Online, Dec 2020
2020 may have put a stop to a lot of travel plans, but playing escape rooms remotely offers the small silver lining of allowing you to try games in places you might otherwise never have thought to visit; and so my second Christmas game of the season was based in Saskatoon, Canada. This one has the premise that you’re interviewing to be one of Santa’s little helpers, and although the big man himself can’t be there he’s left a set of puzzles and tests for you.
The bulk of the game is structured around a set of present boxes, each with a label and a lock. Solving one gives you the clue to the next, although some parallel tasks mean this isn’t a completely linear game. The symbols used to label the boxes were highly useful, transforming what might have been a confusing jumble of padlocks to a clear sequence.
While that worked well, this was a game where the conversion to remote play could do with some tweaking. One reason for that was the number of written or pictorial clues that were fixed in one place and needed to be used in another. That works well with a team physically present, but meant we had to carefully transcribe the clue information by hand before using it.
More importantly, it felt like we had to keep restating what we wanted to do for our avatar to carry that out, repeating that yes, we wanted to enter the solution we’d just found in a lock, then which box it was we wanted to open, then once again what we’d said the code was. Our host may have been struggling with our European accents and/or moving slowly to ensure camera movement didn’t give us motion sickness, but the result felt like unnecessary hard work, like cycling uphill on a bicycle with flat tyres; a jigsaw sequence was particularly painful.
It was still a fun game; it just meant it fell short of what it should have been, and what it would have been played in person. But that’s viewing it with a jaded, cynical eye; there’s still plenty of seasonal enjoyment to be found here.