7 Unexpected Tidbits from the 2018 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey

What do Escape Room Enthusiasts think?

Errol Elumir of The Room Escape Divas posted an escape room enthusiast survey, open during July – August 2018. Members of the community helped craft the survey. Lee-Fay Low compiled the results.

This is a really interesting data set… and I want to dig into some of my observations about it (even if this post is publishing a little later than I had intended).

An analytics dashboard.

First off, let’s get this out of the way…

Bias

As you read these tidbits, keep in mind that biases are inherent in the process:

(1) This was a self-selected group of respondents.

“Participants in this survey are not representative of escape room players at large. The sample is biased towards people who identify as enthusiasts, have played more rooms, and spend time on English language online enthusiast groups.”

(2) Many of the questions were multiple choice. Respondents ranked items in a list in order of importance. Lists are not exhaustive.

(3) Many of the words in the survey weren’t defined. Different players likely interpreted these concepts differently.

Bias isn’t a knock against the survey. (In fact, David helped write the survey.) Bias is, however, important to be aware of.

The survey results deliver interesting and valuable data for the community and the companies. Plus, this data will become more interesting over time as it starts to illuminate shifts in trends.

Here are a few tidbits that I found to be particularly interesting:

[1] 562 enthusiasts answered the survey.

There are a lot of us out there who want to spend our free time thinking about escape rooms and who will take time to fill out a pretty detailed questionnaire. We’re excited to see the enthusiast community growing.

[2] Discovery over immersion

When asked what motivates us to play escape rooms, “discovery” edged out “immersion.”

When I travel in industry circles, I constantly hear reference to immersion. Immersion seems to be this elusive gold standard that companies aim to achieve.

While the most enthusiastic players are certainly motivated by immersive experiences, they are more excited by discovery.

Discovery is an under-explored concept. As players, we seek the unexpected. It’s energizing.

[3] Subscription-based puzzle games aren’t speaking to us… yet.

When asked which escape room-related activities they’ve played, subscription-based puzzle games ranked below escape room board games, in-person puzzle hunts, immersive theatre, and online puzzle hunts.

The subscription-based market is younger than these other adjacent forms of entertainment. We’ve reviewed a number of subscription puzzle games and generally enjoyed the concepts, but found that the products weren’t mature enough yet. There’s a lot of room for creators to develop this idea.

Don’t discount this style of entertainment just yet.

[4] Theme matters, but there isn’t consensus around best themes.

When asked what’s most important when booking an escape room, theme ranked second only to personal recommendations. Theme mattered more than reviews, booking type, location, and price.

That said, no one theme out ranked the others. Tombs and space were the most popular themes, but so many others were almost as popular.

Escape room enthusiasts are searching out themed experiences, but theme is a personal preference.

Data on popular themes will be skewed because theme pervasiveness seems to be a fairly regional phenomenon. For example, much of the United States has tons of labs, zombie apocalypse, and prison break themes. These themes are barely present in our home market of New York City.

As we travel around, we often find pockets of similarly themed games. Is that regional similarity good or bad? I’m not really sure, but it is a thing.

[5] Use of technology is not very important.

For a well-designed game, the most important thing is puzzle quality. Of the 15 game characteristics listed in the survey, use of technology ranked 13th.

This data supports a common misconception that escape rooms need fancy technology.

Technology is not inherently valuable. It’s one tool in a game designer’s toolbox.

Our opinion has been that technology is usually best when it’s hidden and the player doesn’t think of the interaction as a tech interaction… it’s just a fun moment.

[6] There is a bias towards multi-room games.

Not a single person said they prefer single-room games over multi-room games. While about 12-15% of respondents are indifferent to this differentiation, the vast majority of respondents prefer multi-room games.

I would imagine that this has a lot to with transition reveals. Room transitions usually present an opportunity for a memorable moment… and for discovery.

Additionally, single-room games are often a sign of a cheap company cramming a game into the smallest space possible.

I’d guess, however, that this bias is correlation and not causation. As escape room companies have built more sophisticated escape rooms, they’ve also shifted toward multi-room design. Many of the best escape games we’ve played have been multi-room games, but they weren’t necessarily the best because they were multi-room games.

We’re indifferent to room count because we’ve seen some amazing tiny games and some horrible massive games. What matters most is how a designer uses the space they have.

[7] We love logic puzzles?!

When asked how important different puzzle types are, logic puzzles out ranked all the other puzzles types listed by a pretty wide margin.

I love logic puzzles! In my experience, however, more teammates shy away from these than embrace them. (More logic puzzles for me!) While my experience is anecdotal, this makes me wonder whether all of the respondents were operating with the same definition of “logic puzzle.”

As I think about a more broad definition of “logic” puzzle, however, I see an opportunity for escape rooms to stretch how we make connections and to reimagine logic for physical environments. This is an opportunity I’m really excited about.

Data

Read the full data summary here.

And check out the nifty interactive dashboard that our friend Randy Hum of Escape Rumors created with the survey data.

Heyou Escape – La Terrible Affaire Bambell [Review]

The Terrible Bambell Affair (available in English)

Location:  Le Cannet, France

Date Played: September 30, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 24-30 € per person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

I keep telling people about La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

Heyou Escape’s horror thriller was one of the most interesting escape rooms we’ve encountered in our travels. 

All about story and fear, La Terrible Affaire Bambell relied on traditional escape room gameplay to facilitate the narrative and the feelings it created in players.

This escape room worked because of creativity, hard work, and commitment. 

La Terrible Affaire Bambell wasn’t a good or a bad escape room. It was theatrical. It was terrifying. It was a weak puzzle game… hell, it was barely a puzzle game. It was an intense and interesting experience. 

If you’re looking for traditional, puzzle-driven, non-threatening escape room gameplay, do not play La Terrible Affaire Bambell. If you’re in the south of France and you seek something unique that might shift your perspective on what an escape room can be, then Heyou Escape’s first outing is a must-play.

In-game: The hallway of the apartment complex that housed the game.

Who is this for?

  • Horror fiends 
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Frights
  • Worldbuilding
  • Thought-provoking conclusion

Story

We were new police recruits on a risky first assignment. Our sergeant had tasked us with investigating the apartment of a suspected serial killer. 

This man had been monitored by police for some time; they were confident that this was the guy. We need to inspect his residence to determine if he was the killer and how many people he had murdered.

There were two catches: 

  • He had a photographic memory. We had to put everything back exactly as we had found it. Because… 
  • He could return to his home while we were investigating. If he returned, we had to hide. 

Given the dangers, our sergeant would be on the radio supporting us the entire time. 

In-game: A "special police" badge.

Setting

Heyou Escape led us to an apartment in a real apartment building. En route, he improvisationally melded the real life environment with the game world. 

Once our sergeant had “picked the lock” to the apartment, he left us in a dark, creepy living room lit only by a few flashlights (that were chained to the wall). 

In-game: a globe in a dark room.

Gameplay

Heyou Escape’s La Terrible Affaire Bambell was an unusual theatrical horror escape room with a higher level of difficulty (more on that in the analysis).

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and enduring the tension. 

In-game: A skinned stuffed animal in a dark room.

Analysis

➕ La Terrible Affaire Bambell was unique. Its story, rules, and approach to gameplay were unlike anything we’d encountered in more than 650 escape rooms. 

➕ Heyou Escape established their story and world by integrating the real world into the experience. This was brilliant and immersive. 

❓ La Terrible Affaire Bambell was scary. This was the first game that we had ever played where one of our teammates quit in the middle of the game (and no, that wasn’t Lisa!). Heyou Escape told us that 30% of teams have at least one player abandon due to fear. Whether this is amazing or terrible is up to you.

➕ Heyou Escape introduced a game mechanic that I spent more than half of the game thinking was stupid… until it turned into my favorite aspect of the game. I cannot say more without ruining it.

➕/➖ The mediocre puzzles only worked because of the heavy gamemaster involvement (which was well integrated into the game). That being said, the puzzles were never the reason to play La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

➕/➖ The set was creepy. It established the right tone, but it didn’t look incredible. It also lacked believable hiding places (which really were critical to this narrative).

➕/➖ The hiding from the serial killer was intense even if I couldn’t believe that we were effectively hiding ourselves from the killer.

➕ The actor/ gamemastering was fantastic. It made this world feel real, even when we could see the seams. We further commend Heyou Escape for delivering all the dialogue in English. (We later received a behind the scenes glimpse that demonstrated just how hard the staff had to work to make this crazy experience work.)

➖ The ending came too late… or the climax came a little too early. By the time that La Terrible Affaire Bambell had come to a conclusion, the story had begun to unravel. 

➕ Heyou Escape left us with an interesting question about the game… and the more I thought about it that evening over dinner and wine… the more I appreciated the uniqueness of La Terrible Affaire Bambell.

Tips For Visiting

  • This is truly a horror game. Be prepared to be scared.
  • Players need to be fairly mobile.

Book your hour with Heyou Escape’s La Terrible Affaire Bambell, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

I Lock You – Meurtre à Hollywood [Review]

Murder in Hollywood (available in English)

Location:  Nice, France

Date Played: October 1, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 90-144 € per team depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

From the premise to the gameplay of the second half, Meurtre à Hollywood was an unusual escape game. Our goal wasn’t to escape, stop a calamity, or find some special item. We needed to figure out how to arrange the set for filming a television show.

With this unusual setup, I Lock You’s second game started out as a traditional escape room and transitioned into something different. I Lock You used these differences to craft an interesting environment and unique puzzles to match it.

In-game: The chalk outline of a body at movie set of a crime scene around a poker table.

While the puzzle flow and set design quality varied heavily throughout Meurtre à Hollywood, the overall experience was memorable and worthy.

If you’re in Nice and looking to explore an escape room that does something a bit different with the medium, I strongly recommend Meurtre à Hollywood.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Puzzle quantity, quality, and intrigue
  • Amusingly dramatic finale

Story

Our Hollywood careers were taking off; we landed roles on a popular crime drama staring Scarlett J. Unfortunately the crew that was supposed to arrange the set had been fired. If Scarlett were to show up at filming time and find the set in disarray, she would surely quit the show. We had to save our acting career and the production by reasoning out how to assemble the set before its star entered.

In-game: the desk and mirror in a movie star's dressing room.

Setting

Meurtre à Hollywood spanned two spaces: Scarlett’s dressing room and the crime scene set that we had to make right.

The dressing room was simple and plain, but had the right props to indicate its purpose. 

The crime scene was vibrant, with lively lighting. This segment of the game was unusual and interesting. 

In-game: A well lit movie set of a crime scene around a poker table.

Gameplay

I Lock You’s Meurtre à Hollywood was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Meurtre à Hollywood delivered unique gameplay; the concept behind the second half was new to us.

➕ We especially liked the tangible interactions that facilitated deeply layered solves.

➖ The set and prop aesthetics varied a lot. While some elements had charm and quality, the gamespace mostly looked homemade and messy. Additionally, I Lock You included a lot of clue structure on laminated paper.

➕ Some of Meurtre à Hollywood’s best puzzle moments shed new light on the movie set and altered our perspectives.

➕/➖ I Lock You went 1 for 2 on transitions. In one instance, they surprised us with an unexpected open. In another, we wanted to move forward, but the cluing was tenuous for a puzzle that seemed a lame choice of gating.

➖ The puzzle flow was rough. It was easy to derive solutions without a place to input them or a clear way to keep them organized for later use.

➕ I Lock You’s destructible worked well. Their cluing on this was smart. 

➕ The final scene was dramatic and entertaining.

Tips For Visiting

  • This game is available in English.

Book your hour with I Lock You’s Meurtre à Hollywood, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: I Lock You provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Iris Game – L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante [Review]

The Case of the Bloody Trunk (available in English)

Location:  Monaco

Date Played: October 5, 2018

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 28-35 € per person depending on team size

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

We had a day in the south of France without any plans. When we saw that Monaco’s first escape room company had just opened… we felt compelled to play a room in our 12th country.

L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante was a small search-and-puzzle escape room created with a lot of heart.

At its best, Iris Game created tangible interactions that affected the gamespace. The set was decorated with high-resolution, large-format decals. It wasn’t the most immersive set we’ve seen, but Iris Game did a lot with a little.

We spent a large portion of L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante searching; it was a too much scavenging for our taste. 

If you find yourself in the Principality of Monaco and feel the need to play an escape room, Iris Game is the place to do it.

In-game: A bicycle locked up in an alleyway behind a gate.

Who is this for?

  • Searchers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • A glimpse of local history
  • Charming staging
  • Interesting interactions

Story

Based on a true story: It was 1907 and a Mr. Goold was arrested with a bloody trunk filled with most of the remains of his neighbor Mrs. Lévin. Goold admitted to the murder, but our instincts as investigators told us that he wasn’t telling the full story.

We went to search his neighborhood for evidence and hunt down Mrs. Lévin’s missing body parts.

In-game: A weathered, white door addressed number 8 with a large mailbox hanging beside it.

Setting

L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante was set on the street in front of the crime scene at night. The dimly lit set was decorated with plants, detailed decals, and other items that one would find outside of peoples’ homes.

It was a small game, which wasn’t surprising; Monaco is a fun-sized country and property comes at a premium.

In-game: A hefty wooden door addressed number 10.

Gameplay

Iris Game’s L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: Closeup of the number 8 letterbox.

Analysis

➕ Iris Game based L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante in local history. We had traveled to Monaco for the day and as tourists, we especially enjoyed the escape game’s local flavor.

➕ The tourist in David was also excited to encounter a lock we’d never seen before.

➖ Much of the story unfolded in written materials. We would have liked to have felt the story through the gameplay instead.

➕ Iris Game built a lot into a small gamespace. They staged L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante in an alleyway, which gave them the ability to make it appear like there was more to the space then there actually was. It worked well.

➕ Iris Game used detailed, textured wallpaper to make the space feel bigger and more interactive than it was. This was one of the best uses of wallpaper that we’ve encountered.

➖ We recognized puzzle types quickly, as quite a few puzzles within L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante shared similar design. Puzzle diversity would improve this game. 

➖ L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante required too much searching.

➕/➖ Some of the searching was well clued through solving puzzles. These were satisfying solves. Other times we only knew we were missing a necessary component; we had to search the entire space without any direction. Hints for search fails proved unhelpful, giving us information we already knew or only vague direction as to where to search. This created frustrating moments that slowed our momentum. In one instance we spent close to 15 minutes and 2 hints searching for one item. 

➖ Given that this escape room relied heavily on searching and reading, the dim lighting was especially annoying. I ended up setting up a work station on the floor, in the place with the most light, which led us to continually trip over puzzle elements for the full hour. A spotlit workspace would have been a big improvement.

L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante included interesting interactions. We especially appreciated how these interactions connected within the space.

Tips For Visiting

  • Iris Game is located around the corner from the Starbucks. If you pass Starbucks, don’t start going up and down public elevators. You’re already on the correct level.

Book your hour with Iris Game’s L’affaire de la Malle Sanglante, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Iris Game comped our tickets for this game.

Trip 1907 [Review]

We finished with 86 sanity… which seems accurate.

Location: at home

Date Played: May – June 2018

Team size: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯; we recommend 1-2

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: $17

REA Reaction

Damn I wish I could draw like this. The incredible art in Trip 1907 made me want to study every page of the book. In addition to beautiful illustrations, Trip 1907 presented 44 puzzles, most of which solved cleanly. It wrapped the puzzles in a Lovecraftian mystery through ancient artifacts, monsters, cultists, and rituals. The thematic hint system forced us to sacrifice our sanity for assistance.

An intricate sketch of a long-necked dragon-like sea monster.

I wish I could end this review here and wholeheartedly recommend this book. It got a lot right… but I can’t.

A minority of puzzles felt imprecise or nonsensical. The thematic hint system was blind; it vacillated between helpful, cruel, and silly. This combined to beat down our confidence in the game. When we got stuck, we couldn’t be sure if we weren’t puzzling well… or if we would later learn that the puzzle was rubbish. This lack of trust sucked a lot of fun out of working through challenging puzzles.

The entirely linear nature of the book exacerbated these frustrations. When we got stuck, we couldn’t move on to anything else until we finished the puzzle.

There was a lot to love in Trip 1907; it got a lot right. However, the stuff that didn’t work well tainted the fantastic. When we finished the final puzzle we were happy, not because we felt accomplished, but because we were done.

If you’re a puzzler who’s willing to embrace all of the wonderful aspects of Trip 1907 and let its flaws be, then there’s good content and value within its pages.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Some great puzzles
  • Beautiful illustrations
  • An interesting and cohesive story

Story

Trip 1907 told the Lovecraftian tale of a boathand on a freighter ship carrying a mysterious and nefarious cargo.

As the mystery expanded, so did the main character’s madness.

The faux leather cover of Trip 1907: Interactive Escape The Book Game features a gold compass rose with tentacles emerging from North.

Setup

Trip 1907 was played with a book and an internet-connected device. (We used an iPhone exclusively.)

Similarly to Journal 29, each 2-page spread offered a puzzle/ illustration. We submitted our answer through a website.

The website also provided a fairly substantial amount of prose – not included in the book – to convey the story.

Trip 1907 had a structured hint system whereby we could trade sanity for a hint. The website kept track of our sanity. We started with 100 sanity points and could trade 4 points for a mild hint and 6 points for a heavy hint. Solving puzzles restored some sanity.

A long hand-written prose journal entry dated September 15 1907.

Gameplay

Trip 1907 was a puzzle-based book with a detailed narrative and a heavily variable level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ Many of the puzzles in Trip 1907 solved elegantly. If we struggled, we took a break and returned later to find a workable solution.

– Early on, the web app seemed to have intentionally hidden hyperlinks that were critical to puzzling. This may have been easier to find on desktop, but the lack of hover-states on mobile made them almost impossible to find. This made a fairly straightforward puzzle infuriating.

– Some puzzles didn’t fit together cleanly. Some of these weaker puzzles were a little obtuse; others seemed deliberately misleading.

In-game: Illustration of a hooded cultist saying, "What?"

– Midway through Trip 1907, a puzzle completely changed the rules of the book without any warning or sufficient cluing. Once the shift happened, we knew what to look for, but the change was needlessly brutal.

+ The illustrations were beautiful, even if they weren’t all that relevant to the puzzles.

+/- The story was entertaining and generally well written and compelling. The online content, however, struggled with readability. The center justification and font choice made the act of reading the story uncomfortable. It also could have been edited down by, say, 20%.

+ If we’d wanted to completely ignore the story and focus entirely on the puzzles we could have.

+ The hint system was baked into the web app, always accessible, and tied to a Lovecraftian sanity point system. Solving puzzles earned sanity; using hints burned sanity.

– When we really needed a hint, the hint system rarely provided anything helpful. We were typically caught up on some small late-puzzle detail. The hints usually pointed to concepts that we had already figured out. Additionally, because the hints were blind, and we were penalized sanity points for taking them, it was extra irritating to receive information we already knew.

– Trip 1907 required us to solve it linearly. This meant that if we got stuck on a puzzle, we couldn’t advance at all until we’d solved it. As a result, we put the book down for weeks at a time.

– Two late-game puzzles utterly shattered the mythology of the book. I might have forgiven this if the puzzles were any good, but I think they were also the two weakest puzzles in the entire book.

Tips for Playing

  • Playing Trip 1907 requires a copy of the book, an internet connected device, pencil (or Frixion pens), and scissors.
  • Headphones are optional.

Order your copy of Trip 1907, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Apply to the Immersive Design Summit

Do you create immersive entertainment? Are you interested in sharing ideas, creating friendships, and inspiring new projects?

The Immersive Design Summit (IDS) aims to further the art, design, and business of immersive experience design by supporting a spectrum of creators in the genre.

Immersive Design Summit stage.

If you create escape rooms, IDS is seeking to bring you into this growing immersive community. Share your knowledge and learn from other creators.

Details

  • Dates: February 22-23, 2019
  • Location: Swedish American Hall in San Francisco, CA
  • Application Deadline: Sunday, November 18th at 11:59pm Pacific
  • Applying to attend is free
  • If you get accepted, a ticket will cost $495
  • Full and partial scholarships are available.

The 2019 event will include twice the people and twice the content as in 2018.

Immersive Design Summit audience.

About IDS

IDS is a co-production of No Proscenium, Epic Immersive, and First Person Travel.

The event brings together creators from immersive/ interactive/ site-specific theatre, alternate reality games, escape rooms, virtual/ mixed/ augmented reality, and live action role playing.

For more information, read the inclusion statement.

Immersive Design Summit 2019 speaker grid.

Whom will you meet?

You will hear from: Mycotoo, Magic Leap, Dreamscape Immersive, Refinery 29, Participation Design Agency, SYPartners, Strange Bird Immersive (2017 Golden Lock-In Award recipients), The Tension Experience/ Theatre Macabre, Shunt, and Giant Spoon.

More speakers are still to be announced.

Speakers from last year will be returning in different capacities. These include Two Bit Circus, The Speakeasy SF, Scout Expedition Co., Just Fix It Productions, Overlook Film Festival, Meridian Adventure Co., Capital W, Whisperlodge, and Oculus.

Room Escape Artist will be attending as media. We look forward to seeing you there!

Boston: Escape Room Fan Shindig on December 16

We’re hosting a get-together in Boston in December!

This is a casual gathering for folks to meet each other and chat about escape rooms and other immersive entertainment.

Two smiley face stick figures carrying the final two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place.

Details

  • Sunday, December 16
  • 10:30am – 1:00pm (yes this is in the morning)
  • Talk at 11:00am
  • Room Escapers (3 School St, Boston, MA 02108 inside The Old Corner Bookstore)
  • Please bring a food or beverage to share (no alcohol)
  • Note that there is no elevator at this location.

Why Boston?

We’ll be visiting Boston to attend Club Drosselmeyer that evening. We know lots of other folks will be in town for this event. Before we all get dressed in our 1941 finery… let’s meet up in the present day.

Who should attend?

Escape room players, bloggers, podcasters, designers, owners, operators… and anyone who is even just a little bit escape-room curious.

We also welcome other immersive entertainment goers and creators. You don’t need to be escape-room focused to join this conversation.

If you’re in and around Boston, come on out; we’d love to meet you!

Speaking

We’ll be giving a short talk during the get-together.

We’re going to:

  • tell stories about some of our favorite escape rooms from our travels
  • discuss trends in escape rooms
  • share perspective on where we think the medium is going
  • unpack what the changes mean for the players

RSVP

Please RSVP on Facebook or by contacting us.

Pode [Review]

Pode

Rock-Star Love

Developer & Publisher:  Henchman & Goon

Date Played: August – September, 2018

Platform: Nintendo Switch

Duration: 10-15 hours, 20 hours for completionists

Price: $24.99 on Nintendo eShop

REA Reaction

Pode was a gorgeous platform puzzler that never fully matched its beauty with puzzle brilliance.

Playing Pode felt like walking through a Scandinavian fairy tale. I discovered ancient art embedded in the rock walls and made it glow. I turned drab landscapes into verdant gardens. In the end, I helped two elemental beings puzzle their way up a mountain to find their eternal happiness.

Glo and Bulder looking into one another's eyes with the mountain in the background.

Some levels garnered a satisfying “aha moment;” others left me with the experience of deja vu. The diversity of the environments was so impressive that I wished such consistent attention had been put into the puzzles.

Pode is best for those who want to see beautiful video game art shine while tackling some mostly-good platform levels in an adorable couch co-op.

Glo and Bulder blushing holding hands on a stone in the middle of lava.

Who is this for?

  • Co-op loving couples
  • Patient parents who want to teach their preteens problem-solving
  • Fans of Wall-E

Why play?

  • Adorable character interactions in an aesthetically lush environment
  • The joy of collaborating with your partner to overcome a challenge

Story

Pode began with a star named Glo falling from the sky. She despaired at her fate on Earth until she met a rock named Bulder. He offered to help her get to the top of the highest peak in the land and back into the heavens.

Glo and Bulder looking at each other with an aurora glowing behind them.

Glo and Bulder each had special qualities. She was lighter than air. He was magnetic. Their auras inspired Mother Nature. Wherever Glo stepped, plants sprung from the earth. Bulder loved crystals and they erupted from rock faces as he passed by.

After some early success, their hands touched, revealing the slightest spark. Could this be the beginning of a beautiful relationship?

Setting

Pode took place in caves leading to the top of a mountain… but it was far from a dank and dismal place. Through our special abilities we felt like demi-gods, commanding nature to bloom, blossom, shine, and sparkle.

Backgrounds felt hand painted and the lighting details added to the artistry of the world’s creation. When Glo walked past a stalagmite, her light cast shadows and lit the facets of the rock in all the ways they would in nature.

Glo and Bulder holding hands and looking upon the mountain.

Gameplay

In each area of Pode, we aimed to get from the starting point of an area to a seemingly unreachable exit by coordinating the talents of Glo & Bulder. The power of nature was our constant companion, but just as often, it was the source of an obstacle before us. We encountered waterfalls, darkness, and a seemingly endless number of cliffs that were slightly too high to jump up to.

I played the first half of Pode with a partner who didn’t have a lot of experience with platform puzzlers. She was drawn in by the visuals and the characters, but loved the fun of getting here-to-there. Pode had a good tutorial area at the beginning and she and was offering solutions right away.

Unlike most platformers, there were no enemies to avoid. This makes it more approachable to inexperienced gamers. If both co-op partners are new to platformers, they will find some frustrating moments. My ability to jump accurately, for example, helped a great deal. When we did miss jumps, we were forced to repeat multi-step processes to get back into position.

Glo and Bulder holding hands while walking down a narrow path into a volcano.

Analysis

➕  Pac-Man style interludes between levels moved the love story along in a subtle but touching way. It was cute without being cutesy.

Glo and Bulder holding hands in a beautiful cave with glowing crystals, and luminescent plants.

➕  Fun moments delighted me and my co-op partner. The first time I (as Bulder, the rock) stood on her head (as Glo, the star) to get across a pond, we literally LOL’ed.

➖  The game uses a hub-world system where we could access two areas at a time. This led to a mostly linear experience. When we were stuck in an area, we were stuck good.

➖ At around the midpoint, cluing largely dropped away and I was convinced I was missing something obvious, which led to frustration.

➖ After our heroes grew all the plants and crystals in a level, the Switch sometimes experienced “chug” or slowdown. There were too many objects to render everything in real time. In a game where jumping accuracy was important, this was an unwelcome complication.

➕ A fast-travel system allowed me to go back to areas where I didn’t finish a puzzle or find a collectible.

Glo activating her power in a beautiful volcano.

➕ The attention to sound was well done. The folk-inspired music was appropriately mystical and added a lot to the overall experience. Glo & Bulder’s expressive chirps and grumbles inspired fond memories of Wall-E.

❓ There was no dying in Pode. When we fell off platforms, we popped back up unharmed. That was nice, and most of the time we returned to a place that made sense. Occasionally though, it sent us back too far and we’d have to repeat several steps.

Pode left me wishing there was more to it. Each character only got one additional ability as the game progressed. The levels’ solutions were similar throughout, rather than gradually upping the difficulty. The puzzles in final area were particularly easy to solve.

❓ I had seen many of the core platforming elements (wind, pressure pads) executed more inventively in other platformers, but the puzzles worked and inspired us to do the occasional victory fist-bump as we progressed.

Glo and Bulder holding hands in a cave.

Tips For Playing

  • Glo could use her shine to find hidden art in the walls of the caves and Bulder could open metal flowers. While lovely, these collectible elements were completely optional and had no effect on forward progress in the game. The only exception was the cave art at the end of each level. It often helped us solve the final puzzle.
  • Pressing “Y” allowed us to swap our controls between the two characters. This was useful when one player had an idea for solving the level but they needed the abilities of the other character. Without this, there would have been a lot of controller-swapping.