Leeds, Apr 2018
Kanyu Escape, also known as Secrets of South Lodge, has been on my radar since before it even opened, initially for the intriguing game titles but more recently for the consistently high praise they seem to receive. It’s also notable for its location, a beautiful listed building marooned in the centre of junction 45 on the M1, meaning as part of your visit you get the surreal experience of turning right from the innermost lane of a roundabout. But it’s such a huge roundabout that that’s a much less hair-raising manoeuvre than it might sound.
Although we played Lightning in a Bottle first for scheduling reasons, note that their games have some narrative links; it’s perfectly okay to play them in reverse order, but purists may prefer to start with Follow In My Footsteps instead. Both games refer to Sir Henry Cunningham, fictional explorer and purported owner of the South Lodge building, and where the other game acts as an introduction to the character, Lightning in a Bottle provides less background context.
If I were trying to sum up the style of the game in two words, I would choose ‘steampunk chemistry’. You are in Sir Henry’s laboratory to unearth his research and a possibly dangerous discovery, and the old fashioned equipment and the carefully stained wood and metal decor is more Victor Frankenstein than present day science lab.
The briefing included some quite specific instructions, notably that although most of the game followed the usual single use rule, certain charts of information should be used more than once. This turned out to be something I found quite distinctive about the game: it makes frequent use of the charts and reference posters provided around the room. In other games I’d seen that used as a slightly lazy choice, with e.g. a clue telling you to look at a particular line of information and use it as a padlock code. Here it’s used in a much more interesting way, providing a set of reference information as a starting point for the game’s puzzles that gave them almost a shared terminology. The effect helps the illusion that you’re actually learning the lab’s secrets and practicing a form of science, not just completing a set of unrelated puzzles.
Which isn’t to suggest that it’s an exclusively cerebral game – there are some big hefty props to move around, a clever co-operative variant on a commonly seen physical task, and so on, enough to have you rushing around like a Victorian mad scientist. The tasks involved were well-suited for our group of four and we ploughed through the game rather quickly, but it’s definitely the more complex and challenging of the current two Kanyu games. While it has the same top of the line set dressing, it doesn’t have as striking a ‘wow’ moment as the other game at Kanyu; but in place of that it has a greater quantity of crunchy puzzle goodness that experienced players will appreciate.