Friends, it has been extremely difficult to naturally produce enough feel-good brain juice to function as a normal person. Even the things I normally enjoy so much, like video games, don’t touch the way they used to so much reasons:† But after spending some time with Escape Academy by playing around a bit and talking to the developers I think I have the serotonin delivery system I so desperately needed.
Escape Academy from Coin Crew Games is a storytelling puzzle game formatted to look and feel like real escape rooms. You play as an escape room enthusiast who is invited to a secret academy where students can train to become the best Escapist. The folks at Coin Crew games actually worked on actual personal escape rooms and set out to find games that mimicked that experience during a pandemic-induced cabin fever. But they didn’t really find the kind of games that caused that particular itch, so they decided to make their own back scratcher.
It can be difficult to convert something originally designed for a physical space into a digital one. There will always be some part that can’t really be faithfully translated from real to unreal and our brain’s job is to suspend disbelief enough to bridge that gap. One of the most attractive things about Escape Academy is that it feels like an almost lossless translation of the escape room experience. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything or limited by not being in a physical space. I remember every now and then feeling the same deeply arousing dread watching the timer running as I made my way through an imposing looking room as I once had in real rooms with real people.
The ace lawyer series of puzzle games that I have enjoyed the most, but one of my biggest annoyances, especially the most recent release, is that sometimes solving questions or puzzles requires huge leaps in logic. It’s a lot of A+B=D and you have no idea how the game designers got there.
But all the puzzles I played in Escape Academy makes sense. They weren’t too easy, but they weren’t so complicated either that I couldn’t follow the logic of the game to get the right answer or figure out the next step in the puzzle chain, as is often required in ace lawyer†
I like that kind of middle ground approach to puzzling because it makes you feel like a brain god. Yes, I followed the not-too-difficult, not-too-easy directions to solve this puzzle correctly. I am the Mind Queen, pay tribute. That kind of good-feeling concussion is priceless and hard to come by, especially in a culture of game design that seems to love to the voice of the player character what to do immediately if you register, something has to happen. (I’m looking directly at you Horizon Forbidden West†
While Escape AcademyThe designers trust the player’s cleverness enough to let them figure it out for themselves, there’s also a robust hint system that pushes players in the right direction without revealing outright solutions. I was actually a little upset because it’s very easy to accidentally hit the “help me” button when I didn’t need it, affecting my score.
Another annoyance about ace lawyer is that for those games you have to go through every step in the solution of a puzzle, even if you have already figured out the answer. It’s like I know the answer to 3×2+3=9, the game still requires me to do the job of multiplying three by two and then adding three again instead of just being able to answer nine. It’s slow and frustrating and sometimes, at least in ace lawyerthe game will make you take even more strange steps to arrive at an answer you’ve already come up with.
Escape Academy It doesn’t matter if you can show the work, it doesn’t matter if you know the answer. In my playthrough, there were puzzles that I just didn’t complete or clues that I could ignore completely as I could progress through the game to the answer. I appreciate that kind of “trust the player” frictionless puzzle solving.
I’m the kind of person who knows they’re having fun when they start mumbling to themselves. I’m a box ticker, I get extreme satisfaction from ticking metaphorical boxes and I recognized that as I talked myself through the puzzles, “I have to transpose this card upside down. A move up is a move down, a move to left is good,” I ticked boxes. These puzzles definitely require some pen and paper, and the tactile sensation of writing and marking things off as you solve puzzles enhances the game’s already very satisfying gameplay flow.
Escape rooms, once the pride of shopping malls and the capstone of any corporate retreat, have fallen a bit out of favor lately. They had a brief, glowing moment in the late teens before the pandemic made intimate gatherings in which people took a deep breath and shouted puzzle solutions at each other in cramped spaces, an extremely unappealing option. And even if such activities are slowly making their way back into the zeitgeist – for better or for worse – I don’t think the escape room industry will return to its pre-pandemic glory. But the idea of escape rooms is still very tempting, what makes Escape Academy an early favorite for one of the most charming and current entries in the 2022 gaming calendar.
Escape Academy Releases June 28 on Xbox, Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation, and PC. But! If you’re like me and need some good brain teasers like Escape Academy and more nowit’s available to try from today until May 23rd as part of Steam’s Cerebral Puzzle Showcase†