are around 62 Treasure Trails available – either as a printed booklet shipped directly to you, or as a PDF download. One of the most popular London trails is Greenwich and the Time Machine. We opted for the print-at-home version and in just a few minutes, off we were!

 

 

Hunting for Pirate Treasure in Greenwich

Our mission began near the Cutty Sark, an old tea clipper moored in Greenwich. We needed to team up with a time travelling expert, Merri Deehan, to go back in time and rescue an historical ring from an evil, time travelling green witch. The ring, banished somewhere in time and space was our only key to ‘saving the world’ – or something like that anyway. The important thing to know was that we were on the search of treasure lost not only spatially, but temporally too. Along our way we’d be accosted by the green witch and her minions, but not to worry. Georgie and I were on the case!

The game requires a printed out piece of paper – or the booklet – and follows 18 clues around Greenwich, each split into “Directions” and “Clue”. At the end of each “Directions” we’d find ourselves at a new location, then had to solve the “Clues” to get a location. This location could be found on a map that was handily included at the back of our booklet. Every location you cross off is a location the treasure is definitely NOT buried at. Leaving you with the true location by the end of the trail. Don’t forget to bring a pen to cross off each location as you go!

 

Merri Deehan… Wait, why does that name sound significant?

Greenwich is famous for a lot of things but above all it’s famous for being the home to the Meridian Line. You know, Greenwich Mean Time, the solar time at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. I’m no historian, so I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining on this one:

As the United Kingdom developed into an advanced maritime nation, British mariners kept at least one chronometer on GMT to calculate their longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was considered to have longitude zero degrees, by a convention adopted in the International Meridian Conference of 1884. Synchronisation of the chronometer on GMT did not affect shipboard time, which was still solar time. But this practice, combined with mariners from other nations drawing from Nevil Maskelyne’s method of lunar distances based on observations at Greenwich, led to GMT being used worldwide as a standard time independent of location.

Point being, if you’re interested in the history of time, then this is a fantastic place to explore. We spotted a lot of cool clocks and even got to stand on the meridian line itself, how fantastic?!

 

Georgie standing on the Meridian line in Greenwich

 

But beyond the historical significance, Greenwich is a really lovely area of London and one I’m not used to exploring. It was a beautiful sunny way with boats floating lazily up the river, and a fantastic view of London in all directions. The houses we passed were gothic and dramatic, and the food at the various markets and pubs delicious. Treasure Trails or not, visiting Greenwich is a must-do for anyone visiting London, and we can’t think of anything better than to spend your time there solving puzzles.

 

For Kids, or Adults?

The whole thing errs on the side of fairly easy, and definitely won’t challenge an escape room enthusiast – but the real joy to playing a Treasure Trail isn’t being stuck in with difficult puzzles and riddles, it’s being able to take the route in your own pace and see the sights. We particularly loved being able to stop at any cafe we liked along the route and even take a detour into some of the fantastic museums. In fact, if you wanted to you could break this walking trip up into several days. There’s nothing stopping you and that’s nice.

With that in mind, we’d definitely suggest this is a game more targeted towards young people. We both remarked that it would be good for kids aged 6 – 12. A great way to introduce little ones to the wonderful world of puzzling but definitely still fun enough to capture the interests of players up to 12. On the route we spotted several other teams also playing the game and most of those also had young kids with them. Between us we were mid-20s, and we loved it though, so it just goes to show!

 

 

Although to say it’s easy would also be slightly unfair as we did get a little stuck on a few moments. However this was largely on the “Directions” side rather than the “Clues”. We also finished the Treasure Trail with *gasp* two locations un-crossed-out on our treasure map, meaning we couldn’t definitively decide where the treasure was buried. Whoops – we’d missed a clue! But thankfully taking plenty of photos of all the spots got us back on track to the correct answer.

A word of advice to prospective players – the locations tend to be quite close together, so if you go too far down one route and don’t come to a solution, it may be worth doubling back on yourself!

 

The Verdict

Anything by Treasure Trails is pretty much guaranteed to be fun. You know exactly what you’re getting – several ours of exploring a fun location packed with puzzles and little clues that revolve around the local landmarks.

In playing the Greenwich trail, I see why it’s the most popular. Some of the sights it took us around were lovely – brilliant coffee shops, a bustling market, a fantastic view of the city, and even some stops for museums. It was quite literally a perfect day out. We’d never have walked that particular route together if not for the trail and for that I’m super grateful. It’s reliably good fun for kids and adults alike and I’d definitely recommend it.

 

 

The Greenwich Treasure Trail can be purchased as a PDF or booklet by heading to Treasure Trails’ website here.

Mission: Breakout: Underground 2099 | Review

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Underground 2099 Review | May 2027, the world was turned into a blazing hell. Nuclear weapons launched by our national leaders set all cities aflame in minutes. There were no winners, only losers. Humanity was plunged into chaos in which morality, solidarity and dignity burned. London 2099, 72 years have passed since the Great Fire; among the radioactive debris of this once-great city, rats have survived and transformed, trying to take the lead in this new disfigured world. Your mission is to thwart the plot of their leader, King Rat, hidden within the depths of the London Underground.

Date Played: 7th April 2022
Number of Player: 4
Time Taken: ~60 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

How better to welcome a new player to The Escape Roomer team by taking on an escape room together!? No sooner than we brought the lovely Karen onboard, we all headed down to Mission: Breakout’s brand new room – Underground 2099. In this case, we were joined by two friends. On a previous visit Mairi had enviously noticed other players in the briefing room getting kitted out with very cool looking futuristic backpacks and neon green glasses, but other than that we weren’t sure what to expect.

So, without further adieu, here is Karen and Mairi to talk about the exciting new escape room, Underground 2099…

 

Team The Escape Roomer

 

Karen: If nothing else Mission: Breakout can certainly lay claim to having one of the quirkiest and most original locations for an escape room in London.   Based in an actual, real life, genuine, honest to god abandoned tube station, to play their games you must head into the underground bowels of the old South Kentish Town Station.  Trains only ran from this ghost station between 1907 and 1924 but there is still much of the old station’s infrastructure in place and built directly into their games.  Transport fans (I’m looking at Mairi here) will love it.  Those of a more claustrophobic nature might be a little less enthusiastic although I’m honestly not a lover of confined spaces and I didn’t find it a problem because it’s just so much darned fun.

 

Mairi: Yep! If anyone spotted in an earlier review for The Lost Passenger, you’ll know the thing I love the most about Mission: Breakout is the environment. An old disused train station? SIGN… ME… UP! It makes it the perfect location for an escape room like The Lost Passenger about descending into the bowels of an old train station in search of a missing person (and finding ghosts instead). But this new room, Underground 2099, has a completely different theme. It’s sci-fi with a little dash of time travel in it. But this isn’t your “mom and pop” time travel escape room, as the future that awaited us was dystopian and depressing. In other words, the dark vaulted caverns of the train station made it a perfect place to travel to.

 

Karen: Mission: Breakout’s other games definitely trade in on the historic setting – Lost Passenger tells the spooky story of a missing commuter doomed to wander the tunnels forever, while Codebreakers recalls the station’s use as an air raid shelter during World War 2.  Underground 2099 heads in totally the other direction.  To the future.  A future in which a nuclear winter has devastated most of the world and a time-travelling scientist needs help to stop a race of irradiated mega-sized mutant rats overrunning London through the tube network.  Imagine a nightmare version of ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh’.  It’s like that.  But with puzzles.

 

Photo (c) Mission: Breakout

 

Karen: Once the team have been kitted out with energy back packs which are needed to trigger the start of the game (no spoiler – your GM tells you this right from the start), it’s off to your time-travelling shuttle where, ensconced under what is obviously one of those 1960s old fashioned hair dryer hoods, your puzzling begins.  From the start the game is fairly linear with the team passing from one game space to another as puzzle solutions open doors, but in most cases there are enough elements to figure out that the team can split up to work on different puzzles simultaneously.  I say in most cases because there were a couple of points where a team member or two was left spinning their wheels while others worked on the main puzzle.  As a team of four that didn’t happen often enough to be a major annoyance, but a bigger group, especially of enthusiasts, might find it more of an issue.

 

Karen: Mission: Breakout’s use of the limited space amidst the existing tube station infrastructure is impressive.  This game takes place mostly in the old elevator shafts, with satisfyingly curvy walls, and although there are a couple of pinch points where a bigger team might find it a bit of a squeeze (or an opportunity to get to know each other better) for an underground bunker it’s surprisingly roomy and Mission:Breakout have even managed to build in some larger scale physical puzzling.

 

Mairi: I agree, in terms of space, Underground 2099 felt simultaneously a huge escape room and sometimes a very cramped space. This is due to the limitations of the physical space – taking place in the old engineering tunnels and lift shaft, the designers are limited by the physical space. But by contrast, there are a LOT of rooms to discover in this escape room. I counted at least 8 distinct and unique spaces in this whole experience. In some of those, we split up, but most of the time we were all together and with so much stuff to do we almost ran out of time!

 

 

Karen: Just as Mission Breakout blends old and new, history and future, into the themes of their games, they manage the same blend with their actual puzzles.  While some feature nicely modern tech which will satisfy the gamers and the lovers of little shiny lights (or is that just me?), others offer more old school, practical, hand built puzzles, including one particularly tactile game that I had never seen before and found particularly joyful to complete.

 

Mairi: Post-game, we all remarked as a team that there were several puzzles in this escape room that we’d never seen before. Between us, we’ve probably played in the region of 400 escape rooms, so that’s no small praise to say we encountered very unique puzzles. Otherwise the types of things players can expect to encounter include plenty of physical puzzles – be prepared to put your hand inside holes, pull levers, reattach mechanical equipment and operate big machinery. 

 

Karen: The varied puzzles offer tests of dexterity, memory, communication, teamwork (and miming ability!) with a few little jumps and a bit of theatricality thrown in for good measure.  The basic narrative, that you need to stop the mutant rats’ leader, King Rat, before he overruns London is simple enough to keep in mind throughout play and builds to a satisfyingly comic climax.

 

Mairi: The puzzles may have been slightly easier if not for an absolutely terrifying rat king that kept popping up when I least expected it. In escape rooms, I like to dawdle. This means I frequently found myself the last to leave a room, only to turn around to find a giant rat monster lurking out of the corner of my eye. Cue screaming. I assume if you don’t like scary rooms you could ask the hosts to tone any jump scares down. But honestly? I loved the host-I mean, the king rat interaction.

 

 

Mairi: Speaking of our host – a note on our games master Georgina, who was absolutely fantastic by the way. From the first briefing to the last, she ran our room brilliantly. I always love it when a games master really cares about you and your team, and Georgina was super knowledgeable about the room, our team, and the specific ways we solved each puzzle (even if some of them were slightly bizarre, haha!). It’s only my second time at the site, but I just got such a really nice feel from all the people from all the people at the venue both times.

 

The Verdict

Mairi: Mission: Breakout is very quickly going down in my personal hall of fame of “escape rooms you must visit if you’re in London” and Underground 2099 is another fantastically quirky and fun adventure in their catalogue. It’s well worth checking out for the physical location alone. At the risk of sounding like The Escape Roomer resident train enthusiast (a moniker I’ll wear proudly), I love the architecture and heck, there aren’t many places in London you can go and experience a period building so beautifully integrated into an escape room. If the company’s earlier rooms erred on the side of ‘slightly too easy for enthusiasts’, I’d implore those same enthusiasts to come back and try Underground 2099. The designers have levelled up the difficulty comfortably and players will get well over an hour’s worth of challenging puzzles and creative brilliance. Whats more, the team themselves are a thoroughly wonderful bunch of people, so make sure you set aside extra time to have a chat with your Games Master in the briefing room afterwards.

 

Karen: I’m totally with Mairi on this one.  If I’m honest my previous experience with Mission: Breakout’s ‘Lost Passenger’ game wasn’t as positive as Mairi’s had been.  It was just one of those games that left me frustrated.  So I went into Underground 2099 with lower expectations.   But boy were those expectations exceeded.  It was such fun from start to finish.  Venue, theming, puzzle build, puzzle quantity and complexity, GM engagement were all right on the money.  Definitely a fab addition to London’s ‘must play’ games.  Wonder if they can squeeze in one more game down there?

 

Underground 2099 can be booked by heading to Mission: Breakout’s website here.

 

Post-Script: As with many rooms it is likely this one will be tweaked further before the creators settle on the perfect flow that’ll suit every team. Whilst we had a fantastic time, it’s possible the experience may change slightly. For a comparison, please do check out GATAPAE’s review here. who played a week after we did.

Escape Quest: Chapelgate Mysteries: Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe | Review

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Rating: Just….wow!
Completion Time: 53 minutes
Date Played: 13th March 2022
Party Size: 4
Recommended For: People of all abilities who want to have a brilliantly satisfying hour of fun!

 

New building, who dis?

At Escaping the Closet we have been fond fans of Escape Quest Macclesfield for a long time, and having completed all of the rooms they had to offer pre-pandemic, we were so excited to hear that they had new stuff in store for 2021, as we weren’t sure what could top what we had already played! They reopened in October 2021 with their shiny new building and their shiny new unique concept- The Chapelgate Mysteries; a series of games set across different periods of time but all taking place in the Chapelgate district. We were delighted with this idea and so excited to finally be able to plan a return to Escape Quest. The first of the Chapelgate Mysteries quests to open is Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe, a familiar name as we had already played this game at their previous premises…. However, FEAR NOT, as although the OG Curiosity Shoppe was brilliant, the new, improved version was 99% new. Trust us when we say, it does NOT matter if you have played the previous version of the game, you will be sure to have to use your head (all the while being WOWED) throughout the game!

 

It’s bigger on the inside!

Upon arriving at Escape Quest, Elaine (side note, the friendliest GM ever) advised us of our mission. Turns out Mr Copplestone was a bit of a genius and actually managed to invent time travel. Unfortunately, in the present day, he’s down to his last Time Echo Crystal (‘what’s one of those?’ I hear you say. They’re what power the time machine, of course, what else?!), but there are Time Echo Crystals a-plenty back in his shop in1873. But, time travel being one of those risky businesses, with the portal only holding itself open for an hour, we were charged with being the ones to head back there and try to gather as many of the Time Echo Crystals as poss. Easy, right?! Well, not when you aren’t sure just how many of them forgetful Mr Copplestone has left behind! Well, at least 8 are required to successfully make it back to present day, so that is the minimum goal, but there could be MANY MANY MORE (spoiler, there are MANY)!

Of course, us being very much up to the challenge, we hopped into the time machine, listened carefully to Mr Copplestone’s advice and jet-set ourselves all the way back from 2022 to 1873 (tbf it was a welcome change to leave 2022). And then there we were on Chapel Street and our jaws literally hit the floor because we LITERALLY were on Chapel Street, home to taverns, pharmacies and of course the target location, Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe. We spent time peering in the shop windows (until we managed to get ourselves in at least), reading the signs and posters displayed on the street and searching high and low for those pesky Time Echo Crystals! There was so much to take in and oh so much to do, we felt like we were in a literal escape roomer’s heaven! The space is vast and yet there is such close attention to detail- everything is there for a reason whether that is for a puzzle itself, or the immersion of the quest, we were astounded by the thought that has gone into every inch of it!

 

Teamwork makes the dream work

It seems we managed to bring the dream team along, with Tasha and Lucy as honorary Escaping the Closet members, as we fell straight into a rhythm of exploring Chapel Street and solving the mysteries it contained. Of course, with so much space to explore and so many potential Time Echo Crystals to find, this is as you would expect, a non-linear game. We split up to make our way around, often switching up the pairings for a fresh set of eyes on a puzzle.

The room integrates the time machine (dutifully holding open the portal for us) with Chapel Street brilliantly, and we did many a dash between a Victorian era shop and the time machine for important Time Echo Crystal related business. We enjoyed this and felt it really added to the fun of the game as it gave a real sense of urgency and accomplishment as we made progress on our mission.

The puzzles are cleverly put together, and solving each one was satisfying. Every time, the solution just made sense (and the importance of that in escape rooms cannot be understated- there’s nothing worse than still not quite getting it, even after you’ve managed to solve something) However, on the contrary, there’s nothing more satisfying than that A-HA moment when you finally work a solution out as all of the parts fall into place, and that happened so. many. times. in Mr Copplestone’s! Multi-layered puzzles, where you have *that* additional step to reach the solution when you find the first attempt was good but not right, observational puzzles, logical puzzles, code-based puzzles, riddles…. the list goes on. And on. AND ON! There really is something for everyone in there, and that meant we as a team often circled round a puzzle, each taking a turn at looking at it and piecing our different perspectives together until… that magic CLICK when the penny dropped and we got it.

As we mentioned, the puzzles make sense, and we had no trouble working out which clues we should be using together for the most part. But if clues are needed, a brilliant AI based inside the time machine is always on hand to give a nudge in the right direction.

 

Something for everyone

As well as having lots of different types of puzzles, Escape Quest have done something brilliant with the mission in Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe, as it has been created as a game which is truly for all abilities. We kind of alluded to this earlier when mentioning that the minimum requirement to successfully complete the game is to retrieve 8 Time Echo Crystals. However, if you’ve managed this and have time to spare, you can collect as many of the crystals as you can (allowing for more trips through time, and who doesn’t want that?!). We understand that the average team will collect a number of crystals somewhere in the teens, but this offers the opportunity for success for the more inexperienced teams, families with young children and party groups, while seasoned experts can challenge themselves to try and find all the possible Time Echo Crystals.

Now, it’s actually classified how many Time Echo Crystals there actually are back in 1873, but we were determined to try our best to find them all, and we impressed ourselves (and Elaine and Mike) by managing to get ALL [CLASSIFIED] Time Echo Crystals with time to spare- for once searching was not our downfall!! Apparently only a few teams have managed to find all of the Time Echo Crystals, and even fewer with so much time left- apparently we came very close to Team Squared (the UK’s RedBull escape room team), so we were very pleased with our effort! 

Escaping the Closet being extremely proud of their success with finding the Time Echo Crystals

The Verdict

Elaine and Mike have outdone themselves with their first quest in the Chapelgate Mysteries and we are already so excited for what’s in store in the next chapter (which we believe is travelling to an early C20th Chapel Street, although what mission awaits us there we are not so sure…). It’s safe to say we will be booking back in for the next mission as soon as it is available!

Mike and Elaine have thought about absolutely EVERYTHING in the room, and the attention to detail is impressive. The immersion has been created to the finest level, and we are still so amazed that they have created a full street and can’t wait to visit it through time! To top it all off, they are the most lovely, welcoming hosts, and you can absolutely see their passion and love of what they do in every aspect! We are very much looking forward to returning to visit them again.

The puzzles are brilliant and varied; the space is visually stunning; we had one of the most fun escape experiences we have ever had with this room; Mike and  Elaine have created a super original; innovative concept with this room; the game is exceptionally immersive and we can’t think of another room quite like it! As they are outstanding in every category for which we award, we have decided to award Mr Copplestone’s Curiosity Shoppe a Badge of Honour, our highest award, which we think is incredibly well deserved for the hard work and love Mike and Elaine put into their rooms.

 

The Chapelgate Mysteries can be booked here.

Mission Breakout: The Lost Passenger | Review

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Mission Breakout: The Lost Passenger Review | Based on the true story of the lost passenger in South Kentish Town tube station in 1924. In 1924, soon after South Kentish Town was closed down, a train stopped at the station by mistake, and a man absentmindedly alighted. The train departed, and Mr Brackett disappeared in the darkness. No one knows if he ever escaped. Are you brave enough to step down into the Ghost tube station and investigate the paranormal activity?

Date Played: 27th March 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: 47 Minutes
Difficulty: Easy

My personal escape room Kryptonite that I absolutely melt with joy when I experience in a room is authentic theming and props. An escape room themed around the building it’s set in? Tick! Original equipment and props from the era and time? Double tick! Being allowed to press buttons and pull levers from old timey 1920s railway train control rooms that by all right should probably be in a museum behind a glass window? Triple tick. YES! PRESS ALL THE BUTTONS!

Mission: Breakout is located in South Kentish Town Station. It’s in the classic tiled redbrick style of many stations around London, but unfortunately was closed down in 1924 due to low passenger numbers. The building sat there for a very long time gathering dusts… And ghosts!

 

…And he was never seen again!

We booked in to play The Lost Passenger at Mission: Breakout after a very, very long lockdown. My family are long-time fans of urban, abandoned building exploration. Our idea of a fun weekend out is putting on hard hats and descending into the old abandoned railway stations of London (on guided tours of course, we’re not breaking any laws here!). So one Christmas I knew just the gift to get them – a voucher for us all to play this escape room, set in the old disused train station in Kentish Town.

Unfortunately, that Christmas was Christmas 2020 and it took us almost 2 years until we were actually able to redeem the voucher. Even then, the day before we were all due to play, half our party tested positive with covid. After deliberating, the remaining 2 decided to go ahead with the booking – we lost the other two places on the booking but it was still worth it, if we didn’t play now, we may never have gone!

In The Lost Passenger, you descend into the depths of the station in search of a passenger who alighted from the train when it mistakenly pulled up at the abandoned station. Based on a true story, this passenger seemingly stepped off the train, walked into the darkness of the station and vanished into thin air and was never seen again.

 

The Lost Passenger. Photo (c) Mission: Breakout

 

Mind the Gap

Arriving at Mission: Breakout was exciting. It quite literally, is inside an old train station. I’m not sure what I’d expected, but we couldn’t contain our smiles at the details,

“Wow look this bench is an original Great Western Railway bench OMG!”

and

“Look at the tiling here, it’s from the 1910s!”

Our GM who came to greet us in amongst our cries of exclamation was Elza, who explained that it was of the very first escape rooms she’d run. She did a fantastic job – and even managed to tease us with a few jump scares during the game too. She led us down several corridors through the dim lights and past curious features of the abandoned railway station, until we arrived at the escape room. From here, we were shown into the lift that was to take us into the bowels of the train station from whence we may never return.

So, a full disclaimer, this room can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. We didn’t know it going in but apparently you can ask for a certain level of scariness and the host can dial it up or tone it down accordingly. Since we didn’t ask, I imagine we got an ‘average’ level of scariness. I scream easily, and my screams probably terrified my co-escaper more than the original jump scares did, but it was all light hearted fun. The kind of ‘doors closing behind you’ and ‘what’s that lurking in the shadow’ scares. No live actors, but a general level of creepiness for sure. If in doubt, just ask them to tone it down and I’m sure they will!

 

Can you read a train map?

In terms of difficulty, The Lost Passenger is definitely on the easier side. This makes it a good room for smaller groups, kids, or people who are mostly there because they love abandoned train stations. For once, I am in the last group. Although, despite it being ‘easier’, it’s still a vastly big escape room space with no fewer than 6 separate rooms, and many of those containing stairs and cool passageways. So it certainly won’t be a quick room to escape from.

One thing to flag (and it’s important to mention for accessibility reasons), is that some parts of this escape room are in the dark. Very, very dark. Almost pitch black. These rooms involve puzzles where you have to feel around for things and then try to solve them in the dark. In the escape room industry as a whole, there’s a little bugbear among enthusiasts about ‘darkness’ being a puzzle in itself. I can see why it (has to) work in this room, and it fits well with the environment – why wouldn’t you be crawling in the dark?

There are also several moments where players must crawl around on all fours in cramped spaces. Again, this is likely just the way that the original site was built, a lot of the rooms in this are workers shafts and tunnels leading between control rooms – but it’s another consideration.

In terms of puzzles beyond “dark and small spaces”, players can expect to encounter plenty of searching and finding, some jigsaws, finding objects to use in other places, and a few very fun cerebral puzzles involving operating the heavy machinery. Largely, the room is less about using your brain and more about pushing and pulling things. It’s a very physical room, and there’s more than a little trial and error to get particular puzzles working, but we liked it. My favourite thing about this escape room was that it really does use all the original equipment, and there’s something very exciting about pushing buttons and pulling levers on machines from the 1920s to make escape room puzzles work.

 

 

The Verdict

The Lost Passenger was a really fun room and well worth the long wait in lockdown. It won’t challenge enthusiasts, but that’s okay – I think the real reason to book and play this is to experience an exciting an adventure in such an impressive physical location. We loved that it was based on a true story, but what we loved the most was the setting, the theme, the creaky equipment, and the general ghostly vibes as we scrambled around the depths of an abandoned station looking for puzzles to solve. Furthermore, Elza did a great job as our host and made us feel really welcome (and more than a little bit scared).

 

The Lost Passenger can be booked at Mission: Breakout in London by heading to their website here.

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.

itstravelti.me: Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant | Review

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Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant | itstravelti.me is a free puzzle, it’s like the online equivalent of a multi-part escape room. But with time travel. Navigate through 6th Century China, Egyptian zork-style tombs and the ’90s to help the time traveller, Agent 14, complete their mission and return to safety. The puzzle is split into three parts, each part will take roughly 30 minutes – 3 hours. There’s no time limit, take as long as you want to solve it, you can take a break and return where you left off at any time.

Completion Time: ~1hr30
Date Played: February 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Hard

There’s something incredibly exciting about seeing a listing on Craigsli- I mean, Daveslist for a Time Traveller’s apprentice. Just like in the 2012 film starring Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson, I too was answering a mysterious call from the internet to embark up on an adventure like no other. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but that is definitely the coolest thing ever.

So when we received a mysterious email from one of the creators of Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant, we were very excited indeed! Al, Ash, Tasha and myself got together on one of our weekly puzzle-solving Sunday nights and all agreed to open the introductory link at the same time to get started.

Safety not Guaranteed…

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant is a web-based ARG (alternate reality game). Not much is known about it, except that’s it free and it begins right here. As an ARG, it isn’t any sense of the word ‘traditional’. By that, I’m comparing it to other escape room type games usually hosted on Telescape where you’re pointing around the room and clicking on objects to interact with them. Instead, you navigate through a series of web pages.

To guide you along the way is ‘The Time Traveller’ / Agent 14 who is caught in various eras throughout history including 6th Century China, ancient Egypt and the ’90s. Thanks to modern technology, they’re able to communicate directly with you via a handy one-way chatbot.

Because of the ARG nature, it’s not the most suitable game for playing with friends via video chat – which is exactly what we did. It’s definitely more suited to solo play, or playing with people in the same room. But if you do choose to play with friends online, you can always share your screen or read the text-heavy segments out loud.

In terms of technology, Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant was really unique. A lot of ARGs are on the basic side, but the creators have pulled out all the stops to make something unique and fun to play. At each time it felt immersive, almost like we were really talking to some pour soul at the other end of the interface. Plus, no surprise to say we loved the 90s aesthetic. Ahh… The internet of my childhood! *wipes tear from eye*

The team has done a lot with just a little text and created a digital world I really wanted to explore more and dig deeper into. I am impressed!

Part One – 6th Century China

The game begins in 6th century China with a mysterious puzzle about the zodiac years. Your goal is simple – figure out when the heck your Time Travelling companion is stuck! We whizzed through this puzzle using a clue or two and plenty of Google and before long we were on a roll. Onwards and upwards to Part Two!

Part Two – Ancient Egypt

The second part of Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant was maybe one of my favourite puzzle levels in any digital game for a long time. But heck, it was difficult! Players are presented with a text-based input to communicate with the Time Traveller who is in a maze. You’ll need to draw the maze as you instruct your companion to progress because the maze gets more complex the further in you go.

Along the way we encountered different chambers, different mini puzzles, and some delightful roleplay elements. I like a good maze as much as the next person, but it turns out I enjoy directing someone else through a maze even more so! Especially when the maze is full… Of cats!

One of the fun things about playing this game with other players is we all ended up in different parts of the maze. “Wait, where the heck are you? how do I get there?!” we called to each other back and forth as each of us exclaimed they’d found something different. Here working together really helped. The maze was not quite as daunting when we divided and conquered it.

Part Three – We Have No Idea!

Wait, what?

That’s right – we couldn’t actually progress to the third section of the game. The puzzle ‘gating’ the third section of the game we found insurmountably difficult between the four of us. It’s a common type of puzzle (no spoilers here) that two of our party were comfortable solving, but the ramp up in difficulty combined with the fact it was already quite late on the Sunday evening when we arrived at it meant we gave up after ~20 or so minutes and put the game to one side.

This particular puzzle is probably uniquely and logically solvable, but again not well suited to playing with a group of four players over video call since it’s very much a solo-puzzle. I later went back and did have a second attempt in my own time after printing the puzzle out and pouring over it over breakfast a few days later. But I came up against the same issue, not being able to pass beyond this point. I don’t consider myself particularly bad at solving this kind of puzzle but this particular iteration just didn’t click for me.

But I don’t just a game for my own personal shortcomings. So I couldn’t solve one puzzle – that’s on me. Up until this point we had a great time playing.

The Verdict

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant is a really unique ARG experience quite unlike anything else I’ve played in a very long time! It had it’s delightful moments – and an equal number of moments where we were banging our collective heads against the desk. But hey, a balance in a game like this is good, right?

In our particular playthrough, it was a little bit disappointing not to be able to fully finish the game but as I say, that may be an issue with us and not with the game – I’ll let other players judge! But for that reason it’s hard to comment on the complete story line. What we saw was a lot of fun, but how did it end? Argh! I want to know! *shakes fist at the sky*

Do we recommend it? Well, it’s not quite an escape room, no, but it’s incredibly unique and well worth a try… Especially as at the time of writing it’s completely free. Yep, you read that right. For a game that is at least 2 hours worth of puzzling goodness, you can’t go wrong. Give it a go! See if you can succeed where we failed!

Wanted: Time Traveller’s Assistant can be played for free by heading to this link here.

Professor Puzzle: Danger in the Deep | Review

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Danger in the Deep Review | Using all your secret agent training, you need to navigate your way through the deserted sub, crack the shutdown code, disable the warheads, and locate the enemy agent. All in two hours! There are 14 interactive and interlinked puzzles, and the detailed instructions, helpful hints and easy-to-follow game format ensure that both novices and experts are guaranteed an immersive, high octane experience. Let the countdown begin!

Completion Time: 1.5 hours
Date Played: 24th February 2022
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

From the moment the postman knocked on my front door and handed me Professor Puzzle’s newest game “Danger in the Deep”, I knew this was going to be something quite special. A great quality box covered in bright poppy colours and themed around one of my favourite ‘settings’ for an escape game: the submarine!

For this reason, it took me a little longer than usual to get round to playing it. Since the box was explicitly one-use I wanted to make sure and gather the A-Team over an evening, pour us some ice cold, suitably submarine themed cocktails, and tackle the adventure together. Danger in the Deep was well-worth the wait and an exciting mid-week excursion for us all onto the Retiarius: A submarine primed and armed to the teeth with nuclear warheads. No pressure, hey!

About Danger in the Deep, the Escape Room Game

The year is 19?? and as the country’s most successful secret agent, you’ve finally tracked down your arch nemesis: Agent Proteus onboard the nuclear submarine Retiarius. But, as your initial mission briefing indicates, it’s a trap and the submarine is being remotely piloted by Proteus. Oops. Your mission is two-fold:

  • Disarm the nuclear warheads
  • Escape the submarine!
  • Track down where Proteus is really hiding

If that sounds like a lot… Well, it is! But you do have up to 120 minutes to complete all your objectives. Though (don’t tell anyone) you’re not actually on a timer, so if you take much longer than this then no stress. But in any case it’s a great rule of thumb to set aside at least 2 hours in your game night and have plenty of snacks handy. Once you’re trapped in the Retiarius, there’s no going back!

Fun Fact: A Retiarius literally translates to “net man” (wow, my Latin classes finally came in use) and refers to gladiators who carry the three-pronged trident.

Danger in the Deep is played in a pretty unique way. At first, I was a little overwhelmed There is a lot in the box for sure! But once you’ve read through the simple, one page explainer it makes a lot of sense. Your box contains:

  • A “How to Play” Guide
  • A “Training Manual” for the Engineering Deck, the Living Quarters and the Control Room
  • Blueprints for the whole ship
  • A deck of cards
  • A UV Torch
  • A field radio
  • A mysterious “do not open until instructed” envelope

You begin the game by drawing a specific card from a deck of cards, the other side of which sets up your first puzzle. From here you move seamlessly between all of the other materials in the box – from the booklets, to the blueprints, to the other objects as instructed in search of the answer. Once you have your answer you’re looking for the corresponding symbol. You then find this symbol on the answers page, scratch off the foil underneath, an the game tells you which card to draw next.

The story unfolds fairly linearly. You begin in a specific area of the submarine and move to the next sequentially as you follow along via the blueprints. It felt pretty immersive to enter each new area and have a peek into the lives of the employees who worked on the submarine through a series of photographs of the spaces, notice boards, lockers and floor plans. All the while we were grounded with a sense of where we were in the ship and what our immediate objective was. I loved that the game was guided by the cards but otherwise you had a wealth of information to pour over (and spread out within your group) to contend with. We never once felt lost or confused.

Solving the Submarine

In terms of puzzles, this is where Danger in the Deep really shone! We’ve put this at the “medium” difficulty level as some of the puzzles really clicked right away, others had us scratching our heads for ages – then eventually looking at the clues, and others were a real “aha! That’s awesome!” moment once we finally got them right.

Difficulty aside, what Professor Puzzle does really well is create high quality and incredibly tactile puzzles. By that, I mean despite beginning with a lot of paper, the actions you make and the things you construct with the paper are so utterly delightful at every turn, it’s hard not to smile the whole game through.

There was a huge range in ‘styles’ of puzzle too, meaning quite literally: there’s something for everyone. Off the top of my head we encountered several different types of ciphers, some really fun logical deduction puzzles, plenty of searching-and-finding, some maths, some folding, some map reading, and so on. Every time one of us picked up a new object from the game box and started leafing through it our minds raced at the puzzling possibilities. Little details we’d spotted in the first 10 minutes suddenly came into play an hour later, and we found ourselves returning to different parts of the submarine armed with new tools and knowledge.

My favourite puzzle in the game came towards the ending of the game. No spoilers here, but we finally got to use a fun item that had been staring me in the face for the whole experience. It had a healthy balance of “roleplay”, forcing you to do an action to solve a puzzle which felt like you were really there in the game, and finally tied up those last unanswered questions in a satisfying way.

Is Danger in the Deep Replayable?

Well, technically no. But I just know this is going to be a “regularly asked question”, so I’ll be super upfront and share my thoughts. For starters, it’s an escape room game so once you’ve solved everything once, you already know the answers! So there’s no fun in playing again, unless you have a really short-term memory!

Secondly, Danger in the Deep requires you to cut things up and semi-destroy other things. Similarly, in order to reveal answers, you’ll need to scratch off little metal panels which cannot be, well, un-scratched.

Is it possible to play without doing these two things? Maybe. Should you? Probably not! To get the best experience, just do what the game tells you to and try not to worry about it. But if you’re dead set on preserving Danger in the Deep (I get it, it’s a beautiful game and I’d love to keep mine too!), then it is possible to photocopy those destructible elements. I’m personally a very careful escape game player and it breaks my heart to destroy anything, so I managed to solve all the destructible parts without cutting up a single thing. The creators don’t recommend it, and in hindsight, neither do I.

The Verdict

I absolutely loved Danger in the Deep! No, seriously, it may just be one of my game highlights of the year so far. It’s got 5 stars almost across the board from me, and I’ve also decided to award it the special “Puzzle Prize” badge for having some seriously cool puzzles in there I’ve never seen before but were brilliant fun to play.

Professor Puzzle’s Danger in the Deep can be purchased on Amazon. Head to this link for Amazon UK.

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.