Room-in-a-box, Jul 2018
The first Unlock! game I played was Squeek & Sausage, and that game’s characters return in this sequel, which has some joking references back to the original but which works perfectly well even if you haven’t played that one. It has the same bold cartoon style of artwork, which is also reflected in the style of the puzzles.
The core of the Unlock! game system is the way it has red and blue object cards, and you can combine one of each by adding the card numbers to find the number of the card to take from the deck. This mechanic is used heavily in Noside Story, significantly more so than in many of the other Unlock! games. Like Squeek & Sausage, this gives it the feel of a point ‘n’ click computer game, which depending on your tastes could be a good thing or not.
Point ‘n’ click computer games sometimes devolve into a laborious exercise of trying each object in your inventory with each available hotspot. Unlock! tries to prevent this by including penalty cards for some wrong combinations, but that doesn’t really solve the problem, it just discourages experimentation by punishing players. Most of the correct pairings in Noside Story are straightforward – but not all of them. Some only make sense in retrospect.
Additionally, although a lot of the game is pretty easy, there are still plenty of ways to get stuck, such as by not spotting a hidden number. Since you can end up with a good number of cards in play at once, when you’re stuck and not sure where to look, it tends to leave you trying various unlikely combinations of items and either triggering a penalty or fruitlessly leafing through the deck in search of non-existent card numbers.
Noside Story is billed at Unlock!’s lowest difficulty level, and most of its puzzles are indeed fairly straightforward. But three key steps are a lot more tricky (with varying degrees of fairness). Add to that the likelihood of overlooking a hidden number somewhere along the way and you’re unlikely to find it a walkover. I found the ease of the rest of the game made it that much more frustrating when we did get stuck, though others might be more forgiving there.
Note that, unusually for Unlock!, one of the puzzles is intended to be solved by destroying a card. However, it’s very easy to solve that in a way that doesn’t damage anything and leaves the game replayable.
Noside shares a sly humour and over-the-top cartoon flamboyance with Squeek & Sausage, and if you liked that one you’ll probably enjoy this game too. It also adds in a couple of clever unexpected twists that worked well. Even so I decided I liked it a little less than the earlier game; it’s more sophisticated, but also more uneven in its difficulty level and occasionally weaker in its puzzle logic. Still, if you like the Unlock! games then this is an acceptable addition to the series with an entertainingly silly style and some nice ideas.