Online, Nov 2020
Carnival is the second offering from game designer Edaqa, and since his first was named Prototype I guess it’s appropriate that this one builds on that game’s style and engine. This is an evolution of the point ‘n’ click Flash escape games, where you have a series of scenes that you can navigate between using arrows at the side of the screen, and each scene has hotspots where you can click to pick up an item or interact with something. In this one you’re finding your way around a carnival; there’s a mostly linear sequence of tasks to complete the game, plus four optional bonus puzzles – though there’s no indication of whether a puzzle is a bonus one or not until you’ve solved it.
Like Prototype, Carnival is designed for team play. You don’t see your teammates’ cursors, but you do see the results of any significant actions they take. While the game provides a shared chat window for communication, I’d strongly recommend using a separate voice call in parallel while playing.
The graphics style is colourful and energetically cute, very family-friendly without being twee. As a computer game, Carnival is slick and professional in a way that few digital escape games are. The interface is not just intuitive and attractive, it’s packed with small features to make the gameplay smoother, letting you see what your teammates are working on, providing context-sensitive hints, and so on.
We had a slightly bumpy start, spending ten minutes baffled due to not realising the intro message scrolled (!). My main criticism however is that the difficulty level seemed to vary a lot between puzzles, with some being rather straightforward and others not – which is fine, except that you’d want the hardest puzzles to be the bonus ones or the ones near the end, and it felt like it was more often the other way around. Naturally, different people get stuck in different places, so your impression may differ.
In practice I’m not sure how much it adds to have some of the puzzles as bonus ones, that you don’t have to complete before getting to the end, particularly since they weren’t flagged as such – the result was just that we hit the finish screen sooner than expected, then went back to tidy off the last couple of bits.
Of the two games, I narrowly preferred this one. It seemed a little less about using the right combinations of objects together and more about solving the distinctly escape room -esque puzzles embedded in the environment. But there’s a lot of commonality between the two, including the bright and attractive graphical style, the smart UI and the team play system. As a self-contained digital experience, it’s more polished than many of the other online escape games available; though I suspect precisely for that reason some players will find it’s a step too close to feeling like a computer game rather than a team solving challenge. That comes down to whether the format appeals to your tastes; within the bounds of that format, it’s very skilfully executed with some enjoyable puzzles.
Disclaimer: We played this game on a complementary basis. This does not influence the review or rating.