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.)

Selling Hints in Escape Rooms & Puzzle Games is Bullshit

It’s time to discuss something that’s dumb, but necessary. 

It has come to our attention that there’s a tiny minority of games that are making their players buy hints. 

I’m not really sure who’s doing it, but someone asked a question about this behavior to the panel that I moderated at the Escape Summit in Canada in May. 

So, let’s get this out of the way once and for all. 

Selling Hints is Bullshit

There is an assumption of fairness in escape room design. While some companies pull this off better than others, at the core of escape room play is the idea that these games will be fair even if they are difficult. 

Selling hints undermines that fairness by introducing a financial feedback loop that encourages bullshit puzzle design. I’ll explain:

If a company sells hints, then they make more money from bullshit puzzle design because bullshit puzzles necessitate more hints. 

This in turn encourages the company to include more bullshit puzzles, which drives more bullshit revenue. 

Bullshit leads to hints, hints lead to cash, cash leads to more bullshit. The cycle loops until collapse.

This loop repeats recursively until the company strangles the life out of their business and closes because they suck. Along the way they will hurt the other local escape rooms by convincing the local player base that escape rooms are filled with bullshit puzzles, and thus depleting the potential customer base.

Digital Games

We’ve seen some this kind of nonsense from digital escape games like the point-and-click mobile escape room Spotlight: Room Escape (that’s not worthy of a link.) We’ve refused to review them.

We just assume that if the game is selling hints, the puzzles are probably bullshit.

We have better things to do with our time and so do you.

What Do We Do About This?

If an escape room company is selling hints, beat the hell out of them on Yelp for it.

Be fair. Don’t hit them with a 1 star review, drop something rational, but explain why this is a problem. Shame them into changing.

Also, alert the local player community. If you have a regional Facebook group, leave a note in there about the company.

The Exception

The one time that I can see “selling hints” to be a viable option is if, and only if, the money is going to a good cause, in the name of the players (not the business).

Same goes for something like a blood drive.

Then even if the puzzles are bullshit, at least there’s a good cause to support.

But then again… maybe check out the cause on Charity Navigator first?

Locking Players In & Restraining Them, Escape Room Meme

Man finds out his name isn't on the list for Hell. Explains that he "Owns an escape room that locks players in & restrains them with police handcuffs." He is brought to "Extra-Hell."

At this point you’re probably thinking, “that’s dark… but kind of funny…” or you’re in the teeny tiny minority of escape room owners who are really pissed off.

If you are in the vast majority of owners who understand the basics of how to run a safe business and are on board with me, feel free to carry on with the rest of your day.

If you’re feeling like telling the dumbass blogger off, come with me on a short history lesson and thought journey before writing a comment that you will probably regret.

Poland Fire

On January 5th, there was a fire in Poland that claimed the lives of 5 teenage girls. The escape room owner is in prison and is expected to serve a long sentence.

We covered it in depth. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, read up.

As a result, escape rooms are slowly experiencing a crackdown by fire inspectors all over the world.

This Can’t Happen Again

If something like this happens again or happens on American soil, the ramifications will be catastrophic. They will be especially devastating if the company responsible was anywhere near as negligent as the culpable company in Poland.

Most escape rooms aren’t locking players in or restraining them without providing a self-service way of freeing themselves. Most escape rooms are safe.

There are still some companies, however, who haven’t caught on to the fact that it is not ok to lock your players in your games.

Over on Room Escape Artist, we’re all about grey area. This is not a murky subject. If you are still locking players in your games %^&*ING STOP.

If you feel like fighting me on this, I’ll call your local fire marshal to referee the debate.

St. Louis Escape – Curse of the Mummy [Review]

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” -Anakin Skywalker

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 21, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

St. Louis Escape makes great sets and Curse of the Mummy was no exception. That said, this escape game had some seriously annoying gameplay.

If things had been clued properly and the tech wasn’t finicky, it could have played pretty smoothly, but it didn’t do any of that. Instead, we were left with a needlessly difficult, albeit pretty, game… I can only recommend this if you want to see a really good Egyptian tomb set and you haven’t yet played Tomb of Anubis… which was on a whole different level.

In-game: A pyramid with glowing symbols in the middle of a tomb excavation site.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Strong Egyptian tomb set

Story

While exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb, we’d happened upon a burial chamber and the obligatory curse.

In-game: A statue of a woman in an Egyptian tomb.

Setting

Curse of the Mummy had a strong Egyptian tomb set. It included a sand-covered floor, a cobwebbed ceiling, statues, ropes, and sandstone blocks. It had a strong, deliberate aesthetic contained within a relatively compact footprint.

In-game: A lantern and scale on a sandstone block that is tied with rope for hoisting.

Gameplay

St. Louis Escape’s Curse of the Mummy was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A treasure chest, and small locked wooden box sitting on top of sand with hieroglyphs adorning the wall behind them.

Analysis

➕ St. Louis Escape built an impressive Egyptian tomb set for Curse of the Mummy. From floor to ceiling, it was designed, detailed, and delightful.

In-game: Cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

➖ Our introduction to Curse of the Mummy included how many rooms we’d traverse over the course of the game and information for how to solve some of the puzzles. It was a strange way to introduce the experience.

➖ Many of the puzzles in Curse of the Mummy lacked adequate clue structure. This is the reason we listed this escape room with a high level of difficulty and we recommend it for players with some experience.

➖ Curse of the Mummy relied heavily on a runbook. This was frustrating to use and detracted from our experience exploring the gorgeous set.

In-game: Footprints in the sand.

➖ There were a number of exceedingly frustrating puzzles. One search puzzle burned a lot of time and wasn’t fun to do. There was another riddle that was laughably clunky to resolve into a solution that would fit its corresponding lock.

➖The tolerances on some tech were unforgiving. We had to be incredibly precise to get opens to trigger. We burned a silly amount of time solving puzzles correctly… but not quite perfectly enough.

In-game: A glowing green scarab image in darkness.

➕ Our favorite puzzles were worked into some of the more impressive set pieces… again, spanning the breadth of the space from floor to ceiling. These were really fun, interactive solves.

➖ All of the games at St. Louis Escape were built into a warehouse space with open ceilings. While the ceilings were well designed as a part of the sets, we could hear the groups screaming in the neighboring horror game, Cellar Escape, while we played Curse of the Mummy It was difficult to buy into our Egyptian adventure when we could clearly hear a neighboring team.

In-game: A statue of a cobra's head protruding from the sandstone wall of a tomb.

Tips For Visiting

  • You can park for free on the street directly in front of the building or on the side of the building.
  • There are stairs up to the escape room lobby and the escape rooms.
  • Beware that St. Louis Escape has a habit for putting 4-digit solutions into 5-digit locks.
  • The floor of this game is covered in sand. Wear appropriate footwear.

Book your hour with St. Louis Escape’s Curse of the Mummy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: St. Louis Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Easy Ways to Design Escape Rooms For Colorblindness

8% of men and 0.5% of women are colorblind. (Colorableness & National Eye Institute).

This is probably something that we should talk about a little more often.

A flower depicting the color spectrum in normal vision
Normal Vision

I’m going to give you a little background information. Then I’m going to show you a few easy ways that you can adapt your escape rooms to make them fully playable for players with colorblindness.

You can make your escape rooms playable for people with colorblindness with minimal effort and without spending any additional money.

Finally, the improvements that you make for players with colorblindness will improve the game for normal-sighted players as well.

Accessible Design

Accessible design is a design process in which the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered.” (Washington.edu)

There are times where it isn’t possible to create something that can be universally experienced in the same way. However, there are ways to ensure that the thing can be experienced at all.

Credentials

Professionally in my life as a digital UX designer, I’ve been practicing and advocating for accessible design for over a decade. I’ve written a white paper on this and given talks on the subject. (I no longer work for Phase2, but I’m still proud of this talk.):

Designing Escape Rooms For Colorblindness

How do we design escape rooms for colorblindness?

Most people with colorblindness can see color. They just don’t see it in the same way that normal-sighted folks see it. While monochromacy is a thing, it is incredibly rare.

With that in mind, here are 3 techniques that I recommend.

Colorblindness Simulation

The Coblis — Color Blindness Simulator is a free web app that allows you to upload images and see what they look like to people with different types of colorblindness.

And yes, you read that correctly, there are a number of different forms of colorblindness. Red-green colorblindness is the most common by a wide margin and gets all of the attention.

How Do I Use This?

Run images of your puzzles, designs, and interactions through the simulator and ensure that there is enough contrast that the colors appear different from one another.

In general, high color contrast helps.

That’s the key. Just make sure that every player has the opportunity to visually differentiate relevant colors from one another.

This is the same image run through the simulator to visualize different forms of colorblindness:

Additional Indicators

If you’re planning to use color as an indicator, add another layer such as a texture or a symbol.

Symbols

Magic the Gathering color symbols. A white sun, a blue water drop, a green tree, a red fire, and a black skull.

Combining colors with symbols means that players aren’t in the position where they have to communicate color. They can communicate by the corresponding symbol if they so choose.

Textures

Similarly, adding a unique background texture that corresponds with the color can provide another way to differentiate between, say, purple and blue.

Lighting

We beat this drum often: provide adequate lighting.

If you’re using low lighting for atmosphere, that can be cool. Please provide spotlighting for workspaces, puzzles, and inputs.

This will help improve the experience for all of your players, not just your players with colorblindness.

The Bottom Line

Make the experience a bit smoother for everyone by improving color contrast, giving people more than just color to identify gameplay components, and providing good lighting.

There are disabilities that are truly difficult to design around. We may explore those in the future. Colorblindness, however, is one that doesn’t have to be a problem most of the time.

Escaparium – Tyranno Industries [Review]

🦖🦕

Location:  Montreal, Canada

Date Played: April 7, 2019

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Dinosaurs make me happy. They captured my imagination as a child. To this day I love that these incredible beasts actually existed on our planet. I can’t seriously think about dinosaurs without smiling… and if you can, I suspect that you’re dead inside.

In-game: a triceratops next to a white and blue medical scanning device.

So… that’s to say that I really enjoyed Tyranno Industries. It wasn’t a perfect game. A dinosaur park escape game was a massive undertaking and Escaparium put forth a strong effort. There were animatronics and some badass moments. It all flowed pretty well when the wear and tear or some of the less developed puzzles weren’t getting in the way.

There were some areas in which Escaparium could significantly improve this game with minimal effort.

All that said, Tyranno Industries was a delight to play. My inner 8-year-old is thankful to Escaparium for the experience.

If the idea of a dinosaur adventure brings a smile to your face and you’re near Montreal, just buy yourself a ticket. I’m glad that I went.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Dinosaur fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Dinosaurs!
  • Surprising moments

Story

Our team of mercenaries had been hired to break into the dinosaur cloning lab of Tyranno Industries in the Philippines and extract 3 different embryos.

In-game: The Tryanno Industries logo on a concrete building in a tropical setting.

Setting

Tyranno Industries strongly evoked Jurassic Park. The set had a tropical Dinosaur-zoo-meets-laboratory vibe, complete with dinosaur animatronics.

Basically, this was the set that 8-year-old me would have wanted to live in.

It didn’t look “real” but it looked really good.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s Tyranno Industries was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕Escaparium built multiple diverse but connected environments into a relatively small footprint.

➕ Anything life-sized for a dinosaur couldn’t possibly be shitty.

➖ Tyranno Industries was well worn. We encountered three different puzzles that suffered due to damage or wear.

➖ Some of the cluing was a shade or two off.

➕ The lab work section had solid puzzles that flowed well. Even Lisa agreed, and she’s rarely happy to play in a lab setting.

➕ This was a family-friendly dinosaur adventure. It had exciting and intense moments, but it wasn’t scary. Escaparium made dinosaurs about as approachable as possible.

❓ Many of the early puzzles were mounted pretty high up. We imagine that children will struggle to participate fully with some of these puzzles.

➖ At the height of Tyranno Industries’ intensity, it ground to a halt over a puzzle that hinged on a poor user interface on a small device. There was nothing else to solve at this juncture and no way for everyone to fully engage.

Tyranno Industries had a few surprises hiding in the wings. It delivered memorable moments for the entire group to experience together.

➕/➖ The animatronic dinosaur was really neat, but we spent entirely too much time near it. Animatronics are at their best when your exposure to them is limited and you can’t get used to their presence or patterns.

➕ Somehow Escaparium found the self-restraint to avoid the most obvious and inexpensive Jurassic Park puzzle reference… and for that, I salute them.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • You will remove your shoes before entering the game.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).

Book your hour with Escaparium’s Tyranno Industries, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Codex – Spaceship Graveyard [Review]

All of the pop culture references in the galaxy.

Location:  Laval, Canada

Date Played: April 6, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Spaceship Graveyard was a love letter to a few decades worth of space-based science fiction and fantasy.

Codex structured this escape game as a largely split-team experience and did so in a way that we hadn’t seen before. This was an exciting twist on both the spaceship and split-team genres.

In-game: a spaceship's bridge.

Spaceship Graveyard was massive, but it felt a little too empty. On the one hand, that added a bit of spookiness. On the other hand, it just felt like it needed more going on. That went for the gameplay as well. There was a lot of narrative, but the line between story and gameplay was blurry.

There’s plenty to love in Spaceship Graveyard and lots of room for iteration and improvement as well. We absolutely recommend Spaceship Graveyard for its interesting gameplay twists. In its current state, however, if you only have time for one game at Codex, it should be The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent.

We love what Codex is doing. It’s exciting to see a new company put out two games that push boundaries. We cannot wait to see where they go from here.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • An interesting take on split-team gameplay
  • So many nerd references. So many.
  • The doors. You’ll know them when you see them.

Story

We had teleported into a universe where Earth had made contact with extraterrestrials centuries ago. This alien influence had sped up development of technology and altered all facets of life.

The China America Alliance had dispatched ships to find new habitable planets. One SPC-2202 had signaled the discovery of such a place… then nothing was heard from it again.

We were dispatched across time and space to investigate SPC-2202, determine what the crew had discovered, and decide the best course of action for humanity.

In-game: a spaceship's sleeping pod.

Setting

Split into two groups, we boarded the spaceship from two different sides, each group puzzling through different compartments on the way to the bridge.

The ship was huge and spartan. It had a Star Trek-like cleanness to it.

Spaceship Graveyard was loaded with references to a wide variety of classic space-based science fiction.

It also had some really amazing doors.

In-game: an opening iris door.
If this door is ever stolen… it’s probably in my house.

Gameplay

Codex’s Spaceship Graveyard was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

About 2/3 of the game was played as a split-team experience. The entire team was together for the last 1/3.

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

Analysis

➕ There were two separate teleporters to take us to Spaceship Graveyard. This made sense from a gameplay standpoint because it was a split-team game. Codex justified this from a narrative perspective as well: as their first teleporters, they were under powered and couldn’t transport the entire group together. This was elegant storytelling.

➕ An early interaction ramped up the narrative drama of Spaceship Graveyard.

➕/ ➖ In one set of Spaceship Graveyard we had open and easy communication. In another area of the starship, we couldn’t see each other and relied on shouting. There was an opportunity to improve the ship’s internal communication channels.

➕ Many of the puzzles in Spaceship Graveyard required teamwork and forced communication.

➖ For one especially challenging puzzle, however, there was nothing the other group could do to help and nothing new they could do to advance the game. This created an awkward bottleneck with downtime for some and added pressure for others.

➖ The set was uneven. The spaceship was spacious, but the props and set pieces were sparse. It felt oddly empty. Additionally, half the group explored a more compelling space than the other half did.

➖ We were really excited about one set piece, which was fun to explore, but turned out to be largely irrelevant to our experience. It felt like a missed opportunity.

➕ Outer space looked great. The projections were impressive. The set was at its best when we could see beyond the spaceship’s interior.

➖ Codex attempted to deepen our connection to this world through an understanding of the crew of SPC-2202. Instead of working this into the gameplay, however, it felt bolted on as reading. We had trouble parsing its relevance. In this instance, the extra world texture was distracting.

➕ Codex delivered narrative through a surprising reveal. It was a great moment.

➖ We didn’t realize when we’d won. We made a choice, but it wasn’t an informed choice. We had a inkling that we were choosing to be good guys or bad guys, but we didn’t understand the consequences of either action. It left us confused about how – or even whether – we’d completed our mission.

➕That door. Did I remember to mention the door? I’m a fan of that door. I hope that I’m not over-hyping the door.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking in the back on the building near the entrance to the escape rooms.

Book your hour with Codex’s Spaceship Graveyard, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Codex provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Ubisoft Escape Games – Beyond Medusa’s Gate [VR Review]

A VR Odyssey

Location:  at Up the Game in Amsterdam, The Netherlands & at Trap’t in Stamford, CT

Date Played: May 7, 2019 & May 17, 2019

Team size: 2 or 4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per player at Trap’t (consumer pricing varies by licensee)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a gigantic, dramatic, and intense journey through the worlds of Greek mythology and the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Ubisoft Escape Games published a worthy sequel to their first VR escape game by refining and expanding upon the concepts introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A gigantic statue of Atlas wrapped in a snake holding up the ceiling of a cave.

Beyond Medusa’s Gate wasn’t the most puzzley game. However, it accomplished what I believe is the key to a great virtual escape game: the gameplay provided experiences that cannot be created in real life escape games.

I wholeheartedly recommend playing Beyond Medusa’s Gate. (We took my parents to play it.) I’d encourage you to play Escape The Lost Pyramid first so that you’re comfortable with the controls and mechanisms that Ubisoft expanded upon in this sequel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (with VR, escape rooms, or Assassin’s Creed)

Why play?

  • Fantastic collaborative puzzles
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Massive set pieces
  • Puzzles that aren’t possible in a real-life escape room
  • A cool boss battle

Story

Set in the fantastical ancient Greek world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we were off in search of a powerful lost artifact.

The Poster for Beyond Medusa's Gate featuring a stone door with a sculpture of Medusa.

Setting

We boarded the Argo, the legendary ship of the Argonauts, and sailed through a magnificently rendered Mediterranean cavern filled with huge structures and mythological beasts.

In-game: a burning cauldron in a temple.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a VR escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around teamwork, puzzling, shooting, climbing, observing, and making connections.

In-game: The Argo in the Mediterranean.

Analysis

➕ Ubisoft included some additional character customization options allowing us to change the color of our avatar’s clothing.

In-game: a team of avatar's getting suited up.

 Assassin’s Creed factors in minimally. On the one hand, if you’re familiar with the series, there are some lovely nods both in the gameplay and in the introduction. On the other hand, you can enjoy the game almost fully without knowing anything about the Animus.

➖ If you’re completely unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, then the introductory exposition will sound something like, “Blah blah blah Ancient Greece. Blah blah blah powerful artifact. Blah blah blah genetic memory.”

➕ The opening puzzle sequence was really clever, both as a standalone puzzle and as an introduction to manipulating the game world.

➕ Beyond Medusa’s Gate had a greater diversity in puzzles and challenges than did Ubisoft’s first escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A statue of Athena in a cavern.

➕ As with Escape The Lost Pyramid, Beyond Medusa’s Gate did a wonderful job of providing experiences that could not be created in a physical escape room.

❓ While the puzzles within Beyond Medusa’s Gate were enjoyable, the emphasis was on adventure. If you’re seeking serious puzzle-play, there might not be enough of it for you.

➕ Ubisoft ramped up the opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. There were lots of moments were we solving as either a duo or quartet.

➕ The world of Beyond Medusa’s Gate was gorgeous. There were points where I stopped playing and found myself getting lost in the beauty of the world and all of its detail.

➕ The use of a boat to facilitate movement through the game world was an improvement over the floating blocks from Escape The Lost Pyramid. Not only did it make more sense within the fiction, it also made the game more friendly and approachable for players with vertigo or a fear of heights.

➕ While Beyond Medusa’s Gate incorporated the climbing as well as the archery introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid, it limited its reliance on them and put some interesting twists on both as the game progressed.

❓ There’s a learning curve to staying within the play area. If you’re comfortable playing video games and VR, you could acclimate almost immediately. If you aren’t comfortable with the technology, it could be a game-long process .

➖ When one player struggles to execute, the game can grind to a halt and provide little for idle players to do… aside from break pots and look at the beautiful world. (I have a high capacity for breaking pots from years of Zelda.)

➖ If you are the struggling player and you’re holding your team back, you’ll quickly feel a lot of additional pressure.

❓ We played this game twice, once with a wire (at Up The Game), and once wireless (at Trap’t in Stamford, CT). It was a substantially better experience playing wirelessly.

In-game: a massive ballista mounted to the side of a ship.

➕ The boss battle was a strong conclusion.

➕ Ubisoft added a delightful post-game photo system.

Tips For Visiting

  • I would strongly encourage you to play Ubisoft’s first VR escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid, prior to playing this sequel.
  • Yes, you can wear glasses with the VR headset.
  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, there will be one section that you might want to skip, but you should be fine playing most of this game.

Book your hour with Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

If you’re interested in licensing this game, you can learn more from Ubisoft Escape Games:

Disclosure: Ubisoft Escape Games offered free play-throughs of this game on the show floor at Up the Game.

Disclosure: Trap’t comped our tickets for this game.