Amanda: Welcome to the GameGrrlz blog! Today we’re discussing the rogue like point and click adventure escape game Alleys. This is probably my favorite game so far this year- I’m surprised it isn’t more popular. It has a huge map to explore, full of twisty little passages (there’s something Zorkesque about it despite it having graphics). The graphics are clear and beautiful, with a dark, lonely feel. Gameplay relies on collecting cards which allow you to take actions (like a ladder card for reaching up high), and collecting keys and “check-ins”. At every new location there’s a little box you click, which flips up a little flag on the box, and you have checked in at that location. Keys and check-ins are your currency for opening doors, boxes, and drawers. The more keys and check-ins you accumulate, the more things you can open, expand your map, and find treasures. The game has a beautiful attention to detail, with many, many locations, varied puzzles, and tasks to accomplish. It has a bit of the feel of the “Room” games, although its gameplay is very different. This is a game for people who like to make maps, explore big areas, look for hidden objects, and solve puzzles.
I hesitate to criticize it at all, because it’s such a great and satisfying game, but I do have a few peeves. First, it keeps calling your location a “theme park,” which is odd, because there’s nothing theme-parky about the place. I suspect that’s a translation issue. Second, the game provides you with a map which you find somewhat early in the game, but the map isn’t very useful- it doesn’t show your current location and has no legend to tell you why some areas are blue. Third, there is a clue button which will spotlight areas you should look at for about a minute, but the clue button shows random numbers in some locations which apparently are telling you how many meters away from objects you are, and I never figured out why it did that- it was never useful and cluttered up the screen when I was looking for spotlighted areas. And fourth, my biggest pet peeve is that I unexpectedly and prematurely won the game before I had done many things. There was no warning that I would win, and no “undo” feature so I could get back to my game. You have to start all over again. And apparently there are multiple ways to escape and win, so it is easy to escape without meaning to. This just HAS to be fixed. Either a warning that this action will end the game, or an “undo” feature needs to be in place.
Overall, though, this game is really worth the purchase price, has high replayability, and is really fun. Simply wandering through the empty alleys, rooms, sewers, mines, and turrets is a joy.
Eva:Alleys is a fun romp if you like mazes, puzzles, collecting clues and solving a mysteries. I was genuinely impressed with the scope of the game and particularly appreciated the double duty of checking-in to locations (knowing you’ve been there before and gaining you entry to more locations) and the quirky little bits along the way that satisfied the puzzler in me. I feel that I got a lot of gameplay joy - until the end where it disappoints with gamus-interruptus.
Puzzlers like to puzzle and they don’t mind spending 6-8 hours doing so. We invest our time and want to be able to solve all the things before we feel we have won. When I escaped the theme park (that reminded me of Universal’s Harry Potter World complete with double-decker bus) I had not made it into all the rooms, figured out the where the treasure was hidden, visited the VIP room, delivered the produce or figured out why I collected so many pieces of coal if it was just for the key machine. I should not have been able to waltz out just because I collected four bits on a card. Now, I understand that replay is real and people enjoy beating their own time, but I simply was not motivated to do so.
Technically, navigation was pretty easy, the crickets and natural aural ambience made for a nice soundtrack, and having a lot to look at to inspire my next move (backpack, cards, hints) was great. However, the “?” button that revealed the proximity of missed assets (I’m guessing) also revealed things that were in rooms I was not standing in and pointed to objects I could not see. The map is beautiful, but I never knew where I was on the map and I could never tell if it revealed places I had visited or not. It needs a legend, a “you are here” dot, and maybe it could display token and flags I was missing.
Am I glad I played it? YES. It was a great trip to somewhere else with some fine and fun puzzles, but I feel slightly robbed of completion. I hope the additions and edits are made so I can play again when I’ve forgotten most of the solutions. Please keep us locked inside until we are done, solved it all and most importantly, have a firm understanding of why we had to do what we had to do, collect and solve if, in the end, it really didn’t matter.
Amanda: Welcome to the GameGrrlz blog! Today we’re discussing the new physics based iOS game Supertype by Philipp Stollenmayer. I just love this clever little game- it’s a great example of how to do a lot with a little. It requires you to type (or drop pre-typed letters by drawing lines to guide them) letters that hang over little obstacle courses and then drop the letters, trying to get them to touch dots that are obscured in some way by the obstacles. According to their shapes, they will navigate (or fail to navigate) the course below, in a quest to touch the dots. O’s, of course, roll, p’s will tip over to the right, q’s to the left. The dots on i’s and j’s will fall off the letters and go on their own trajectories. So it’s up to you to find the right letters to plug holes, make ramps, swing on pegs, and roll over bumps. And it’s REALLY fun puzzle solving, with clever solutions to minimalist but elegant problems. You’re rewarded when you win a level by a shower of newspaper confetti that scatters over your screen, which is a lovely reward for a level well played. There’s enough variation in the levels to keep you guessing, and you can hop between levels and come back to a thorny one, which I appreciate. Even when you’re failing at a level, it’s a joy to try different letters and see how they interact with the obstacles of that level.
Eva: Oh, joy! What a fun experience learning how every letter of the alphabet responds to gravity, weightlessness, jostling and interacting with each other! Supertype is a great game because you never feel like you are failing, but just experimenting with differently shaped tools with certain tendencies. You have to type letters, use a space or create a little finger-drawn bar, and considered the physics of the play. Once you hit the check, you’ll see if your string of letters or your bar achieves your goal. One game even featured my name, which was super cute, but that was just about all of the personal interaction you get here. No hints, no how-to-play; you just get going. While I like getting thrown to the wolves and getting it all figured out by my little lonesome, I wonder if other players would like a little more guidance. The beginning games are simple enough and you learn which letters with a hook, dot, or cup or are wide or slim enough to use in that challenge, and this is useful information as the walls get more challenging. They use actual wallpaper for background, and I’d like to see wallpaper that looks like it wasn’t torn out of Ethan Allen’s 1988 sample catalogue; but that’s the designer in me, and it did not make me enjoy the game any less. I can easily see this game becoming a sensation and a go-to for clever and endlessly engaging puzzling.
Amanda: Welcome to the Game Grrlz blog! Today we’re discussing the room escape company Komnata Quest and their New York City locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Komnata is a really interesting escape experience, because they run the gamut from blah escapes to decent escapes to stellar escapes, and since we’ve done many of their rooms, we thought we’d break down what they’re doing right and what they’re doing wrong. I’ll start by discussing their sets and art direction, which are always superb. Even in rooms we didn’t care for, the ambience was always amazing, the special effects were dazzling, and there was lots of attention to detail in making the room feel authentic. I’ll call out Maze of Hakaina in NYC, which was a terrific room in all ways, but the sets were just phenomenal. It genuinely felt like a maze, and there’s an actual wall of spikes that scared us. In Brooklyn, I’ll call out City of Ashes, which was a room that fell way short of expectations, but even so, the set design was just breathtaking, with so much attention to a post-apocalyptic feel that it was quite disappointing that the whole experience didn’t live up to the art.
Eva: I have a background in art direction and you’d think that a beautifully art directed room would weigh heavy on my experience. While it certainly makes me appreciate what goes into building a room, that is not nearly as important as the puzzles. Puzzles need to have two factors Komnata both excels and fails at: cleverness and mechanics. Boxed Up was an utter disaster as far as mechanics. At one point the game master had to stop the play to come in and fix something. The puzzles were hardly intriguing and the old technology (and lifeline) they had us use was unnecessarily difficult. It’s not puzzle solving if your 90’s cell phone button sticks; it’s a time waster and not fun. The combination of mediocre puzzles and wonky materials just made me not care if I escaped. The magic disappeared. On the other hand, Suicide Hotel at Komnata is one of my favorite examples of high functioning, great puzzles. The play was fluid, linear, smart and everything worked. Couple that with a creepy atmosphere and you have a solid game I can recommend to all - unless you get nightmares.
Amanda: Additionally, Komnata is wildly inconsistent with their game guides. I think we’ve never had a game guide as good as the one at Komnata in Manhattan who guided us in Cursed and Maze of Hakaina. He told us creepy stories while totally in character, monitored us well and gave us useful hints, and generally made the experiences much better. Maze was a first rate room and Cursed was a bit of a blah room (although the special effects were amazing- blood coming up out of the drain!), but the game guide was excellent for both and we really appreciated his dramatic approach to introducing us to the games and ushering us through. Contrast that experience with Komnata in Brooklyn, where we had a game guide who acted irritated with us when their technology wasn’t working, and whose heart clearly wasn’t in the fun and drama of the rooms. It makes a difference in the player’s experience of the room.
Eva: The word escape in Escape Rooms has a double meaning for those of us who love the thrill of literally escaping- it’s also, like a good movie or book, an escape. We want to forget the world around us for an hour and a guide is the beginning, middle, and end of that experience. I think it’s imperative for any Escape Room company to recognize that the guide makes a huge difference, and you’d think with an enterprise as big as Komnata, that the guide experience would be consistent. Hire the right people - those who love fellow puzzlers and relate to the players’ excitement and want to be a part of it. Satisfaction in a game, and lingering wow, are the result of the immersion and uninterrupted suspended belief. Komnata nails that in a good many of their rooms and misses it with others. The inconsistency renders all rooms a gamble… but we’ll still give all their rooms a whirl!
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And see our reviews of many of Komnata's rooms here!
Amanda: Welcome to the Game Grrlz blog! Today we’re discussing the lovely iOS puzzle game Prune. The game has a simple goal: prune the branches of a growing tree so that it grows to avoid obstacles and reach the light. Your tree can only grow so much, so careful pruning is required to get the growing branches into sunlight, where they blossom. There’s SO much to love about this game! The minimalistic artwork is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a game, and there’s something really zen about the gameplay, even when more stressful elements like lava are introduced. The controls are easy to use, the learning curve is gentle, and even if you screw it up and kill your tree, you just start again with no penalty. I played through all the levels several times and I really wish there were more levels- every time my tree blossomed it felt like such a wonderful reward. Wholly original, this game is a perfect example of how graceful, peaceful, and beautiful gaming can be.
Eva: Take a deep breath and Prune. There are few games I’ve played that really inspire peace, thoughtfulness and logic like Prune. Inspiring my inner earth goddess, this low-pressure and beautiful game requires strategic swipes to lop off branches of a growing bush or tree to maximize its growing power and find the sun. What’s more beautiful than that? The graphics are hypnotizing and gorgeous, the play gets more and more challenging and I just could not help but revel in the complexity. There’s no losing in Prune, you just have to keep going and try to keep your plants flourishing against the natural elements. It’s a great metaphor for life that I mused about during play- simply remove what you don’t need for health, strength, growth and, most importantly, keep playing.
Eva and Amanda are best friends who puzzle obsessively. Our focus is on iOS puzzle games, interactive fiction, and live room escapes.