Loughborough, Aug 2018
Some game reviews are straightforward to write, others are not; this is one of the tricky ones. But let’s start by saying Enchanted Forest is Break Escape’s fourth and newest (so far) room, and places you in a magical snowbound forest which contains no direct references to the Narnia books but which is nonetheless a clear and affectionate homage to them.
A nice opening sequence leads dramatically into the main part of the game. I’ll avoid details, but at this point I’d been completely won over, by the game’s opening and by the quite lovely decorations. An indoor room is never going to genuinely resemble a snowy forest, but Break Escape have nailed the game decor in a way that combines whimsy with beauty and makes suspension of disbelief effortless.
Thereafter – well, the simplest way to describe what happened next was that we utterly fell apart as a team and spent the next thirty minutes faffing unproductively. That’s entirely on us, of course. Still, the game’s design enabled our folly, through a feature that I’d expected to be one of its strengths.
In addition to the main thread of puzzles that you need to solve to complete the game, Enchanted Forest has a bonus mechanism: if you can retrieve three golden balls, you get a reduction in your official time – although only if you’ve completed the main objective. That doesn’t mean extra time in the room, but it potentially means a more impressive final ‘score’. A handful of other games use similar systems, and I reliably enjoy having additional optional content of this sort.
I have a weakness for big skill puzzles, and they’re often the first thing I gravitate to in a room. This room has two, both pitched to be frustratingly difficult to the point where you could easily spend ten minutes trying without succeeding. That’s an unreasonable difficulty level for an escape room puzzle, but of course these were optional content, providing golden bonus balls. That’s not a spoiler – it’s intended to be obvious, although it took me a stupidly long time to realise that. But even once I’d finally figured that out, two thirds of our team found ourselves drifting back to the more difficult such puzzle, over and over, instead of focusing on the puzzles that were actually important. The latter rely on good observation in a way that doesn’t play to my strengths, so any time there was the slightest pause in progress I found myself returning to the big, shiny distraction.
Compounding that, the main flow of the game also includes a large, very time-consuming skill puzzle, which does have to be completed, and between that and the bonus tasks we not only lost time, we also largely lost the ability to coordinate effectively on the other tasks. Eventually we managed to sort ourselves out and get to the end, though a little over time.
To be clear, that was our screw-up, and if there were elements of the room design that facilitated it, that was because they happened to resonate with our particular weaknesses. Still, I can certainly imagine other groups having a similar experience, though hopefully not to the same extent.
Any group that correctly identifies the bonus content from the start (and manages to not be distracted by it anyhow) will have a much smoother game. Several points of the puzzle design are ones I’d quibble with, in that they leave more scope for confusion than ideal – but only in small ways.
While I can’t say this was the game I enjoyed playing the most at Break Escape, it’s still the one I’d most strongly encourage you to play. As long as you avoid the traps we fell into, it’s a solid room made special by its opening and by the consistently lovely decorations; and, approached correctly, the bonus tasks turn from a source of frustration to a clever way to minimise bottlenecks and provide extra challenge for skilled players.