During the height of the pandemic, absence truly made the heart grow fonder. I found myself missing social activities that I barely ever did before lockdown. For instance, despite only ever doing an escape room once or twice in my life, I suddenly wished I could get some friends together to go out and yell at each other as we fail to solve puzzles.
Escape Academy, the first game from Iam8bit’s new publishing arm, looks to recreate that experience in digital space. The first-person puzzle game drops players in a series of escape rooms that they’ll need to solve as a timer ticks down. From finding hidden items to decoding cryptic clues, those who love being locked in a room will find plenty to do.
I played my way to two of the game’s rooms (there are over a dozen in total) and was immediately eager to try more. Intuitive puzzles, a helpful hint system, and some delightful wackiness make Escape Academy feel like the perfect escape room experience for players of all ages.
As its name implies, Escape Academy has a school motif. Each escape room is a different exam and players get a report card at the end highlighting how they did, complete with a letter grade. The developers at Coin Crew Games hint that there’s a narrative that runs through the game, but my demo was focused on the puzzles.
The first room I tried was one of the game’s earliest. With 15 minutes on the clock, I was thrown into a wide office filled with bookshelves, potted plants, and degrees plastering the wall. A deck at the back of the room set up the room’s end puzzle, implying that I needed to figure out someone’s name to exit. Sure enough, I found a computer hooked up to the exit, which would allow me to enter a first, middle, and last name. I’d just have to find them first.
In classic escape room fashion, that would mean I’d need to interact with everything around me and start picking up clues and tools. Some things are straightforward enough. When I find a key, I instantly remember a padlock on a desk. And when I open that and find a screwdriver, I recall seeing a vent screwed into the wall earlier. I fall into a general order of operations from there, with one clue leading to another.
While object interaction is a key part of the game, there are plenty of logic puzzles too. Midway through the room, I need to solve a padlock code by recalling numbers I found on scraps of papers that correspond to images on a briefcase. I solve the first room in about 10 minutes flat, with each step naturally clicking into place.
What’s nice about Escape Academy is that it has a generous hint system. Depending on where I am in a room, I can ask for a hint related to the puzzle piece I’m closest to. The few hints I received spelled the answer out a little too clearly for me, but the tool should make the game much friendlier for kids. I imagine Escape Academy will be an especially wonderful title for family game nights.
Upping the stakes
While that first room was a breeze, the second one I tried showed that the game would get much trickier. With a longer time limit, I found myself solving more complex puzzles that asked me to deduce computer passwords and get the right item out of a vending machine by turning it into a sudoku puzzle. By the end of my session, I had a full notebook page at my side filled with clues.
Coin Crew Games showed off another level that was even more complex in a hands-off session. In that scenario, players find themselves in a room that’s filling up with water as the timer counts down. The developers note that the fun of creating a digital escape room as opposed to a physical one is that they can put the player in mortal danger (cartoon mischief is a more fitting term, as it’s still very kid-friendly).
What’s especially exciting about Escape Academy is that it’ll feature co-op play. That means players can pull together a proper escape room team and tackle puzzles together. While the first room I tried felt like it would be too straightforward for multiple players, the later levels seem like they’ll be larger and have enough moving parts for groups who want to divide and conquer.
From my quick time with it, Escape Academy seems like a delightful puzzle game that’s easier to grasp than The Room series, as well as more all-age appropriate than the Zero Escape games, which were a major influence here. I look forward to rounding up a few friends this summer and annoying them when I hog all the clues to myself – the true escape room experience.
Escape Academy launches on June 28 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Steam, Epic Games Store, PS4, and PS5. It’ll be available on Xbox Game Pass at launch.
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