Escape Rooms Everywhere You Look
I did an escape room once with my old group of housemates. While it definitely was a fun collaborative experience, some of our unorthodox methods of trying to solve the puzzle must have gotten us some raised eyebrows from those monitoring the room behind the scenes. I mean sure, filling liquid up to the right amount into a canister and then using that canister to weigh down a scale was quite fun, but perhaps because I relied on the communication with others the puzzles took much longer than intended. Thankfully Escape Academy, now presented on the Switch as the Complete Edition, makes the art of an escape room much easier to grasp. In fact, with online and local co-op enabled it made for some of the most fun one-on-one multiplayer I’ve had in a long time.
Escape Academy sees you becoming a student at the titular institution. A school fully dedicated to the art of escape, where you take classes on all sorts of subjects that teach you how to get away in dire situations. Taking you through a wide variety of locations, having an escape room in videogame form makes for an entertaining ride with scenarios that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with in real life. From a room slowly filling up with water, to a botanical garden that belongs to a bomb creator, Escape Academy is a wildly inventive location that reminded me of fictional schools like Wayside or even Hogwarts.
But of course a game based on escape rooms stands or falls with its puzzle design. While I don’t think that all scenarios are ranked equally, Escape Academy has a pretty great set of puzzles. What I think the escape scenarios do particularly well, is that they maintain a clever balance of slowly opening up to the more intricate design at play, while also teaching you the tricks you need to keep an eye out for. Take the monument garden for example, which starts off fairly easily with you needing to find paints to scribble your signature on the monument, but quickly devolves into opening safes, re-arranging items as well as understanding how to access the monument itself. Items you find along the way have a particular use, but realizing how they fit together is half the enjoyment of the puzzles.
This is where co-op gameplay truly shines. While it does have an effect on performance on Switch, walking around and discussing the possible solution with another player really makes the game come alive. The developers have also thought of some great features that make communication much easier. At any time in co-op, you can switch to the view of the other player. During my time with the game this was especially helpful with deciphering codes and messages as my friend was standing near the cipher, while I entered the code. You still may want to talk and communicate, but it lowers the barrier of entry by quite a lot. Two-player multiplayer might seem like a limitation, though in practice the rooms are definitely designed for one to two players. When playing alone I found myself taking little notes, which the game even recommends, but just having another player to talk to really improved the overall experience. The game supports local multiplayer as well, so it is probably a great game to play with a partner or friend on the couch.
The visual style of Escape academy is quite pleasing, but does occasionally struggle to really pop on Switch. Jagged edges, plain textures and a setback in fidelity withhold the game from really embracing its cell-shaded design. This is even worse in multiplayer, where the game really drops in visual fidelity. It is fortunately never required to read or spot small details, but it is clear that the game wasn’t designed from scratch with Switch in mind. The other major setback is that the story and characters aren’t that memorable. The goofy janitor Jeb, the mysterious principal and your rival student are just there and don’t add that much meaning to the story. They very much play into the flimsy tropes and characters you are used to from actual escape rooms. I also wasn’t particularly fond of the music, outside of the great title theme really isn’t that special.
Included with the Complete edition are additional level packs that feature multiple new settings and escape rooms. These are, in my opinion, of a much higher difficulty than the base game and provide some good challenges after the main story. Here some of my gripes with the music and characters are relieved, especially with the Time Travel pack, though the overall story is still straightforward. I’d definitely recommend playing these after you’ve earned your diploma from the academy itself.
Escape Academy : The Complete edition is a great collection of escape-room puzzles that are a must-play for fans of point-and-click adventure games and looking for a fun time racking their brains. The co-op, whether local or online is an absolute must and improves the experience by a mile. While you won’t get too much out of the story and characters, the additional level packs add on top of the good serving of puzzles you’ll encounter. I have to admit that after my time with Escape Academy, some actual escape rooms will have a hard time living up to this experience.