Escape Academy Review – School of Hard Locks

    Title: Escape Academy
    Developer: Coin Crew Games
    Release Date: July 13, 2022
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: iam8bit
    Genre: Puzzle

Having limited space and time to maneuver your way out of danger sounds daunting, yet escape rooms have been thriving over the last decade as a major form of entertainment and bonding. There’s such a thrill that comes with the sense of urgency as you use intuition and teamwork to find a solution to being trapped. Escape Academy encapsulates that feeling and does well to gamify it, making it a fun and captivating experience.

You begin with a fairly simple tutorial room to get you used to the controls and gameplay. This tutorial is rousing as it titillates your brain to immediately find the way out. What’s interactive versus what’s not is fairly straightforward, meaning you don’t have to endlessly click around the room, hoping for anything of substance. From there, your puzzles become bigger and larger in scale, meaning the level of complexity grows over time.

As you finish the tutorial, you get introduced to the characters and campus of Escape Academy. It was during these interactions with the characters that I started to notice the stylish flair the game has. The aesthetic is pleasing to the eye, as the characters and environments are cel-shaded, vibrant, and colorful. Adding to the visuals is the enthralling sound design, as each level has its own unique atmosphere of tension and quirkiness. 

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In Escape Academy, you’re a student hoping to become a professional Escapist — and the academy is the perfect place to do so. Your range of environments are limited, as you only have access to certain areas of the campus map. Even the characters, for as varied as they can be, are so few, with most of them being faculty for the academy. In fact, you have only one other student you interact with, making you wonder if this academy even has a student population.

There is a plot, but it mainly serves as the catalyst for getting to the meat of the game, which are the escape puzzles. Though there doesn’t need to be an extensive plot, especially for a title of this genre, it did feel a bit lackluster despite the variety of characters you get introduced to. The only bits and pieces of characterization come from the tiny and sporadic excerpts of dialogue scattered throughout. It’s a bit unfortunate, as some narrative angles are pushed by character actions, but you don’t have enough time with the characters to feel any of the impact.

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If it’s not the short moments of the story, the rest of Escape Academy is all escape-room puzzles, escalating in intricacy over time. The content and mechanics of these puzzles are all interactive and creative. While there weren’t many puzzles that blew my mind, they were still enjoyable to think through and solve. It’s always a delight when you find one clue that leads to another and follow the cycle until you reach the overarching puzzle and find your way out.

Each of them were excellently themed too, ensuring that there’s a solid mix of puzzle elements and level design. What’s fun is how quickly this game escalates to a level of danger, as many of these puzzles are lethal, giving you a bigger sense of urgency to get the heck out of there. For the level design, they can range from a library to a courtyard to a tea party. Most, if not all, puzzles are engaging and keep you on your toes for what could be next.

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While the puzzles were exciting, there were minimal frustrations I had here and there. In particular, some mechanics weren’t very smooth, and there were a couple of situations where the outcomes felt underwhelming or unnecessary. Nevertheless, they were all stimulating, having you wonder how one clue can help you move forward. The time limits were more than fair, giving you ample time to escape. If anything, I wish some puzzles were harder, as I always finished with an excess of time left.

Though Escape Academy can be played single-player, I would highly recommend playing it with another person in co-op. The split-screen system works nicely and solving puzzles with another person can increase your enjoyment significantly. Most escape rooms are done with others anyway, so this would be the best method to enjoy the experience. While I had a lot of fun, I was a bit disappointed with the length of the game, as it felt very short. But, at the same time, time flew by because of all the fun I had, so the experience was still a pleasant one. Depending on your skill level, Escape Academy will run you 4-6 hours. 

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A few more levels could have done the game wonders, especially with how difficulty is presented throughout. Each level has a difficulty level assigned to it, ranging from 1 to 5 keys, 5 being the most difficult. With the small number of escape room levels, you don’t really get a chance to gauge your progression. While the complexity does match the levels, the difficulty can be somewhat unfitting. I felt that some of the “more difficult” levels were equally as challenging, if not easier. The slightly inaccurate scaling doesn’t impact the overarching level of amusement, so this is a minor issue.

Coming into Escape Academy, I was prepared for an exhilarating and mentally stimulating time. What I got did deliver on this to a great degree, but it had some points and facets that could use some improvement. I was in awe seeing the tangled web unfold as I kept solving question after question, pondering how the escape would go. The results were a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I’m glad I got to experience.

Score:
8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Semy Rahman

Spicy food enthusiast who also happens to love and adore video games. They just both season life so beautifully!