There’s something so inherently enjoyable about escape rooms, I find. Sure, you and your group will have booked the room based on the scenario, difficulty rating and online reviews, but it’s still shrouded in mystery and you’re stepping into the unknown to find and solve puzzle after puzzle in a race against the clock. But what if this was all just a front? An escape room that’s actually an unwitting entrance exam to a grand Escape Academy that’s to escapists what Hogwarts is to wizards and witches?
From this opening ruse, you’re quickly inducted into the Escape Academy, the headmaster tasking you with collecting ten badges across the academic year. Along the way, you’ll meet the professors (one of which is an AI computer screen that’s wheeled around like a school TV), a rival student, hear tell of legendary escapists, and then get wrapped up in a final mystery. It’s a light and quirky story that joins up the levels, but it gets out of the way for when you’re thrown into the pressure cooker of the escape rooms themselves.
Importantly, Escape Academy keeps things as straightforward as possible. You’re playing in the first person, interactive objects are highlighted when you look at them, and you can quickly access your inventory when there’s items you need to use. As in real escape rooms, you want to explore every nook and cranny, look at everything, find the relevant clues and figure out the puzzle you need to solve, and the simple controls help to keep that fairly accessible.
There’s a huge variety of different puzzles within Escape Academy, keeping you on your toes as they veer from broad environmental puzzles, to messages that you need to run through ciphers – this is probably the main reason why they suggest you have pen and paper while playing – colour combinations, a handful of maths puzzles and simply rooting around in the environment to find a key to a padlock. Ah yes, the humble padlock, a staple of the escape room that comes in so, so many different variations.
Escape Academy leans on combination locks and keyed locks – and the blessings of a digital world mean that you won’t have fussy loose mechanisms from years of escape room abuse – but you might have unusual keys, be needing to input letters, colours or shapes instead of simple numbers. Padlocks might be pretty humdrum, but they’re great to focus your attention on where your solution is heading.
Coin Crew Games has done a great job of mixing up the environments and tone of each level. From the headmaster’s office to a water tower that’s gradually filling with water, the inner sanctum of the academy’s resident AI and beyond, there’s always a distinct theme and that feeds into the types of puzzles you encounter as well.
Though the game’s difficulty will be entirely subjective, I feel that escape room and puzzle game connoisseurs will likely find that Escape Academy skews toward the easier end of the puzzle spectrum. There is a timer gradually ticking down to add a little pressure to the situation, but so long as your observational skills are on point, inspecting everything within an environment and spotting the ambient clues you need, then you’ll quickly find everything you need in order to solve the puzzles that face you. There’s often some little note to nudge you in a direction, and there’s a hint system for if you get stuck, but I found only a handful of moments where I felt like I was missing something.
Escape Academy supports both split-screen and fully cross-play online co-op – we weren’t able to test this before launch, but it relies on platform agnostic lobby codes for connection – and it’s a really enjoyable way to play the game. Everyone’s mind works in different ways, so you might find that one of you is better attuned to the maths problems, another is better at recalling how colours combine or more quickly get to the logic underlying a particular puzzle. On a more fundamental level, playing in split-screen also allows for a bit of ‘screen cheating’ where one of you looks at a clue and the other at the input to solve it.
Personally, playing the roughly half the game solo and half the game in co-op, I got through to the end in around 4 hours. Each room takes around 15-20 minutes in my experience, though your mileage will obviously vary, and makes for a game that you can binge all in one go or nibble away at one or two levels at a time. You can replay levels, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so until you’ve forgotten as many of the solutions as possible.