Unlock!: In Pursuit of the White Rabbit

By | March 3, 2020

Room-in-a-box, Aug 2019

Rated 3 out of 5
Toby says:

If there’s a theme to Unlock!’s Heroic Adventures box, it’s superb potential that just doesn’t quite come together. White Rabbit is clearly intended as the flagship game in the box, with an extended 90 min play time and the maximum difficulty rating, but in practice I found it just a bit too unclear and frustrating.
The usual deck of cards is supplemented by a small booklet. Although this provides additional puzzle components, its main purpose seems to be to divide the game into separate chapters – a rather nice idea that gives the game structure.
To Unlock’s credit, they continually innovate and find new ways to use their core game mechanisms. Sometimes this is with technology, using custom app-based challenges, though there’s less of that here, perhaps because it would be incongruous with the theme. Other times it’s more conceptual, requiring you to apply their normal game system in unexpected ways – and this is where White Rabbit really goes to town.
One puzzle after another invites you to draw new cards using subtle, cryptic prompts. Where this works it’s brilliant – a series of smart tricks that use images from the Lewis Carroll source material and push you to think outside the box. The first section of the game impressed me hugely, with some really clever use of the usual ‘red card plus blue card’ system, and the only hiccup being a tech-based puzzle that didn’t work due to the settings of the smartphone we were using.
Part of the reason the earlier stages of the game worked so well is that whenever you try something reasonable that’s not quite what the designers intended, it leads to a card nudging you in the right direction – as opposed to, say, slapping you with a time penalty. As a result, although the clues are open to more than one plausible interpretation, there’s little pain involved in getting to the correct solution. That wasn’t the case in later stages of the game, and that made those puzzles feel much more like mind-reading.
What might have made the game feel more reasonable would have been an up front encouragement to pro-actively inspect the deck of unrevealed cards. Arguably players should think to do that themselves; but then in earlier Unlock titles, you were explicitly told not to do that, since knowing which card numbers were in the deck could make some puzzles easier. With this game, it’s essential to have any chance of solving the puzzles.
White Rabbit’s finish is an abrupt ending as far as story is concerned, but a very cool puzzle idea worthy of concluding the game. Unfortunately it’s a lot cooler in theory than in execution, where the materials provided take quite a lot of coaxing to get them to do the right thing – something like playing croquet using a live flamingo as the mallet, you could say.
The degree of inventiveness is similar to their Oz game, but I felt worked significantly less well. Your mileage may vary – if the puzzle logic here chimes better with you then you might enjoy it considerably more than we did. 3 / 5

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