We've been tackling puzzles to be the greatest escapist of all-time in Coin Crew Games' debut title.
While puzzle games are quite commonplace, entire titles frames around escape rooms are not. Sure, over the years there have been escape room games, for example The Room, but as far as I can recollect, there has yet to be an escape room type experience as that of Coin Crew Games' Escape Academy. You see this title literally gives players a bunch of individual escape rooms to beat, and ties it all together with a storyline that is more farfetched than it is rooted in reality. But that doesn't change the fact that the puzzles and rooms themselves are pretty enthralling problems to tackle, and I'd know this as I've been playing it as of late.
But before I dive into the mechanics and the sorts of problems you have to solve, let me just provide a very brief rundown of the story. The idea is that you are scouted to join the elusive Escape Academy, a school where you are taught to be one of the best escapists of all-time by various lecturers. The concept is hands-on learning, so you have to beat escape rooms to earn badges (similar to badges in Pokémon) and to prove your skill and brilliance at puzzle solving, and for what it's worth, this is pretty much what the entire narrative revolves around. I say this, as there is also a conspiracy and various truly bizarre scenarios that all unravel, which quite frankly feel completely ridiculous at times. But then again, one does not come to an escape room game for its story, so to hope the narrative would be its strongest point would clearly be misguided expectations.
Fortunately, the puzzle solving (which is the meat of the game) is offered up to a far higher quality. Each room has its own theme and end goal, be it defusing a bomb or curing yourself of a poisoning, and it's your duty to crack a variety of smaller problems to be able to best the end goal. These smaller problems are where the developers really get to flex their skills, as you can go from having to solve a sudoku to get the correct vending machine order, to having to determine the chemical composition of gas in different unnamed canisters by combining them and seeing what reaction they give off.
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I will say, from what I experienced in Escape Academy, the puzzles and problems aren't particularly perplexing, rather you should be able to solve anything that is in front of you by remaining level-headed and sticking to common sense. Generally, whenever you hit an impasse and can't figure out a puzzle, the answer is literally staring you right in the face, it's quite a straightforward game in that sense.
In fact, I'd go a step further to say that the puzzles are often a little too easy, and really lack a ramp up in challenge as the game progresses. Sure there is a time limit for each room to keep you on your toes, but from what I've encountered, this isn't a tight time frame and you'll never run out of time in a level. Assuming you do find yourself a little lost on a puzzle however, there is a hints system that will pretty much give you the answer to the problem you are facing, and from what I can tell, there's no real repercussions to using and even abusing this system - so feel free to hint away as you please.
You will need to keep some writing material nearby when playing however (I used Post-it notes) as some of the solutions will require remembering codes, or jotting things down so that you get to the correct solution in the end. If you don't, you'll simply be making your own life significantly harder, which when you're against the clock and have a fairly long list of problems to best in one level, that added challenge doesn't do a lot to better the gameplay experience.
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But what I will say is while Escape Academy didn't really have me racking my brain in search of solutions to the many problems it offers, I was thoroughly entertained. Considering the full story is probably around 4-6 hours long, it'd be more than possible to complete this game in one sitting, as the variety of puzzles and levels is so broad that you really don't feel like you're repeating yourself or facing too much similarity in the game design. Of course, this does mean that Escape Academy faces a bit of a challenge when it comes to replayability, as once you've solved a puzzle and beaten a level, there's not really any reason to go back and tackle it again, so don't expect to find new problems to face if you decide to repeat a level.
While it has its flaws, the fact that Escape Academy is designed in such a way where mechanical skill is replaced by cognitive skill does mean that this title should be more accessible to a wider range of players. What I mean is that the more concise and generally less demanding levels and puzzles should mean that this game is ideal for anyone less versed in playing video games, and similarly suits a cooperative experience rather well. For that reason, I commend Coin Crew Games for the way they have designed Escape Academy.
Still, would it have been nice to have more rooms and puzzles to conquer? Absolutely. Would it have been nice to have a narrative that actually felt the slightest bit engaging? Yes. And also, would it have hurt to have challenges or extra objectives to make it worthwhile to return to and replay previous levels? Without a doubt. Hence why Escape Academy has its flaws. But, if you're looking for a game to conquer in an evening, or looking for an engaging way to cooperatively play something, then there's not a lot to go wrong with this indie puzzler.
7 / 10
Approachable game design. Puzzles and levels are always unique. Engaging problems.
Poor replayability. Short. Not very challenging. Narrative is one of its weakest areas.