Last year, I fell in love with Escape Academy the moment I first played it. I was instantly smitten by its well-constructed digital escape rooms, which were accessible and intuitive without being too easy. Though I adored the core gameplay loop, the package around it was a little lacking. It was over in a few hours and there wasn’t much reason to go back – there’s no fun in replaying a puzzle box you’ve already solved. Developer Coin Crew Games have worked to remedy those issues in the past year with additional DLC, but its upcoming Tournament of Puzzles DLC feels like the last missing piece.
Escape Academy: Tournament of Puzzles is a free update coming to the game sometime this year, after its second paid DLC launches. It adds a new multiplayer mode to the game, which has two players competing to solve escape rooms. That makes for a tense puzzle race that its developers hope will inspire Mario Kart-style trash-talking. Though the most exciting feature is that rooms will have a procedural element to them, potentially solving the base game’s biggest weakness.
I played (and won) a round at this year’s Game Developers Conference and was once again won over by the ever-expanding puzzler. It’s a smart content drop that shows that Coin Crew has taken feedback to heart.
Tournament of Puzzles plays exactly like Escape Academy, throwing players in escape rooms filled with clues, interactable objects, and puzzles. The main difference is that every room has two sets of each puzzle piece. In my demo, I’d only be able to interact with objects marked with blue while my opponent dealt with red ones. Our match would throw us in an Egyptian-themed set of rooms where we’d each need to rush through puzzles to gain keys and open other rooms. The first one to get all the keys and open the final gate would win.
Considering that I was already familiar with some of Escape Academy’s design philosophies, I quickly got the jump on my opponent. One puzzle had me swapping colored symbols around a grid to solve a Sudoku-like puzzle, while another had me lighting up the correct tiles on a stone tablet by looking for clues around it. With two keys in tow, I unlocked a blue door and sped ahead to the next room.
That created an interesting comeback system for my opponent. He had yet to solve those puzzles, but he could now walk around and see the solutions I’d left behind. That would allow him to reverse engineer the solution to his own puzzles based on my answer and quickly catch up. We were playing in split-screen, so he could have simply screen-peeked, but waiting to copy my homework is almost a more efficient strategy when stuck.
When talking to Coin Crew Games afterward, the team members on hand noted that they wanted the mode to feel like a match of Mario Kart. They already noticed players taunting each other during some GDC playthroughs and were thinking of ways to put even more of that in the final piece, allowing players to directly mess with one another. I’m curious to see how that will play out, as the idea of a cutthroat escape room certainly sounds appealing.
I’d figure out the rest of the puzzles with a bit of on-the-fly brainwork. One would have me arranging pots based on a classic ordering puzzle (this one needs to be next to this one, this one needs to be placed on the sun symbol, etc). Another would have me comparing a mural next to a drawing of it, prompting a tricky spot-the-difference game. Like the base game, each puzzle here feels intuitive enough that a puzzle fan could figure them out with enough time. The race aspect adds a fun dynamic on top of that, putting players’ ability to figure out a puzzle’s logic on the fly.
The one thing I didn’t really see was how the procedural aspect will work, which could give Escape Academy the spark it needs. The Coin Crew team notes that each themed arena will have multiple puzzle types that will procedurally generate each round. That means no two rooms will be exactly the same, but I’m not yet sure what the limits of that idea will be. It sounds like certain puzzle archetypes will repeat, so the sudoku section I finished might have a different answer each time. If that’s the case, the mode will need a lot of different options to make sure players aren’t just repeating the same few ideas over and over. The end solution isn’t the real puzzle in an escape room; it’s the logical deduction it takes to get there.
Regardless of how deep the mode is, it should solve a lot of Escape Academy’s biggest issues in one go and give it far more longevity. With that and its two-story DLCs, the final game should at least double the size of the base game, making it feel like a more complete, weighty puzzler. While I might have preferred having this all at launch, I can’t say I’m upset about the idea of getting a great reason to return to something I have a real soft spot for. I’ll keep solving those escape rooms as long as Escape Academy keeps locking me in them.