My reviews here are usually about single products/ items, but today I would like to share with you one of my passions in life (ok, maybe that’s too strong a word; but it’s definitely one of my interests): room escape games!
What it is
Escape games, which came from a genre of “point-and-click” games, is a type of browser games (usually made by Flash) which requires the player to escape from an environment (when the environment is a room then it becomes a “room escape game”) using the clues and tools hidden in the scene (or scenes). The games may or may not come with a storyline, but usually involves the protagonist (“me”) trapped in an environment due to whatever reason. The aim of the game is simple: to get out. Some of the games come with elaborate introductions, cut-scenes and endings (like the wonderfully complex “Trapped”), but this doesn’t really change the gameplay. What you have to do is simple in theory: find items, use them (or combine them for using), find clues, get out.
A very short history
In room escape games, your aim is to exit the room. In some other escape games, you have to escape more than that, so it’s like many room escape games combined into one (think “The Doors”). The first escape game ever invented is probably MOTAS (which stands for “Mystery of Time and Space”), released in 2001. It may be the first of its kind, but it’s not the easiest. It also has an interesting storyline which captivates the player, and which sadly many of its descendants lack. The game which popularised the genre, however, is definitely the Japanese game “Crimson Room”, created by Fasco-CS in 2004 in the US (the Japanese version was probably around earlier though).
In the past, when the games were not written on Flash (sorry for my lack of computer knowledge), you could press the TAB button to find out all the suspicious bits in the room. This was considered cheating but it was very helpful for players who could not escape the room. Nowadays, much more sophisticated programming means that TAB buttons no longer work, and players will have to resort to user-generated walkthroughs for cheating purposes. However, these walkthroughs may not always work perfectly, as some games have randomly-generated content which changes in every game (usually safe codes, lock combinations or places where certain items are hidden). The most user-friendly addition to many games though, in my opinion, is the “save” button, which proves extremely helpful in many of those elaborate games (completing 20 levels of MOTAS in one go is a luxury not everybody can afford).
Elements in room escape games usually include (but are not limited to): alpha/numeric codes (which are either hidden somewhere, found on the back of photos/ paintings or deciphered from other codes), colour codes (which may be deciphered by observing colour combinations in the room, or words in books or random notes), rubbish bins (lots of goodies to be found under and inside the bins), keys (usually hidden in corners of carpets or paintings, or behind sofas and cabinets), screwdrivers (on many occasions found when “using”- opening up an umbrella/ walking stick once you collect it), and many other items which can be combined to form things you would never imagine in real life. The games are called point-and-click games for a reason- you can click crazily at the screen and get items you never thought would appear there, then click some more to see how they can be used.
I have been an earnest follower of the genre ever since the MOTAS days. Here are some of my favourites (not in any particular order, I suggest you to check them all out!):
Mystery of Time and Space http://www.albartus.com/motas/
Where the genre began. Worth playing if only for a pilgrimage purpose. Besides, it is humorous and not too difficult, so it will give you plenty of encouragement to continue with the genre.
Crimson Room, Viridian Room http://www.fasco-cs.com
The father of all room escape games, although the site is down at the time of writing. Simple graphics, but sometimes that’s easier for gameplay.
Escape games by Neutral http://neutralxe.net/esc/
Pretty and soft graphics, pleasant gameplay. I like how they have different difficulty levels for your to choose. The games are rather puzzle/ code focused, which is good for those who enjoy IQ puzzles.
Gotmail games http://www.gotmail.jp/
Dozens for very fun escape games (many with a storyline). The site is in Japanese but you can choose English for most of the games. My favourite is probably “JOBPICO”, which is basically a job interview/ escape and “The Daydream”, which happens in a child’s playroom. Graphics are beautiful too. Most of them are rendered in 3D.
Escape games by Robamimi http://robamimi.fuyu.gs/index.php
Absolutely beautiful escape games with touching storylines. Like Neutral, their games have difficulty levels indicated, so you can choose it depending on how challenging you’re feeling up to. I especially loved “Bear’s Life”, which has 2 endings depending on how you play the game. The storyline brought tears to my eyes (and so do others like “Smile for me”). Games of medium length but an awful lot of depth.
Trapped series http://www.rabbittell.com/games/trapped_classic/part_1_white_rabbit.php
Technically speaking, this is not merely an escape game. It’s an animated story which you walk through by escaping. Gameplay is very different from other games, but the storyline is compelling and philosophical. You move through a large amount of rooms and do an awful lot of things. What can I say, it’s an amazing game. And by the way, it’s got three parts. Three very wonderful parts which come together to form a massive story. So you have to start from the beginning. How you play can possibly change your ending as well.
Escape games from 2keysgames http://www.2keysgames.com/
Fun but very annoying games. Lots of them. For some of the games you have to collect something like 100 pieces of jigsaw, then piece them together. It’s fun if you have the patience, but I don’t think it has a save button.
Akarino-Arika escape games http://akarika.net/index.htm
Fun and beautiful, the games make a bit of logical sense. The graphics are somewhere between the Neutral and Gotmail ones. A lot of their rooms are called “Loom __”, which is odd, and which I suppose comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the letter “R”.
The Morning After/ The Night Before http://www.mousebreaker.com/games/themorningafter/playgame#bad
You’re in a student dorm, there has been a party and you meet different people, complete different tasks while collecting things to leave the house. Feels like you’re walking in an animated movie, lots of fun! (But there’s some adult content involved)
… and that concludes this wordy genre review. Hope you’re had a nice time trying out the games I recommended, and tell me which other ones you like!