Clue Cracker – 3-pack Online Escape Games (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2 players

Price: £9.99 for one game, £24.99 for all three

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Theme:

From the Clue Cracker website:

Bored of watching Coronavirus updates? Not sure which wall to stare at for the next two hours? Well, fear not! The Clue Cracker team have decided if YOU can’t come to our Escape Game, we will bring our Escape Game to YOU!

We have created a series of online Escape Games to suit every skill, ability and interest! The games can be played remotely from the comfort of your own home and you don’t need a printer! All you will need is a computer, laptop or mobile device to play on. It may be handy to have a pen and paper for your workings out, and perhaps a nice cool drink to hand for when the clock starts ticking and the adrenaline gets going!

First Impressions:

Clue Cracker has created a set of three online escape games for play at home during the pandemic, and we couldn’t wait to try them out. With a wide array of themes, and production values that seemed to be above average for your usual at home escape experience, these games appeared to be an excellent time! For this review, since there are three separate experiences, I’ve broken each one out into its own section, beginning with the easiest game, and moving toward the hardest. This is our recommended order of play as well, for the smoothest difficulty curve.

Escape Extinction Island (Easy):

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Extinction Island is a top secret, man made island that has been recently used to breed long extinct dinosaur. As Archeologists based in Kent, we’ve been called by our mentor Professor McDougall to help him escape the island after the dinosaurs had broken loose! We only have sixty minutes to get the good Professor out and secure the island, so we had to work quickly!

Escape Extinction Island was a great introduction to Clue Cracker’s online escape games, with clear, unambiguous puzzles, and an easy overall difficulty. Though the game itself wasn’t overly difficult, we did find the puzzles to be fun introductory challenges that will appeal to novice puzzlers and enthusiasts just looking for a well designed, but not overly challenging escape diversion. The difficulty curve was very gentle, but did ramp up into some nice climactic challenges, a few of which provided some satisfying ah ha moments once we sussed out the trick to solving. The videos presented between each puzzle stage are fantastic, with a bombastic actor playing the part of Professor McDougall, spurring us along and chewing up all the scenery as he goes.

If you’re feeling competitive, try to beat our completion time of 20 minutes and 41 seconds with no hints!

Fairground Felony (Medium):

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Faskin’s Fairground has come to town, and we’ve been invited to check out the rides and games for free! Unfortunately, however, the free tickets are too good to be true, as it seems a madman is on the loose, and he’s taken the various carnival workers hostage! It’s up to us to solve his puzzles and save the fair within the next 90 minutes, otherwise the solution to the mystery will disappear with us!

Fairground Felony is a definite jump in difficulty, presenting some very creative puzzles and mind twisting logic! After the introduction of Escape Extinction Island, we found the interface easy to navigate, and really enjoyed this more challenging game. All puzzles still made good sense, and the rise in difficulty was due to puzzles being more intricately  layered, with clues to their solutions more subtly hidden rather than obtuse puzzling and red herrings. I really loved the variety of puzzle types to be discovered within this game, and there were several entertaining “interactions” with some of the characters integrated into the enigmas. There was a wider array of characters within this game, and I very much enjoyed the over the top portrayal the actor brought to every performance. A particular favorite of mine was the magician, who not only delivered a fit of laughter, but a very satisfying moment of revelation once we solved the puzzle he was involved with.

We did notice once that if we did not pause a video while it was running and entered a solution successfully, the video’s sound continued to play over the next part of the game with no ability to go back and stop the video, which could be an issue if the next puzzle requires sound as well. There was also a logic puzzle we weren’t overly thrilled with, as it slowed down the pace for a somewhat longer term solve that didn’t seem to fit as well with the others. It was still well integrated, and presented a fair challenge, it just seemed to overstay its welcome, length-wise.

For the competitive, we completed Fairgound Felony in 47 minutes and 34 seconds without hints!

The Haunting of Harlequin House (Hard):

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The Haunting of Harlequin House found us moving into our newly purchased home. The large manor is just perfect for us, and even comes with it’s own ghost! Unfortunately, it seems the ghost has some unfinished business, and if we can’t get it sorted within the next 90 minutes, we might not live to enjoy our new home!

The Haunting of Harlequin House really brings the challenge, presenting a tough, but fair run of puzzles. Though this was definitely the most difficult of Clue Cracker’s challenges, it was absolutely my favorite of the three. The puzzles themselves were all incredibly clever, and I really have trouble choosing a favorite, as they were all a lot of fun to solve, with multiple ah ha moments to be enjoyed! Harlequin House also added in a fantastic meta puzzle that ensured that our final solve would tie everything together in a neat and highly satisfying final package. We very much appreciated that the game directed us to write down our solutions, as this becomes very important during the end game. The videos for Harlequin House are meant to be somewhat spooky, but never become overly scary, with a few silly jump scares here and there, and an overall tone of light hearted humor that runs throughout. I really loved some of the sight gags that the ghost was involved in, and this humor really made the experience for us.

We also noticed here that the previous problem with videos not automatically ending after moving on persisted. (At this point, we should’ve known.) It would, however, be nice if in a future update, this could be corrected, or, at the least, a back button be implemented.

If you’d like some competition to further spur you on, we escaped Harlequin House in 52 minutes and 15 seconds with no hints!

Final Overall Thoughts:

All three games are well developed, and we appreciated how clear inputting our answers was; we were given immediate feedback on whether we were correct or not, and once we’d determined the correct password or sequence, it was always intuitive and logical. The timer is always visible at the top, allowing you to see how much time remains, and there is a tracker that gives players a general idea of how much time remains, ensuring they are able to gauge how well they are doing, and if a hint is needed. The creators have done a great job combining energetic, over the top humor with inspired gameplay, and I hope they continue to create these sorts of games in the future, as this set of games were an amazing time. On the whole, though these games can be purchased individually, I highly recommend picking up the discounted complete pack, and playing all three in sequence made for an entertaining couple hours of fun! The only overall downside we found to this pack was once you’ve played through each game, you cannot go back. Though puzzle games do have limited replayability, it would be nice to retain the ability to play again, as I do enjoy revisiting some of my favorite puzzle games years later.

Verdict:

Clue Cracker’s online escape room complete collection is a brilliant set of at home escape experiences! We truly loved working through each of them, and once we’d started, we couldn’t stop until the whole pack had been completed. Filled with clever conundrums, humorous videos, and excellent presentation, I absolutely recommend picking up all three. There’s certainly something here for everyone, from complete newbie to hardened puzzling veteran. Pick up your games here! And if you’d like to get a quick taste of how these games work before buying, the quick and easy “Disappearance of DJ McDee” is available here. As a heads up, this is definitely a simpler game, (it took us 5 minutes and 11 seconds to complete, for reference,) so be aware that the paid experiences are certainly more challenging.

9/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Clue Cracker provided our team with complementary games.

 

 

 

Get the F Out Room – The Experiment (Remote Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 3-10 players (We recommend 3-4 players)

Price: $30 per person, 3 person minimum

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Digital Juice to be served.

Theme:

From the Get the F Out Room website:

Participants needed in an escape room study. Looking for all ages, male & female to participate in a psychological study of escape rooms.  It will take 60 min of your time. Juice will be served.

First Impressions:

I’d heard about The Experiment previously, from folks who made their way out to California, and it sounded exactly like a game I’d like to play. A meta-escape room experience, including some light horror themes masked within a pirate themed escape? Sign me up! Unfortunately, being on the other side of the country, it was dubious whether we would be able to experience this game, but luckily, due to the magic of the internet, we would finally get to see what all the fuss is about! We were invited to this experience by our friends at EscapetheRoomers, and we were excited to join them!

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High Points:

First and foremost, it is important to mention that there is indeed juice. While it was digital, and we could only look at it, the juice is not a lie. I repeat, the juice is not a lie. In other news, The Experiment was a beautiful room, boasting a huge set, great sound and lighting effects, and subtle touches that reward players who seek out story details. One particular moment stood out to me when all of us noticed a small detail that triggered us all to shout, “Oh that’s [REDACTED]!” (We actually shouted redacted, it was weird.) Technical wizardry is implemented in excellent ways, with some astounding reveals, both of which we did not see coming at all. Our Game Master, Josh, did a great job of ensuring that the camera was in just the right place to catch these moments as well, without giving anything away. Speaking of our GM/Avatar, Josh did a fantastic job of leading us through the room as his character, Bob. Virtual rooms are always one hundred percent more entertaining when the Avatar really gets into character and banters with us, so we really appreciate the extra mile Josh went to ensure his character was realistically portrayed. We also highly, highly, appreciate how streamlined Josh has made searching the room. It can never be overstated that enthusiasts are bad at finding hidden objects, and it becomes so much harder in digital rooms if this streamlining isn’t present.

The story line of the room is awesome, with things starting out fairly benign, and continuing to build intensely towards the finale. The puzzles and interactions play upon this theme beautifully as we worked though the experience, and enthusiasts will very much enjoy how even the simplest of escape room rules are subverted to create a highly entertaining experience on top of the game itself. One particular moment that I adored comes after a fantastic reveal, and all of our expectations about what would come next were turned upside down by the time we reached the excellent moment of revelation about what we were meant to do. The game flow is smooth, and though the room is fairly linear, we didn’t feel at any time that any of us were just sitting around while others solved. While the game itself isn’t overly difficult, it does present several good moderate challenges, and plays with perspective several times, encouraging out of the box thinking throughout. Several items have been translated to the virtual experience well, with PDFs sent to players before their game. These have been password protected, and while they don’t quite have the tactile feel of opening a lock, it is nice to “open” something when you’ve solved a puzzle.

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Low Points:

At one point, colors become important, and had we been physically within the room, I’m sure we would’ve noticed them immediately, but due to the remote nature of the game, we thought the color that should’ve been a hint regarding what to do next was just gray, which threw us off. A brighter color painted on for the virtual experience, or perhaps a call out by the Game Master might help ensure this puzzle doesn’t become unintentionally obtuse. A little bit of the experience is lost in translation to the virtual space, but not much, and it was definitely a fun experience! I would certainly be interested in playing the full scale, live version in the future, should fortune find me in California, however. The camera tended to be somewhat shaky at times as well, not quite triggering motion sickness feelings, but I did get a little dizzy.

Verdict:

The Experiment is a fantastic experience, and I’m glad we had a chance to check it out. Per their website, this is a limited time virtual game, so I recommend checking it out as soon as possible if you have a chance. If not, I feel confident that I can recommend the live experience as well! The great storyline, entertaining puzzling, and subversion of escape room tropes are sure to keep any group of players immersed and entertained. Book your session working with Dr. J. Elias here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Get the F Out Room provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

Blue Fish Games – The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-4

Price: $35 per box

I say!

Theme:

From the Blue Fish Games website:

Inventor Stephen P. Hincks has been tirelessly developing a set of confounding puzzles and he is now ready to present them to you.

Solve his enigmas by pairing mysterious physical materials contained in this cryptic parcel with clues from the online elevator. Use the browser-based elevator to verify solutions and navigate through the floors.

Are you ready to outsmart Mr. Hincks and add your name to the Hincks Hall of Fame?

First Impressions:

When The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks hit my doorstep, I was already excited to take a peek inside, as I was interested to see what sort of puzzling props and confounding curios were included to help us ascend the titular elevator. I was pleased to see a colorful and varied assortment of interesting pieces, and couldn’t wait to see how they all fit together during out journey on Mr. Hicks’s Curious Elevator! (And fit together they did, as this is one of those rare boxes where literally everything was important!)

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High Points:

As a little background, I have a love/hate relationship with puzzle hunts. DASH and Puzzled Pint are generally some good ones that I’ve enjoyed, but far too often puzzle hunts are wildly obtuse, poorly designed games that require players to read the minds of the designers. Luckily though, while The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks is definitely a puzzle hunt style game, we absolutely loved it! It takes the best elements of puzzle hunts while leaving out the frustrating bits, which results in an experience that is an absolute joy to work through! The game contains a moderate to high level of difficulty, but at no point did we feel the need to make herculean logical leaps, as the game flow is beautifully implemented, leading players through the linear path using subtle hints and encouraging out of the box thinking. There is a dense amount of puzzles to work through, and they are all incredibly varied, ensuring that each level of the game remains fresh and exciting. For a team of my wife and myself, there was always plenty to do and though the game is fairly linear, most puzzles have enough layers to work through that no one is going to feel left out during the solving. Due to how creative the game is on the whole, it is difficult to select a favorite puzzle, they’re all that well designed!

I love the theme of an eccentric puzzling dandy creating a town of his own that’s absolutely devoted to puzzles, and I may want to be Mr. Hincks when I grow up. While the theme isn’t strictly important to the puzzling if that’s all you’re looking for, it certainly brings a lot of personality to the proceedings, and instills a light hearted, humorous aura. Almost every single puzzle had multiple layers to puzzle through, and there were mountains of ah ha moments around every turn. To say that this game was a satisfying solve is an understatement. Add to that a couple of surprises that we definitely did not see coming, and I can say that Mr. Hincks’s elevator is easily one of our favorite games of the year. I’m very excited to see what comes next, I’m hoping Mr. Hincks has a few more banal methods of transportation to spice up! Perhaps The Peculiar People Mover of Mr. Hincks? I’d play it.

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Low Points:

Though the run up to the Meta Puzzle was an exciting ride, the climax of the game fell a little flat for us, due to the somewhat simpler nature of the puzzle itself as well as the requirement of popping back and forth between several screens of the interface itself. Though the website is a nice complement to the experience, it sometimes feels as though it gets in its own way, as there doesn’t seem to be a clear way to close out of some windows, and sometimes, especially at the beginning, it can feel somewhat unintuitive as to what bits of the screen are active. We used a smartphone during the game for easy access, so this may have affected our experience, admittedly.

Verdict:

The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks is an absolute blast! I had an amazing time working through the many conundrums left behind by the eccentric Mr. Hincks, and couldn’t wait for more, leading me to inquire about The Hincks Gazette, the monthly spin off run of puzzles. A review about that one will be forthcoming, but for now, know that I recommend getting your hands on a copy of the 2nd run of The Curious Elevator of Mr. Hincks as soon as you can! The wonderfully well designed puzzles, great props, and engaging theme make this game a perfect puzzle for players of any experience level. Take a ride on the Curious Elevator here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Blue Fish Games provided a complementary box.

Red Lantern Escape Rooms – The Hardin House Mystery (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: We recommend 2-4 players

Price: $60 for up to 4 players, $15 per additional player

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

80s Flashback!

Theme:

From the Red Lantern Escape Rooms website:

The year is 1988. You and your high school pals are trying to find out what happened to a classmate who’s gone missing at Hardin House—you know, the house with all the locks and puzzles? The house where a famous archaeologist disappeared without a trace a few years back? The house where people see strange lights and hear odd noises? What could possibly go wrong!?!

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First Impressions:

I’d seen references to The Hardin House Mystery around some of our usual Facebook group haunts, and it seemed like an interesting take on the escape room genre. With photographs of what looked to be a 70s or 80s style home, and an audio based set up, I was interested to see how Red Lantern Escape Rooms approached this genre of at home game, as we’ve only played a couple other of this type before. We were joined by Lee Ballan, creator of one of our favorite lock down experiences, The Pyramid, and we were looking forward to puzzling through this mystery with him!

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High Points:

The Hardin House Mystery started off with a quick tutorial about how we were going to interact with the game during our adventure. Basically, this game is set up like a somewhat more audio visual Dungeons and Dragons session, but without the dice. A picture of the house or the room of the house we were in would be displayed, and we could ask our Game Master to search whatever we tagged on screen, and as we located pivotal items or areas, a yellow circle would appear to let us know what it was, and sometimes would zoom in on particular points. We could also find hidden easter eggs, which, for us, became a highly entertaining, and often times hilarious obsession! The stage was further well set by including great background sounds and an 80s soundtrack to die for! The whole experience reminded me of one of my favorite Point and Click adventures of late, The Displacement, in that this game uses photographs of real places to deliver a superbly plotted and puzzle heavy experience. Our Game Master’s GMing skills were brilliant, and his enthusiastic descriptions and willingness to improv and play in the space with us was much appreciated. In fact, in true tabletop RPG GM fashion, he was flexible rewarded our crazy ideas when they made good sense. Another game this reminded me of was Gone Home, as the exploration of the titular Hardin House and the slowly evolving story line were a lot of fun, and incredibly interesting. Bits of foreshadowing abound, and each reveal is more satisfying than the last!

Puzzles are great, using each room to their fullest, and hiding clues in plain sight to great effect. The game is mostly linear, with each room tasking players with finding all the important areas and items, which then require some outside the box thinking and puzzling in order to make the connections and arrive at the fantastic ah ha moments that led to opening the door to the next room! All interactions were highly intuitive, and the difficulty curve ramps slowly up, allowing for some easy wins at the beginning for players to find their footing, but introducing some challenging and superbly clever end game puzzles later. Though the game is linear, we traveled through the experience at a good clip, never feeling like any one thing took up too much of our time. Overall, The Hardin House Mystery is easily our favorite audio based escape room we’ve experienced thus far!

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Low Points:

I really don’t have anything critical to say about The Hardin House Mystery. The game went off without a hitch, and our Game Master was brilliant. We had an awesome time, and afterwards couldn’t come up with one low point.

Verdict:

I can certainly say without a doubt that The Hardin House Mystery is the most well designed and perfectly implemented audio escape room we’ve done so far! From start to finish, we were engaged with the story, puzzles, and a unexpectedly joyous hunt for easter eggs. I recommend checking this one out without reservation, and am certain absolutely anyone can have a fantastic time within the mysterious Hardin House! Book your time unraveling the secrets of this 80s adventure here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Red Lantern Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.

 

 

 

District 3 Escape Rooms – Haunted (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 2-4 players)

Price: $27 CAD per person (About $19.87 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

It’s actually a real nice house if you can overlook the murders…

Theme:

From the District 3 Escape Rooms website:

The family of this home is searching for a good trustworthy group of people to house-sit their manor for the Winter. During your time there, you learn about the caretaker and the family, the manor’s secrets, and that maybe this isn’t the dream stay you were after.

First Impressions:

District 3 Escape Rooms was recommended to us by the folks at the astounding Mystery Mansion Regina, so we couldn’t wait to see what their neighbors had in store! The spooky theme of Haunted called to me, being a horror themed game, and the sneak peeks I saw of the set during the intro video on their website looked great!

High Points:

The set design of Haunted is really great, starting off in a large room that is just filled to the brim with doors. The massive amount of doors is somewhat unsettling, and gives the experience somewhat of a surreal feeling. There was always the feeling that something horrifying could be around the corner of the balcony or behind any door, and the sense of unease can be palpable. Audio effects came through fairly clearly, though we had to ensure we stayed fully quiet during these moments, as sound came mostly through the room and was therefore slightly muted. Our Game Master/Avatar did a great job of searching the room for us and responding quickly to our directions, even when our directions were largely unintuitive nonsense, along the lines of “push the thingy!” They also did a fantastic job of ensuring that any time something exciting was triggered, the camera was in just the right place to appreciate it. Theming was excellent, and as the story continued to descend into madness, each new room displayed new horrors and surprises to enjoy! There were several awesome moments that were triggered by our progress, and it was interesting after the game to see how it all worked to create an amazingly immersive haunt.

The game flows excellently through a linear progression, and the game translates well to the virtual space. We enjoyed working together through many of the teamwork based puzzles in order to uncover the many secrets this otherwise unassuming house was hiding, and many of the interactions provided great ah ha moments that left us feeling satisfied. Clues were included subtly, but were clear enough to ensure each part of the process of solving the room was intuitive, yet challenging. One particular puzzle I really liked incorporated a lock itself into the puzzling, something I can’t say I’ve seen done before in any of the escape experiences we’ve done! Other puzzles are just as creative, with some solutions hiding deviously in plain sight, we just had to figure out how to find them. At the end of the game, we received points based on our time and how well we completed the room, with achievements for no hints, escaping with a good chunk of time left, and being the Online Division leaders for the room! I love District 3’s point based system, and the achievements were a lot of fun to see as well, as it added a extra special personal touch to the conclusion of the game.

Low Points:

Being one of District 3’s older rooms, it isn’t quite as evolved as some of their newer rooms may be, but we feel this works to their advantage as these sorts of rooms tend to work well virtually. Despite the more solution to lock style of gameplay, we had a great time, but I do know that some enthusiasts prefer a different style of game. Some puzzles may feel familiar to veteran solvers, but overall, I think District 3 does a good job of ensuring these interactions stay fresh as possible. One particular puzzle is a great idea, but suffers from players having to kitbash a method to ensure it is audible viturally between multiple remote sites. It may be helpful for there to be an additional inventory item once teams have demonstrated they know the concept of what is to be done, just in case audio degrades.

Verdict:

Haunted is a great spooky virtual game, and we had an amazing time working through the mystery of the Manor! This game would be perfect for players of all experience levels, as it challenged our group of veterans, but never becomes so difficult as to be obtuse. We had an awesome time with our Game Master, and cannot wait to see what District 3’s next online game is like. I absolutely recommend this room, and you can book your time house sitting here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: District 3 Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.