NEScape! on the Nintendo Entertainment System [Review]

Going Retro

Location:  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Date Played: June 9, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Duration: 60 minute time loops

Price: $10 (ROM), $60 (cartridge & ROM)

Publisher: KHAN Games

REA Reaction

NEScape! is a new escape room video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or downloadable ROM).

This game captured old-school escape room gameplay on old-school video game hardware… and did a generally good job.

Translucent blue NEScape! cartridge.

There are 4 days left to back this Kickstarter and it is fully funded. The decision to back should be simple:

  • Do you like the idea of old-school, puzzle-forward gameplay?
  • Does playing an escape game on NES hardware sound fun?
  • Do you have access to a NES?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then give them your money.

Lisa's hands on an NES controller.

NEScape! isn’t flawless. There are more than a few things that I think could improve it.

NEScape! isn’t revolutionary. It can’t be. It runs on 8-bit hardware in 2019.

For me, that was fine. Now that I’ve completed playing it, just looking at the cartridge makes me smile.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Retro gamers
  • Point & click fans
  • People who really just want to own the game cartridge
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • Classic escape room puzzle play on the NES
  • It’s different

Story

We were in an escape room and needed to puzzle our way out. Like I said, old school.

Setup

We received NEScape! in cartridge form. That meant that the first puzzle was finding a working Nintendo Entertainment System or a high quality NES clone like the RetroUSB AVS. The Retron5 and RetroDuo (which I love) unfortunately didn’t do the job.

So… we went out to a local retro video game arcade called Yestercades to play with their toys.

NEScape! in a NES.

Puzzle two was mounting the cartridge so that it, ya know, worked. It was as tough as I remembered. A friendly reminder: Blowing on Nintendo cartridges doesn’t help and can cause corrosion.

Once we were up and running, NEScape! was a point & click puzzle game on an 8-bit platform. The controls were simple. We had to find objects and use them to solve the puzzles that lined the game world’s 4 walls.

Gameplay

KHAN Game’s NEScape! was a point & click escape game with puzzles of varying levels of difficulty and a non-negotiable 60-minute game clock that terminated the run at 0.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game animation: a cursor selecting books with zodiac symbols on them.
Via KHAN Games

Analysis

➕ Opening the mail and finding a translucent blue NES cartridge was utterly delightful.

➕ The colors were vibrant and made good use of the limited graphics capacity of the NES.

➕ The controls were easy. Lisa was never a console gamer and had no problems picking them up quickly. There wasn’t any action, so my decades of muscle memory weren’t particularly useful.

➕ The opening sequence was an unusual intro that taught the basics, provided a puzzle and allowed us to bypass it.

➕ There was solid point & click escape game-style play that captured the feeling of escape room puzzles from 4-5 years ago.

➕ There was a structured, self-service online hint system, should you get stuck (or, like us, be playing in a loud space, which inhibited us from solving auditory puzzles).

❓ There were a number of auditory puzzles that we had to bypass with hints. The clanging of pinball, the beeping of arcade cabinets, and the crashing of Skee-Ball at Yestercades meant that we couldn’t hear audio puzzles. It seemed like NEScape! was doing some interesting things with sound, but I genuinely have no idea how anything sounded. When I eventually replay in a quiet location, I’ll update this.

➖ At the start of each chapter, we began with the “lights off” and had to find the switch. This was hard the first time and easy, but annoying, in subsequent chapters.

❓/➕ We aren’t good at slide puzzles. We’d like to get better at them when we have a little time. We ended up sinking a little more than half of our time in our first play loop into a slide puzzle. In our second hour, we just used the hint system to power through the slide pattern. (We so appreciated that the hints included the solution pattern.)

➖ There were times where puzzle solves had no visual indication of completion. There may have been auditory feedback, but we don’t know. It made certain aspects of the game feel clunky. Sure we were playing under sub-optimal circumstances, but visual feedback of success would have been a significant improvement, even if it was just for accessibility purposes.

➖ The ball maze puzzle was visually jittery and difficult to look at.

In-game animation: A ball navigating through a maze.
Via KHAN Games

➕ There were some really great destructible puzzles… the kind that you wouldn’t typically see in a real life escape room.

NEScape! would have benefited from more puzzles that could only work in a digital environment. There were a few too many puzzles that were straight translations from the real world.

❓ We felt pretty conflicted on the rigid timer that terminated the game at 0 forcing us to start over:

  • On one hand, it was annoying. It felt like there was an opportunity to do something more creative at 0 or offer more outcome options.
  • On the other hand, unforgiving fail-states is pretty much tradition on the NES. It wasn’t a big deal because we were able to navigate through the game pretty quickly on our second playthrough to pick up where we’d left off.

➕ It’s a Kickstarter… but the full product exists. For those of us who have been burned before, knowing that a crowdfunding project is more than notional ain’t nothing.

Tips For Playing

  • Time Requirements: I would plan on playing at least 2 or 3 hours (unless you’re good at slide puzzles or plan to bypass it with the hint system).
  • Required Gear: You’ll need a Nintendo Entertainment System or a high-quality clone. We also used pen and paper to track our solutions. This was especially helpful on our second play-though.

Back KHAN Game’s NEScape! on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

There are only 4 days left to back this.

Disclosure: KHAN Games provided a sample for review. 

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

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