Wirral, Sep 2018
I was just a little bit nervous about playing and reviewing this game, because it’s designed and run by the escape room blogger behind Brit of an Escape Habit, one of the most prolific and well-known UK review sites; so it would have felt a little awkward if I’d hated it and had to write a negative review. Fortunately, it was an absolute pleasure to play, which makes this a much more comfortable review to write!
The backstory, as delivered with energetic conviction in the briefing, is that you’re trying to retrieve a valuable lion statue from the lodge of a famous explorer; the explorer in question has delegated the task to you because the statue carries a curse. In addition, a short way into the game you’re given a secondary task, to retrieve an additional set of four items. These correspond to four bonus puzzles, meaning you can complete the game with different degrees of success: as long as you get the lion statue and escape you’ve achieved a victory, but you have the option of spending a little longer to try to get one or more of the bonus items. That’s a welcome innovation that provides more content for experienced players while ensuring it’s not too difficult for other teams.
Particularly after playing a string of mass-market games at larger companies, I noticed and appreciated the components in Golden Lion – it’s an eclectic collection that’s clearly been gathered one item at a time, not manufactured en masse, with the result that it’s a lot more convincing as the private collection of an eccentric explorer. And although it’s never easy to turn a rectangular room into a jungle, they combine lighting, audio and some lovely decor to build a very convincing ambience.
More than its appearance though I enjoyed the puzzle design. That’s despite the overall style being a little padlock-heavy for my tastes: I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea that games should strive to eliminate all padlocks, and it can be hugely satisfying to pop open one lock after another, but even so I’m rarely delighted to see an array of ten or twelve different locks at once, particularly when there are multiple locks fastening the same box/door/cabinet. However, the variety of lock types here meant we never had to try a code in many different places, and in some places symbols were used to associate a lock with the puzzle that went with it, which avoided the more tiresome effect of having lots of padlocks.
And more importantly, there was almost no ambiguity in the puzzle solutions – it’s clear they’ve benefitted from being designed by someone who has played a great many games and knows through painful experience what design pitfalls can spoil a player’s experience. We groaned at seeing one familiar puzzle type that’s too often an ambiguous pain; but the way it was implemented here was refreshingly clear. There’s a certain amount of searching to do, and for once we (mostly) didn’t struggle with it – probably because there was a defined section during which it was obvious searching was involved, instead of one or two tricky search tasks being unexpectedly mixed in amidst everything else.
Most of the puzzle ideas will be familiar ground to enthusiasts, though I should mention one nicely original physical puzzle, a simple but clever idea that I haven’t seen anywhere else. But Golden Lion benefits from excellent quality standards throughout, and is given extra sparkle by ideas such as the optional bonus puzzles – and also by a cool dramatic finish, that resolves the narrative’s initial predicament and ends the game on a high. The location takes a little more effort to get to than the companies based in Liverpool city centre, but it’s well worth it; Golden Lion’s comfortably top of my recommendations list for the Merseyside area.