Room-in-a-box, Feb 2021
I’ll confess that when I first heard of Solve Our Shirts I wasn’t entirely sure whether to create a listing for it – surely an escape game in the form of a t-shirt had to be a fun novelty, probably a nice product but not any kind of substantial game, right? Wrong. I’d counted CU Adventures’ earlier game Lost Temple as among the best online escape games I’ve tried, and if anything Solve Our Shirts is even better.
There’s a limit to how many puzzles you can cram onto a t-shirt, and Solve Our Shirts is not simply a piece of clothing. It comes with some envelopes of clues and other materials, as well as a web portal that provides story and structure and a place to enter your answers. It won’t be a surprise to those who’ve played other games from the company, but the web interface is very slick, both atmospherically attractive to look at and easy to use.
Despite the many other bits and pieces, the t-shirt is the centrepiece of the game. At the same time, the fact that it’s a t-shirt is almost incidental, in that with a few adjustments they could have published this as a ‘normal’ box game, and it would have worked very well. But then again, it also uses the physical t-shirt in some clever ways that wouldn’t translate to a different format.
When purchasing you have choice between normal and deluxe. ‘Deluxe’ is not a euphemism for a larger size, it’s a version with a couple of additional puzzles added in as a side-quest. I was initially worried that this would turn some elements of the shirt design into unused red herrings for those playing the normal version; but that’s not the case. The additional content is a similar quality to the rest of the game; even so, I’d say the main reason to go for the upgrade is if you like your puzzle games to come with nice objects for your trophy cabinet.
The novelty and physicality of a game built around a t-shirt has plenty of appeal; the t-shirt and other components are attractively designed; and the web portal and hint system work very well. But what really matters is the quality of the puzzles, and that is perhaps the game’s strongest point – a tightly designed set of puzzles that were clever and creative, and tricky without ambiguities. The one place where an answer seemed open to interpretation turned out to in fact be due to something I’d missed, and actually came together as neatly as the rest.
Separate from the online hints, the game includes a themed leaflet full of nudges to get you going, provided as an optional set of extra clues. If it weren’t for that I’d hesitate to recommend this except to experienced puzzlers – it doesn’t spell out where to find a starting point, and in any case is largely non-linear, with a relatively challenging difficulty level throughout. More than once I found that something that looked straightforward was actually only an initial step, with further insights needed to make progress. There’s some slightly laborious decoding and plenty of careful observation needed.
With the leaflet, and with the hint system as a back up, it should be accessible to beginners. Without those nudges, it’s a game that will provide enthusiasts with more of a challenge than most home games. As with the best designed games, I recommend not taking any hints until you’re really sure you’re stuck – everything made complete sense once solved, and was all the more pleasing for its difficulty.
How you view the game’s value for money will depend on how much you want the t-shirt for its own sake versus purely as a one-time game (and also what level of shipping fees your location incurs); and by it’s nature it’s a lot harder to pass on to other players than a typical box game. But I enjoyed the game enough that I’d say it’s worth considering even if you never intend to wear it as clothing. Although if you do, you get the entertainment value of wearing the t-shirt the next time you’re hanging out with other enthusiasts and watching them start attempting to surreptitiously solve parts of your outfit.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.