Remote game review: SCRAP: Escape from the Science Lab of Shifting Rules

Official website

Format: Zoom-based with live facilitator
Price: 20,000 yen for group ticket of up to 6 players
Gameplay duration: 1 hour

With its previous online offerings, Escape from the Alien Research Facility and Escape from the Abandoned Laboratory, SCRAP has shown its skill in crafting experiences that would be impossible to play offline — a far more meaningful approach, in my view, than merely making a physical room available online.

Escape from the Science Lab of Shifting Rules represents a further innovation, with a creative and unique central game mechanic that’s also just really, really fun. The mechanic enables some very clever yet fair puzzles, with lots of aha moments. By providing a broad framework for progress, it’s also quite forgiving (at least in some stages), allowing for a bit of ‘trial and error’ in thinking your way towards a breakthrough.

SCRAP’s usual sense of humour and whimsy permeates the entire game, facilitated by our delightful android gamemaster. The Zoom-based format allowed for many cool camera-enabled moments (kudos to whoever was making the magic happen on-site). And the endgame brings together all the strengths of the experience: clever, hilarious, and made possible by the digital format.

The English-version timings are sadly calibrated for players in the US, but my mostly-Singapore-based team woke up at 6am on a Sunday to play it — and found it worth the lack of sleep. The best online rooms are worth experiencing in their own right, not as mere ‘substitutes’ for physical rooms; this is a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED game that’s definitely worth playing, even if physical escape rooms have reopened in your part of the world!

Remote game review: Agent Venture: The Heist

Official website

Format: Audio-based gamemastering with digital materials
Price: £10 per player
Gameplay duration: 60 minutes

This Agent Venture mission takes a purely audio-based approach, so you don’t actually see anything that’s “happening”. But the lively gamemastering (with a wide range of character voices) helps with immersion, and there’s plenty of other stuff to look at. In fact, the sheer surfeit of material can be overwhelming — but unlike most games, you won’t have to use everything. There are many points where you’ll have to choose between possible routes to success. In other words, you can’t have an exhaustive experience of the game on one playthrough.

There’s another way in which your game experience is necessarily ‘incomplete’: strict role separation, with each player receiving different materials. Players who like seeing all of a game might not enjoy this, but it does make teamwork and communication more meaningful. It also provides replay value: one can imagine playing through the whole game in different roles and/or making different decisions.

Gameplay is heavily narrative-driven, and the more escape-room-esque puzzle-y aspects it does contain are not very inspired. But if you don’t mind its strong role-playing approach, then The Heist is RECOMMENDED as an entertaining and content-dense experience.

Remote game review: 60Out: Orion’s Ridiculous Revenge

Official website

Format: Point-and-click with pre-recorded videos and live gamemaster (for hints)
Price: US$15 per player
Gameplay duration: 60 minutes

Some of us played and greatly enjoyed the original offline not-exactly-an-escape-game Miss Jezebel, and were curious to see how this online spin-off would compare. Orion’s Ridiculous Revenge has the same campy sense of fun and lashings of adult humour, though it lacks the interactivity of its predecessor.

The puzzles aren’t particularly complex, but they shouldn’t be what you’re here for, anyway. And while the point-and-click nature of the game isn’t too immersive, the video segments do help to elevate the experience, as do some cute tasks and diversions along the way.

It’s not a must-play by any means, but if you’re after a fun little romp (we finished the game in under 30 minutes) and don’t mind something that’s lighter on the puzzles, it’s certainly WORTH A TRY.

Remote game review: Omescape: Pursuit of the Assassin Artist

Official website

Format: Zoom-based with live avatar
Price: Flat fee of US$179 for up to 8 connections
Gameplay duration: 90 minutes

Pursuit of the Assassin Artist uses the ‘timeloop/replay’ concept of one of my favourite escape-room-esque games, SCRAP’s アイドルは100万回死ぬ — but in a more forgiving manner, and with more escape-room-style puzzles. Unlike SCRAP’s game, Pursuit of the Assassin Artist is also designed specifically for online play, with some outstanding moments that just wouldn’t be possible in an offline room.

As a experience, it’s simply fun. Both the avatar-protagonist and the titular assassin artist are delightful to watch and interact with. The light-hearted mood carries through into the set and the puzzles. With players themselves playing a crucial role in how events unfold, your fellow teammates’ suggestions may add to the hilarity, with great “Wait, you mean we have to…” moments — whether they’re right or not.

As a game, it’s also entirely satisfying. The gameplay and flow is cleverly crafted, with an emphasis on in-narrative problem solving but also more traditional puzzles. The online logistics are handled well, with the inventory and exploration interface allowing for efficient division of labour.

This game has received many good reviews from enthusiasts, and for good reason. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for just about anyone.

Remote game review: Agent November: Virtual X-Caper

Official website

Format: Zoom-based with live avatar
Price: £14 per player
Gameplay duration: 1 hour

I played and enjoyed Agent November’s Major X Ploe-Shun outdoor game years ago in London, so when good reviews started showing up for their online game (and after I got over my hatred of videoconferencing), it wasn’t hard to decide to try it.

Virtual X-Caper is a fun and charming, well, caper, with plenty of substance behind its style. Individual puzzles may not be groundbreaking, but they sit within a cleverly-designed gameflow that sets up some great little ahas. There are some inspired format-specific touches, too.

What really elevates the experience is Agent November himself, the hapless protagonist of this adventure, who provides a delightful sense of whimsy and humour. (He also managed to subtly facilitate puzzle-solving at certain points, without seeming like he was overtly helping, which was a nice touch.)

RECOMMENDED for a fun all-round experience; HIGHLY RECOMMENDED if you appreciate a sense of humour and a great avatar/host.

Remote game review: SCRAP: Escape from the Abandoned Laboratory

Official website
Booking

Format: Zoom-based with live facilitator
Price: 20,000 yen for group ticket of up to 7 players
Gameplay duration: 1 hour

After playing SCRAP’s extremely enjoyable (and back for a limited eight-day October-November run!) Escape from the Alien Research Facility digital game, we booked this other online offering. Compared to the alien game, this feels slightly closer to a traditional escape experience that’s been adapted for the web — though there are still some cool moves that would have been hard to pull off in an offline version.

Some of the early puzzles are more interesting than others, but there’s a good mix overall, and the game really hits its stride — both in terms of puzzles and narrative — from the midpoint onwards.

Indeed, the narrative was a major part of both the gameplay and our general enjoyment of the experience. SCRAP’s usual strength of narrative-motivated solutions truly shines here, all the way to the clever endgame.

Though I still prefer Escape from the Alien Research Facility for its creative use of the digital format, Escape from the Abandoned Laboratory is also an excellent and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED experience.

Remote game review: SCRAP: Escape from the Alien Research Facility

Official website
Tickets available till end-Sep

Format: Zoom-based with live facilitator; to say more would be spoiler-y
Price: 15,000 yen for group ticket of up to 7 players
Gameplay duration: 1 hour

Just heard that this game is ending soon, so finally writing a review in the hope of encouraging more people to give it a try. Because it is, in short, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for how it makes use of the online format in very clever and inspired ways.

It’s hard to review this game without spoilers, but here goes: Some remote experiences feel like regular escape rooms/games that have been ported online. Escape from the Alien Research Facility is nothing like that. What I love about this game is that you wouldn’t be able to play it offline. This is an experience tailored for its format, making it uniquely fun and interesting (and also cool to think about after the fact).

There’s a good range of puzzles, almost all of which are integrated well into the setting or storyline — in contrast to the standalone random puzzles that featured in some earlier SCRAP outings. Some of the gameplay reminded me of the fun and also-unique-in-its-format Escape from Hunter X game at the Asakusa branch in Tokyo, in that it requires creative problem-solving within the context of the game world.

There’s a good attempt at creating atmosphere and immersion, thanks also to the friendly “researcher” who is part of the experience. And the endgame is excellent — challenging but entirely fair.

I was very glad that I overcame my general dislike of videoconferencing to give this game a try. If you haven’t tried any online/remote escape games, this is a great one to experience! And if you’re already used to the online/remote format, you have even less reason to miss this. After playing this, my team immediately booked to play another SCRAP remote game, haha.

Online game review: Pentargo Quarantine

http://pentargo.com
Format: Browser-based, ARG-esque
Price: US$2.50 per player
No time limit; we took about 1 hour 45 minutes, but other teams might take several hours

A confession: though online variations on escape rooms have been proliferating, I hadn’t played any before this, due to a lack of time/energy and a dislike for teleconferencing (required for gamemaster-enabled remote-playing of physical escape rooms). Pentargo Quarantine doesn’t require teleconferencing, though it does take time, as an experience that’s dense in both narrative and content.

While it does include some escape room-esque puzzles, and uses some tools more often associated with puzzle hunts, Pentargo Quarantine feels most like an alternate reality game, unfolding via a browser-based chat interface — with images, audio, and video adding experiential depth — and, well, the vast world of the internet.

This real-world immersive quality is the strongest point of the experience, with various cool tasks along the way. A couple of puzzles felt unsatisfying — however, a helpful hints-and-walkthrough page ensures that you won’t get stuck at any point.

With an extremely affordable price (some of it going to charity, too) for a lot of content and pretty unique gameplay, it’s worth spending time with Pentargo Quarantine.

Warnings: Set amid current events, the game makes reference to viruses, conspiracies, and dark themes that may be off-putting.

Full disclosure: Pentargo offered a free playthrough.

Escaping Tokyo, round three

Here’s a third post on Japanese-only games in Tokyo, following on from the previous two. I thought of creating a proper Escaping Tokyo page on which to reorganise my previously-posted thoughts, but that’s too much work for a very niche potential audience. 😐

Nazotomo Cafe Shinjuku

想い出列車となくした切符 [Japanese only]
765 seconds | no booking required | individual/team room 

This room felt similar to the first one I’d attempted a while back: a charming premise involving a disillusioned adult entering a child-like, dream-world sort of setting; an initial round of mini puzzles feeding into a meta; more complex puzzles later on. While I didn’t get particularly stuck for puzzle-reasons, I did run out of time at the second metapuzzle, out of four stages. I played this solo; perhaps a team of three or four people, reasonably fluent in Japanese, might be able to complete it. The success rate stood at around 25% when I visited.

takarush BLACK LABEL

Still by far my favourite provider of narrative-driven puzzle-type events in Japan. Possibly in the world, seeing how such events (very different from puzzle hunts!) don’t seem common outside Japan and Singapore.

MISSION RALLY Q No.3 宇宙からのタイムカプセル [Japanese only]
(as well as the prequel, MISSION RALLY Q No. 2)
no time limit (within game hours) | no booking required | play-at-your-own-pace puzzle kit

These were the first and only takarush outings that I haven’t enjoyed, due to tedious first-round info-collection, somewhat simple kit components (to be fair, these were also the cheapest takarush games I’ve played), and a relative lack of narrative or dramatic frills. The TeNQ gallery at Tokyo Dome City is fairly cute in its own right, but unless you’re particularly interested in space or have time to kill in the area, it might not be worth going out of your way for this.

謎解き花小町~時をつなぐ不思議な電話~ [Japanese only]
no time limit (within game hours) | no booking required | play-at-your-own-pace puzzle kit

This complex game really leans into its setting within Japan’s first and oldest amusement park, Hanayashiki, with a central time-travelling conceit enabled by smartphone messaging and an exciting surfeit of puzzle kit components. It’s perhaps the most narratively-dense nazotoki game I’ve played, down to an endgame that runs on pure in-game narrative logic rather than puzzle-logic. An engrossing and unique experience, but not to be attempted unless you’re very comfortable with written Japanese (and/or have a lot of time to spare to wade through text).

銀座木挽町 謎掛心中噺 [Japanese only]
no time limit (within game hours) | no booking required | play-at-your-own-pace puzzle kit

I enjoy games that serve as an introduction into some new area of knowledge. This kabuki-themed outing certainly delivers on that front, with early stages that require exploration of Kabukiza Theatre’s Kabukiza Gallery (which is well worth a visit anyway, with lots of cute hands-on exhibits), and a story that leans thoroughly and satisfyingly into the world of kabuki. I can’t say much about the endgame without spoiling it, except to say that it’s a shining example of the takarush style: clever, narratively-motivated, and able to send a real thrill of realisation down your spine. Strongly recommended!