Retrospective Holiday Special: Portal | Review

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Portal Review | Set in the mysterious Aperture Science Laboratories, the game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment. Players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to manoeuvring objects, and themselves, through space.

Developer: Valve
Console Played On: Steam
Number Of Players: 1

Disclaimer! This is a retrospective review. This means it is reviewed based on the gaming expectations of the present day and the relevancy for escape room enthusiasts.

Do you enjoy silent protagonists? Check ✅

Are you enticed by mind-bending physics? Check ✅

Do you prefer your comedy to skirt the line between hilariousness and existential dread? Check ✅

Well if so, this puzzle game might be for you.

Well, You Found Me. Congratulations. Was It Worth It?

If you saw my introductory interview with Mairi, I mentioned Portal 2 as being one of my favourite puzzle games. After playing it, I spoke to friends about how much I enjoyed it. My “PC gaming” friends often responded something along the lines of…

“It’s good…but not as good as the original”.

After many, many of these encounters; I vowed to find a copy of The Orange Box (a Valve compilation of games including Portal), on the PS3 (I didn’t own a decent PC at the time); however it was sold out everywhere. When I eventually found a copy, it was at an extortionate price. That was in 2011.

10 years later I still find myself, never having played the original title. Well dear TER friends, that ends today – it can be bought on steam; on it’s own.

So welcome, to my retrospective holiday special.

A Complimentary Escape Hatch Will Open In 3… 2… 1…

You play as Chell, a silent protagonist who is a test subject for Aperture Laboratories. You wake up from your isolation pod and are instructed by GLaDOS, a dry, shade-throwing AI system, to undergo various physics based puzzles using the portal gun, an experimental tool used to create two portals through which objects can pass. As a concept, the theming is simple but still to this day, highly effective. Furthermore, it can’t be ignored that it has inspired the theming and narrative of many other games; puzzle and non-puzzle alike. We owe a lot to this.

The visuals are simple but polished, and successfully project the image of a cleansed, futuristic dystopian world. There are no other human characters to interact with, just a series of mechanisms and a sassy AI with a frenemy attitude. There were many times where I found myself chuckling away at GLaDOS’s insults via deadpan delivery as I progressed further and further.

Let’s Be Honest. Neither One Of Us Knows What That Thing Does.

Is Portal an immersive experience? I’d be inclined to say yes. Its not hugely story-rich, there isn’t any narrative to initially invest you and the character dialogue is one-sided. But the theming and puzzle-depth allow the player on many occasions to forget themselves and subconciously dive into the minimalistic elements presented.

Do Not Submerge The Device In Liquid, Even Partially

You’ve really got to hand it to Portal for their puzzles and overall innovative contributions via Valve’s physics mechanics; through the use of the famous portal gun. It blew player’s minds back then, and even now it’s still very strong in both areas. The learning curve is brilliant and wholly organic, each puzzle set piece has thematic, visual signposting (see below) to help you progress and the puzzles themselves are still impressively innovative and satisfying to complete. During the back half of the game, there are puzzles that involve the player to be dexterous with their control input. This can be frustrating for some, but because there is no penalty for trying and trying again, once you do accomplish a tricky set piece, you are rewarded not only by the accomplishment, but the visual stimuli of gracefully flying through the air in the first-person.

Quit Now And Cake Will Be Served Immediately

I’ve noticed that if a game from the 2000s is remastered/re-released for present day, it’s highly likely that the controls require some from of standardisation. This can be the ultimate difference between a playable, nostalgic dream vs an unplayable mess and waste of money. Thankfully, Portal utilises a keyboard and mouse set up that is futureproof and still allows great playability in 2021. I am disappointed however, that considering how popular and iconic this game is; gamepad compatibility has not been patched in. Especially, when I can believe that many players including myself, was introduced to the series via the sequel on a console that would use a gamepad, subsequently love the experience, and then be forced to use a different control method when playing the original.

When The Testing Is Over, You Will Be Missed

Originally, Portal was only available as part of Valve’s The Orange Box; available on PC and 7th generation consoles such as Xbox 360. Now it can be bought on steam by itself for £7.19. For that, you will get around 2 to 5 hours of game time plus bonus maps outside of the main campaign. Valve are one of the biggest game development companies out there, therefore I’d argue that this is at just about the right price.

Rating

Initially, Valve considered Portal to be merely filler for The Orange Box; unexpectedly gaining wide spread popularity and acclaim when released in 2007. Fast forward to 2021 and its still a highly playable, engrossing puzzle challenge that is poignant and comedic. It’s a shame there isn’t gamepad compatibility, but there is more than enough here for escape room enthusiasts to get stuck into, during this holiday (or any) period.

Portal can be purchased on steam here.

New Puzzle Videogame ‘Escape Simulator’ launches this October!

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Escape Simulator is a first-person puzzler you can play solo or in an online co-op. Explore a growing set of highly interactive escape rooms. Move furniture, pick up and examine everything, smash pots and break locks! Supports community-made rooms through the level editor.

Set a date for your diary: there’s a new escape room puzzle game in town!

Pine Studio (creators of Cats in Time, and Birdcage) have announced today that Escape Simulator is set to launch on PC next month, on October 19th. If you enjoyed the demo during the Steam Game Festival, you’ll love the full launch with 15 unique interactive escape room scenarios, customisable characters, online co-op, and a fun level-editor to build your own fiendish escape room challenges!

Face ingenuous locks in ancient Egypt. Hack the system in an adrift space shuttle. Decipher mysterious notes in the oddball Victorian library of Edgewood Mansion.

Given the long lockdown of only seeing your friends via a screen, Escape Simulator can’t come soon enough – and just in time for the spooky season no less! With very realistic escape room mechanics and so many puzzle possibilities, it’s the perfect way to get together digitally with a friend from the comfort of your own home. Most importantly, just like in a real escape room… If it’s not nailed down, you can pick it up and move it around!

Play together in the Edgewood Mansion

Create your own Escape Room Games

One of the most exciting aspects of Escape Simulator that we can’t wait for is the escape room level editor. An integration with the Steam Workshop puts power in the hands of players and allows the community to create and share their escape room designs. The possibilities are endless and imagination’s the limit!

If you’ve always wanted to create your own escape room but never before had the tools, Escape Simulator’s creator Tomislav Podhraški sets the following challenge,

The ultimate moment for us will be getting stuck in our own game – thwarted by a player who’s custom-made room is way smarter than us. That’ll be pretty neat.

Tomislav Podhraški

Do you and your buddies have what it takes? 🔎

Be the first to play. Wishlist Escape Simulator now on Steam and Join the Discord.

Goosebumps: The Game | Review

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

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

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

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

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

Goosebumps: Taking you back to the 90s

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

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

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

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

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

A Classic Halloween Point and Click Adventure

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

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

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

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

Who are you calling ‘Dummy’, Dummy?

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

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

The House Of Da Vinci 2 | Review

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The House Of Da Vinci 2 Review | Become an apprentice of the famous Leonardo da Vinci. Solve handcrafted mechanical 3D puzzles and discover hidden secrets. Navigate through mesmerizing environments of the Italian Renaissance. Travel through time to influence your surroundings. 

Developer: Blue Brain Games 
Console Played On: Nintendo Switch 
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes 
Number Of Players: 1

I asked Leo to do my makeup. Needless to say, it took a while.

Do you wish that you lived in the renaissance era? Check ✅

Would you like to work for Leonardo Da Vinci? Check ✅

Would you like to travel back and forth through 16th Century Italy? Check ✅

Well if so, this puzzle game might just be for you. 

“Painting Is Poetry That Is Seen Rather Than Felt, And Poetry Is Painting That Is Felt Rather Than Seen.” 

The House Of Da Vinci 2 starts by (literally) taking no prisoners. As the character Giacomo, you are guided to escape your prison cell, to meet with a mysterious character; proposing an offer you cannot refuse.  

The look and feel of the game are idiomatic from the beginning. Furthermore, the detailed aesthetics of the puzzles are in some cases, stunning; adding to the responsibility of drawing the player into the game’s world with ease. 

My one drawback from an immersion perspective is the voice acting, which at best, is wooden. The cut scenes in the game are heavily driven by NPC dialogue and it does take a slight shine off an otherwise, immersive experience. 

Real feels Leo. Real feels.

“Once You Have Tasted Flight, You Will Forever Walk The Earth With Your Eyes Turned Skyward…” 

I’m in two minds about the control. The handheld control I found intuitive and easy to get on with. The console-docked method however I found to be quite the opposite. 

Handheld allows you to either use the joy-con controllers, touchscreen or an interchangeable hybrid of both. There are plenty of calibration tweaks that can be applied in the options menu, for further customisation and personal comfort. 

The console-docked method involves a single detached joy-con only, to be pointed at the TV, like a mouse. The biggest setback; is that this method is right joy-con compatible only. The left joy-con has no option to be used. (If you saw our Palindrome Syndrome review, I mentioned that I am left-handed). Therefore, I didn’t feel comfortable using this control method. It is something I would like for the developers to consider, if any updates are on the horizon. 

“…Realise That Everything Connects To Everything Else” 

The majority of puzzles presented, are logical and satisfying to complete. Puzzle types include observation, searching, placement, logic and math. Be warned however that observation and attention play a huge part in the player’s success. There were a few times that I was stuck in a room, pressed for a hint and was asked to merely open a door handle or a latch to a drawer. These slip-ups were sometimes my own poor attentive skills, but in some cases, it was due to the mechanisms not being signposted clear enough on screen to engage with. 

The hints system works well in gradually assisting the player to the next progression, usually in 2, 3 or 4 stages. The collection of hints per puzzle are unlocked gradually through time spent looking around and attempting. This is a very organic process and strikes a fine balance between getting stuck for too long and spamming the hints from the off, preventing the risk of an overly-easy playthrough. 

A Led Zeppelin song comes to mind…

Art Is Never Finished, Only Abandoned.” 

What I like most about The House Of Da Vinci 2, is the reason that Giacomo becomes Leonardo Da Vinci’s apprentice. I’m not going to spoil it for potential players, but it is a fantastic story-piece, that bolsters the narrative’s depth. 

Whist I mentioned above that the puzzle aesthetics are generally strong, the puzzle mechanics and types are not that varied. A lot of the puzzles require acute observational skills and, in some cases; can come off as pedestrian. Because of this, some players may find the game at times, repetitive and frustrating. 

That being said, the return of the time travel mechanic from the first game; whilst not a completely original concept, is still exciting; adding further depth to the puzzles presented. There is a great satisfaction in going back in time, to change a prop’s position or picking up an item, thus carving out a solution in the present. 

Priceless Art Or Worthless Fake? 

The current value for The House Of Da Vinci 2 varies based on console choice. Mobile is priced at £4.99, whereas Switch is £8.99. Steam however is priced at £17.99. I’m going to base this on the console played (Switch), so add or remove a star for value for money, if you opt for one of the other two choices. 

£8.99 I feel is a very reasonable price point for a game that will provide around 10 hours worth of solid, enjoyable game play. 

For The Artist Or The Apprentice? 

I’m going to put it out there and say that the majority of content in The House Of Da Vinci 2 is not difficult… as long as you pay attention. It is a game that rewards you for having a keen eye for nuance and the finer details. It’s when your mind might wander; for example, you look at your phone for a brief moment, during a short, automated cut scene; you miss an integral part to progress, and therefore have no choice but to use hints. (Yes, this did happen to me *cough*). 

Bottom line, if you have a short attention span; you might struggle, and yes, I am calling myself out here. 

Rating 

This is a good game and has many reasons for it to be considered as your next purchase. Whilst there are some niggles and frustrations, these are often minor and do not take away from a satisfying experience.

Discolored | Review

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Discolored Game Review | A lonely roadside diner in the middle of the desert. The locals say it’s lost all its colour. You are sent to investigate. Discoloured is a strange and surreal puzzle adventure, taking place over two-or-so hours in a single desolate location. Your mission: restore the colour to this once-vibrant world. What caused the colours to disappear? How can they be brought back? 

Developer: Godbey Games 
Console Played On: Nintendo Switch 
Touchscreen Compatible: No 

Do you like abstract and surreal surroundings? Check ✅

Do you enjoy the primary colours of light? Check ✅

Are you a fan of Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron? Check ✅

Well if so, this escape game might just be for you. 

Pink Floyd might want a word…

One For The Road 

You play through the eyes of an unnamed detective tasked to find the missing colours of a roadside diner… and that’s about all I can tell you. 

Unlike many other escape games, Discolored has no beginning or ending narrative; neither through text or voiceover. You are thrown into the game from the off, without any warning. Whilst I like the no-messing-around style, it did feel a little empty to have absolutely nothing to introduce you to the storyline. The end of the game also feels like the rug has been pulled from under your feet, albeit, not in a very exciting way. It’s a shame, as the ending does hint towards a potential sequel; something which I feel the developers could certainly do it justice. 

Contrarily; the middle of the game, where the player is at the diner, does have merit. The music whilst minimalistic, sets the tone very well. The art execution, particularly when progressing through the puzzles, provide a simplistic, yet sharp and engrossing environment. Finally, the antagonistic figure that arrives just before the end section, possesses an impressive sinister aura for its modest physical qualities. 

Show me a 4 digit code pleeeeeease!

Directions For The Diner 

Controls are universal; left stick to move forward/back/left/right and the right stick to turn. There are a number of options to adjust sensitivity. There is also a choice to either be free-roaming or stationary point-and-click. I feel that this is a great feature and it provides more comfort in control, based on personal playing preferences. 

There are a few things that I would like considered if an update is in the pipe-line.  

  1. Like Palindrome Syndrome, when focussing upon a puzzle, the cursor on screen is controlled by the right analog stick, with no option to change it to the left.  
    (The pain of being left handed is eternal). 
  2. The choice of sensitivity generally works, however once focussed upon a puzzle, the sensitivity becomes super sensitive and as a result, caused my cursor to fly off screen with the same amount pressure used, when not focussed upon a puzzle. I got used to it eventually, but it did take a mental adjustment. 
  3. There is no quit/return to title button in the pause menu. You have to quit the game from the switch home screen. 

Don’t get me wrong, the controls work on a fundamental basis. Once I got over the initial mental obstacles, it proved for a smooth playing experience. 

Such Pretty Colours… 

I feel that the puzzles and the aesthetics behind them, are certainly the strongest part of Discolored. Puzzle types include; searching, placement, observation and logic. Whilst not overly challenging or varied, they are balanced and thematic. The method of using certain key items (or not) to progress, is a welcome mechanic to the game. 

The hints system works well and is short, sharp and to-the-point. Furthermore, there is an option in the controls to allow a second, visual hint, in certain areas of the game; if you get stuck further. 

Be like the water.

Something Is Always Watching… 

Aside from the mechanic that allows (or prevents) you from viewing or using certain inventory items based on the placement of specific key items; the majority of the puzzles don’t offer much in terms of originality when compared to other escape games on the market. 

The abstract and surreal narrative plot-point however, is certainly a fresh concept. However as mentioned above, it’s unfortunate that it hasn’t been embellished further.  

Desert Dollars 

Discolored is priced at £8.99 on the switch and £5.49 on steam. An experienced puzzler might finish this between 30 minutes and an hour, otherwise between 90 minutes and 2 hours is a fair estimation.

The switch price for some, (especially the more experienced puzzler) may not be enough to warrant value, however the steam price, is on the right side of justification for all to purchase. 

For The Starting Sleuth Or The Daring Detective? 

Discolored would be a great recommendation for any prospective player who has played less than 5 escape rooms (IRL or virtual); it’s a solid entry-level game.

On a completely different note, I’d also recommend it to game designers who are looking for a product that projects strong aesthetics, from a limited palette.  

Rating 

Concept & Immersion – ⭐️ (Good) 
Control – ⭐️ (Good) 
Puzzles – ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 
Freshness – ⭐️ (Good) 
Value For Money – ⭐️ (Good) 

Overall – ⭐️ (Good) 

This is a good game. The art design and application of colour in the puzzles are definite highlights. However, for value and control reasons, I strongly recommend that you play this on steam instead of switch.

Conversely, there is buckets of potential for a sequel, that has every opportunity to be even more successful. 

Check out the developer’s page for Discolored here.

The Office Quest | Review

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The Office Quest Review | Not all heroes wear capes… some prefer fluffy onesies. The Office Quest is a point & click adventure for all of you people who cannot stay in the office any longer! Solve challenging puzzles and riddles. 

Developer: 11Sheep 
Console Played On: Nintendo Switch 
Touchscreen Compatible: Yes 

Disclaimer! This review is for console-based versions of the game, and not for mobile. There are some interface differences between the two, that create a slightly different experience. 

Are you bored of your 9-5 office job? Check ✅

Do you wish you could escape – literally? Check ✅

Would you like a new job, where the interview process involves dressing up as a cactus, riding a unicycle and juggling? Check  ✅

Well if so, this puzzle game might just be for you. 

Just Another Day At The Office… 

The Office Quest involves you controlling an unnamed hero, bored out of their mind at work. Their desk flower suddenly loses its colour, and the colour whooshes away! Astounded, you leave your desk to bring the colour back.  

I know this sounds crazy-odd, but it works so well alongside the Hanna-Barbera type, silent cartoon aesthetics. The character design is also highly intriguing. The majority of NPCs in the game (plus the player character themselves), consist of a human in a comical onesie costume. Additionally, some of the costumes themselves, pave the way for interesting items to be picked up and utilised to advance through certain puzzles.  

Each chapter has its own feel and signatures, which tie the narrative together effectively. The initial concern of chapters being considered disparate and disjoined from one another, was quickly dismissed from the seamlessness of the overarching story.   

Say it with flowers. Or better still, emojis.

“You’re Just A Step On The Bossman’s Ladder…” 

The control works mostly at a consistent level. Player controller movement is either done by analog control; using the left stick to move a pointer around and clicking where you want the player character to go, or touchscreen can be used instead. There are no sensitivity settings for analog control unfortunately. Furthermore, there is a short series of platforming puzzles in chapter 3 that does not allow you to use touchscreen; therefore, if you have been using touchscreen controls exclusively prior, it’s not the most welcome experience.  

Despite that, the control works perfectly well for the majority of the gameplay. You can switch between analog and touchscreen in most cases too, which is useful; especially for the more dexterously challenging puzzles. 

“…But You Got Dreams He’ll Never Take Away” 

The Office Quest has a wide range of puzzle types to solve. These include searching, logic, pattern matching, memory, observation, dexterity and as mentioned previously; platforming. Yes, you heard me right. I hope you’ve had your Sonic/Mario training in for chapter 3. The platforming might put some potential buyers off; however it is relatively short in the grand scheme of things.  

What I really did like about the puzzles in The Office Quest, was the reworking of classic games and conundrums into puzzles. A noughts-and-crosses type game with a twist in chapter 2, alongside the ownership of the Wolf, Goat and Cabbage Problem (google it), in a way that is highly relevant to the game’s characters. 

There is no hints system however, for the console-version of this game, and the guides available online aren’t very refined. There’s no official guide either, so tread carefully when looking for clues, so you don’t mistakenly see the solution! There was one puzzle in particular in chapter 2 (involving a television and changing the channel by aerial), that was not signposted all that well. As a result, I had to tread carefully around the web to find a suitable clue to move forward. 

That being said, the breadth of puzzles on offer is solid and enjoyable for the most part. 

The record deal came with a monkey chauffeur as standard.

I’ll Never Forget That Job Interview! 

Where the Office Quest really shines however, is not the puzzle types, but the execution of the puzzles themselves. Many of the puzzles are presented in a way that is funny, charming and adds real value to the narrative. This is especially commendable when the medium of communication in the game is almost entirely visual. I’m not going to forget anytime soon for example; my character undergoing a job interview, whilst dressed as a cactus, performing on a unicycle and juggling 3 cactus-shaped balls to impress the boss. 

Another highlight comes early on in chapter 1, where you have to sneak past a board meeting involving a pineapple, a rabbit and a carrot. The steps you take to achieve your goal, alongside the unique actions and reactions, are equally funny and memorable.   

Salary Deductions

The Office Quest is priced at around the £9.99 mark for most consoles. An experienced puzzler will probably complete each of the 4 chapters between 30 minutes to an hour. Whereas the lesser experienced puzzler may take double that. I feel this is a very fair price point for an independent games development company. 

For The Office Junior Or The CEO? 

The first chapter of The Office Quest, whilst has its challenges, is well-balanced in difficulty. The following chapters however, are certainly more difficult in areas and will require more patience and determination to see you through. I feel this would be most suitable for puzzlers at an intermediate level.  

One final thought to consider; the game presents no (explicit) vocal and very little reading in terms of signposting. The majority of it is visually presented. This in itself can present an initial learning curve. 

Ratings

Concept & Immersion – ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 
Control – ⭐️ (Good) 
Puzzles – ⭐️ (Good) 
Freshness – ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (Amazing) 
Value For Money – ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 

Overall –  ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 

This is another great game with a solid price tag. The execution of the puzzles; relating to the game’s immersive qualities I feel, is enough to warrant a playthrough, however there is plenty, plenty more to be enjoyed here. 

You can purchase The Office Quest on your platform of choice here.

Palindrome Syndrome | Review

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Palindrome Syndrome Review | You wake up in a spaceship with no memories. In this escape room with a sci-fi setting you will have to investigate your past solving different puzzles. Will you be able to discover what happened to you and how did you get there?

Developer: mc2games
Console Played On: Nintendo Switch
Touchscreen Compatible: No

Aibohphobia is a fear of palindromes.

Do you like space? Check ✅
 
Do you like puzzles? Check ✅
 
Are you a person who giggles gleefully at words like CIVIC, RADAR, RACECAR and TACOCAT? 
….just me? *Ahem* Check ✅

Well if so, this escape game might just be for you. 

“So, What Do You Like About Being Up Here?”

“The Silence.”

Palindrome Syndrome is a space themed game where you control a character who has woken up, alone, from a cryogenic sleep chamber. From there, you have to solve a number of puzzles in a room to move to the next; piecing together the narrative elements.

The wake-up icy effects at the start of the game, really helps pull you into the game straight away. The music is minimalistic; audio you would expect to hear in an airport waiting area, which in itself is highly appropriate for the progressing narrative. 

The narrative is mostly pieced together as you progress further and further, however towards the end of the game when the narrative is realised; it truly gave me some chills down my spine! I came out of it with a real feeling of existential dread. That being said, I would really like to have seen the endgame sequence extended further, to increase the immersive intensity; instead, its unfortunately leaving me wanting more.

Be warned! Saving is manual via the pause menu. It works just fine, but don’t expect it to auto-save like I did!

One Small Step For Man…

The player controller movement is universal; left stick to move forward/back/left/right and the right stick to turn. There are sensitivity and invert Y axis options, which are well considered. A couple of points for improvement though:

  1. When focussing upon a puzzle the cursor on screen is controlled by the right analog stick. This threw me off to begin with, as I was trying to use the left analog stick as a default. Its a shame that there isn’t an option to switch this. Instead, I had to force myself to use the right stick (I’m left handed!).
  2. The snap-on mechanism when placing objects into designated areas was quite hard to do. The area of snap-on was quite small in a lot of cases, and required real precision from my (poor) right analog stick skills, otherwise the object would miss and return to its original placement. 

The controls work on a fundamental basis, but if an update was made by the developers in future, these are what I would like to be considered.

The lunchbox operated a traffic light system for some reason….

In Space, Anything Is Possible.

There are a variety of puzzles including logic, observation, sequence, placement, decoding and math. I don’t mind math puzzles, but I know a lot of puzzlers who are not keen on them. There is a slight lean towards math puzzles against the other types in Palindrome Syndrome and this may put some potential buyers off. 

All puzzles work as they should, with the exception of one placement puzzle. It works, but there is technically more than one correct answer and the game only accepts one of them; which took a small amount of time to cycle through each answer until one was accepted. There is no hint system either, however their official guide (link below) does the job and is cleverly redacted to prevent solution spoilers.

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=2256529649

Aside from that, it is a satisfying collection of puzzles that are all around a similar difficulty range.

The Sky Is The Limit Only For Those Who Aren’t Afraid To Fly!

Is Palindrome Syndrome a good escape game? Most certainly.
Does it have any fresh ideas? Not really.

A lot of the concepts and puzzles, have already been tried and tested by many escape games preceding them. There are two elements however that did strike a chord with me:

  1. A light-based puzzle that was used multiple times, with some clever variants.
  2. The ending is not your usual “We escaped, hooray!” which I really applaud mc2games (as well as other developers), who take that risk in trying something different with the endgame formula. 
Obviously the first place to head, is the free space bar.

In Space, No One Can Hear You Spend

The price on the switch store is £8.99 and is £7.19 on steam.
If you are a seasoned puzzler, this value might be less so as you are likely to finish the entire game quicker than my attempt. That being said, for an independent development team, I feel this price is very fair. It’s very important we give love to independent development teams as often their costs are larger than the more established!

For Space Cadets or Voyagers?

This would be an ideal game to pitch to a beginner or a casual puzzler. There is enough there to still engross a veteran, but it’s a strong introductory skill game based on the puzzles presented and time taken to complete.

Ratings

Concept & Immersion – ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 
Control – ⭐️ (Good) 
Puzzles – ⭐️ (Good) 
Freshness⭐️ (Good) 
Value For Money – ⭐️⭐️ (Great) 

Overall⭐️ (Good)

This is a good game pitched at a very fair price. It doesn’t break the mould in any large way, but if you have a spare hour or two, this is certainly worth your time; especially for the narrative pay-off at the end. 

Old Man’s Journey | Review

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Old Man’s Journey, a soul-searching puzzle adventure, tells a story of life, loss, and hope. Interacting with the world around you, you’ll shape the landscape to create the old man’s path forward. Experience heartache and hope as you embark on a heartfelt journey through a sunkissed world.

Time Played: 108 minutes
Console: PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox
Recommended For: A relaxing puzzle game with beautiful mechanics

An old man, living alone atop a hill, receives a letter in the post and immediately packs up his bags and ventures out on an epic journey across wild terrain, the sea, by train, and perched on the back of a truck. Through the trials on his old bones we learn about his life, his hopes and his dreams through a series of flashbacks. The puzzle mechanics are a simple yet tool to tell this heartbreaking story without a single word. I’m not crying… YOU’RE CRYING!

In the Steam Summer Sale I picked up 30 new titles I’d never heard of before, and Old Man’s Journey was one of them. I didn’t really know what to expect – it was one of my ‘wildcard’ purchases from the “Puzzle” category, and looking at the multitude of excellent reviews I knew I’d found a hidden gem.

I’d move mountains for this old man

…No seriously, that’s how you play this game. Have you ever been in a long car drive daydreaming out the window as the hills rise and fall over the landscape? It’s easy to imagine a figure running along the top of them, leaping from hill to hill as the perspective shifts. This is how the puzzles work in Old Man’s Journey. He’s a lone figure moving across the beautiful landscape alone, on a journey that you’ll not understand until the game’s climax. The side scroller gameplay makes it easy to pick up and master quickly.

It’s a puzzle mechanic I’ve never seen before, making Old Man’s Journey an instant classic in my eyes. Totally original and executed to perfection! Sure, there are other games where moving parts of the landscape is a central mechanic, but pulling and pushing hills out of the way in this whimsical side scroller felt altogether fresh.

Just as the puzzles start to feel repetitive, the game does mix it up a little. Each new area brings with it new challenges – such as encountering sheep which must be safely moved out of the way to let you pass, or fences which must be knocked down. Some of my favourite parts of Old Man’s Story were the ‘travel sequences’, where our old man character hops on a train or the back of a pickup truck and speeds through the landscape gracefully.

I’m not crying… You’re crying!

What I loved most about Old Man’s Journey, no surprise, was the story. It’s equal parts heart warming and heart breaking. As a player, besides shifting the landscape to make the old man’s journey possible, you’re largely left in the dark about the who, what and why, making it feel like you’re going on the journey of discovery with the characters.

At points, the titular characters takes breaks in his walk and reflects on life through a series of flashbacks, each recalling a moment in his life. We see his life as a young man, meeting his first love, starting a family, building his own home and, at points in our own story, the landscape changes to match the mood. There’s a sense of spring youthfulness at the start, and stormy trouble at the old man reflects on sadder moments in his life.

The developers have also added a language-less touch to the whole experience too, making the game powerful for every audience, regardless of language. What I mean by this is there are no words. No written dialogue, no conversation, heck even the buttons aren’t labelled – it’s all intuitive.

It’s excellent environmental storytelling: expressions, weather, colours, and painterly landscapes of the past. Just like this old man is, all are solitary, sad and quiet.

Who should play this?

You should play this if you, like me, keep forgetting to ring your grandparents, or elderly parents. It’s a really straightforward puzzle game and easy to get the hang of – so a great one for puzzle enthusiasts and beginners alike. Old Man’s Journey has also now been released for mobile too, so there’s no excuse not to check it out.

Personally, I played this on PC. I felt a little bit under the weather and wanted to sit back, enjoy some Art (with a capital A!) and solve some simple puzzles. At around 60 minutes long, it’s on the shorter side. You could complete this game in the same length of time it takes to complete an escape room, or more likely wait in line at the doctors.

This makes it a great game to check out if you’ve only an hour or two to spare, want simple mechanics and beautiful graphics. Play Old Man’s Story for a sense of peace and a meaningful message. This game is undemanding, moving and utterly brilliant.

Purchase Old Man’s Journey on the website.

Indie Detective Game Hides a Bitcoin Prize for Players to Discover | News

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Your beard has been stolen! You and your loyal dog Leo must investigate the people and places of Beardsville to solve the crime. Uncover conspiracies, find new beards, and don’t forget to pick up the groceries in this charming town of bearded intrigue.

Launching on August 2nd, Who Stole My Beard is a brand new detective video game packed with puzzles and inspired by the retro point-and-click adventure games of the 80s and 90s.

Set in the town of Beardsville, this lighthearted puzzle adventure follows you and your dog, Leo as you awake one morning to find your beard stolen! This wouldn’t normally be a problem, except that this is a town where going beardless is very illegal. Your task is to explore the town, look for clues, uncover conspiracies, and crack the case of who stole your beard.

The puzzles you solve will grant you fake beards (to help dodge the authorities) and unlock new areas and characters to explore. At the game’s core, it’s a story of social conformity told through dad joke style humour – which makes sense: The game’s creator is a solo indie game developer, Neil Collier, who explained that he was inspired by his young daughter who used to endlessly laugh at his “I want my beard back” jokes. Add a dash of heartwarming homage to their family pet Leo, and you’ve got the beginnings of this wacky detective adventure story.

An Online Bitcoin Treasure Hunt

Unlike most self-contained detective stories, Where is my Beard has a major twist: there’s a real life bitcoin treasure hunt hidden in the game!

In a recent post on Reddit, Neil explained,

“I got converted to Bitcoin about a year ago and love it. So, in the game you can find 12 scraps of paper each of which has 1 word on it…which together comprise the seed phrase to an Electrum Wallet with real Bitcoin in it for the lucky first person to open it.”

As if the Steam tag of “escape room” weren’t already exciting enough, players can take part in the meta bitcoin hunt and win a real life monetary prize themselves. Each new clue to the treasure hunt will be released weekly in the game and provide some guidance as to the order. It’s a challenge, within a challenge – and one that sounds extremely intriguing for escape roomers and bitcoin enthusiasts alike!

So, whether you’re playing for the puzzles or just here to support an interesting new game… One thing for sure is that this is a curious hidden gem worth checking out.

Oh… Did we mention it’s got time travel in it too?

Who Stole My Beard can be purchased on Steam for 10% off during it’s launch sale from the 2nd of August.

Thimbleweed Park | Review

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

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

The signals are very strong tonight… 🐦

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

Grizzly murder and terrible hotdogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point & Click Nostalgia

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

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

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

Two Modes: Casual or Hard

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

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

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

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

The Verdict?

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

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

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