Escape Room Academy is an escape room-themed video game that was released on Steam in July of 2022. It’s honestly an underwhelming experience. With no overarching story to connect them, Escape Room Academy consists of six rooms to complete that increase in difficulty as you play. Marketed for casual players, the game certainly succeeds at feeling low stakes, and it does incorporate elements from escape rooms. However, those elements all feel diminished and repetitive in the end.
If you don’t tend to play video games, then this is an easy game to pick up. Everything is done through clicking with the mouse, and there isn’t even any movement. Every room is a single image with some moving parts that you can zoom in on to get more detail, but there isn’t ever a need to change perspective. In some ways, this is like old point-and-click adventure games. However, unlike in those games, you never really interact with the environment here, and even the simple zoom-in mechanic and interface is unpleasant to use.
You don’t pick up items and have them interact with each other either, so it is much less satisfying to explore the space. The actual rooms all have distinct themes and are well drawn, but I found myself ignoring the backgrounds for the most part. This is a shame, because the fun designs of the rooms are genuinely one of the best parts of the game.
Instead of interacting with the room, the bulk of the gameplay is done through two types of cards: clues and locks. You input codes on cards rather than on physical objects in the room, and you create keys using cards. You get clue cards that guide you to the next puzzle, or you’ll find the puzzle on the clue card itself. These cards are the game in a lot of ways, and I honestly found myself questioning why that was.
A lot of information that you get from a card could instead be in the room. I would have found the gameplay much more engaging if I had to zoom in on a box to put in a code, or if I had to find my next hint hidden in a painting, for example.
Calling the cards “clue cards” is also confusing. It makes it seem like you should only interact with the cards when you need a hint, but it’s actually required to use the cards in order to progress. In addition, when you get these cards, they are all placed next to each other, so by the end of the room it can be quite annoying to have to scroll through the whole collection to find the one that you need.
Even disregarding the issues with the cards, the puzzles themselves are all very similar. Even as the rooms got harder, it just felt like I was solving harder versions of the same puzzles rather than doing anything innovative or different. There were a few puzzles that I found more interesting, and even some that I found a little challenging. Unfortunately, for the most part, it was “count the number of this item” or “watch to see which lights light up” or “do some math.”
Very rarely did the puzzles involve the theme of the room—and if it did, it was often in a superficial way. For example, there was an Egyptian-themed room that used a scarab beetle to point at specific symbols, but that exact scenario could have been in any of the rooms. Just replace the beetle with a parrot and it could have just as easily been in the pirate puzzle room.
Escape room elements
The game is called “Escape Room Academy,” so you would expect it to have some aspects of a real life escape room included. To its credit, there are definitely parts that feel inspired by escape rooms. There are keys, locks, and codes, and even some of the puzzles remind me of something I’ve seen in actual rooms I’ve played. However, these elements all feel flat and, sometimes, unimportant. This is because this game is missing the crucial element of exploration.
You are never incentivized to really explore the space that you are in. In real life escape rooms, a major aspect is looking around. You physically move objects and open drawers, connecting the various things that you find. There is none of that in this game. You just go from card to card and puzzle to puzzle. You never have to look for what you need to do next, so there is no real sense of discovery.
The most stressful part of the game by far is the time limit; if you run out of time on any of the rooms, you have to start the entire room over in order to finish it. The very first time it happens, you get a chance to add time to the clock. After that, the room just ends when the timer runs out. That’s perhaps the part that’s most accurate to real life escape rooms, but it’s one that doesn’t have to be carried over so strictly in a virtual setting. Since none of the puzzles change when you restart the room, forcing you to replay everything just feels like a waste of time.
Many other escape room-esque video games I’ve played have incorporated the idea of a time limit in much more interesting and accessible ways. For example, in Escape Simulator, the time limit is part of an achievement, so running out of time doesn’t prevent you from completing the room. In the Zero Escape series, which we’ve written about before, there is no time limit but you still feel the pressure because of the scenario the game sets up. The very first room it puts you in is supposedly filling up with water, and so I still felt a sense of urgency to complete it even though the water wasn’t really rising on a timer.
This time limit problem is compounded with how hints, which are also a component of real escape rooms, are done in this game. You are allowed to ask for help at any time, but it will always cost you time. There are three different levels of hints that you can ask for, though sometimes they will only offer you one or two. The first level of hint takes away 5 minutes, the next takes 10 minutes, and the final takes 15 minutes.
Since the longest two rooms have a time limit of 45 minutes, if you need to ask for all three levels of hints, you’d lose 30 minutes of that time. In the rooms with a 30-minute time limit, using one third-level hint uses up half of your time. I have been to escape rooms where hints cost time, but never something so extreme. The puzzles aren’t generally very difficult, but it still feels unfair to take away so much time for a hint.
Overall, this is not a great escape room game. At most, Escape Room Academy is a puzzle game using the idea of escape rooms as a theme. Now, some may argue that it’s made for kids, but I’ve played really good puzzle games that are targeted towards kids. The Professor Layton games immediately come to mind. This is not like those games, and the problems go deeper than the gameplay being simplistic or the puzzles being easy and repetitive.
In some ways, it almost feels unfinished. There is a whole character creation section where you can design your avatar for no reason. You never see this character in-game, and it’s not like there’s some online aspect where you can share your stats with other people. So, what’s the point of even making a character?
There are also various typos and spelling mistakes at different points, which makes it seem like no one bothered to proofread anything. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that some of the hints are just wrong. There is one that tells you the answer to a puzzle is between 15 and 20, when the actual number you’re looking for is 14.
To me, it feels like the creators of this game saw other escape room-style games and tried to emulate them, mostly unsuccessfully. I’ve seen a character creation screen like that in Escape Simulator, for example. Even the name “Escape Room Academy“ is very much like Escape Academy, a much better escape room game that actually incorporates the idea of an academy into the story. There is really no reason why the word “academy” is in the name of this game at all.
The overall game is short, simplistic, and disappointing. If you want to spend two hours doing basic puzzles, then you might enjoy Escape Room Academy. You can buy it on Steam. I personally just felt tired by the end of it.
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