Somewhat ironically, it seems impossible to escape the ‘escape room’ craze. After flooding the likes of Steam as a puzzle game sub-genre (although we’d argue the first series of The Crystal Maze, which aired in 1990, is where the concept began), escape rooms now cover every medium imaginable, books and board games included.
Sometimes You’s latest indie release goes one step further, presenting a magical tower with six floors. Each has its own set of intricate, multifaceted, puzzles to crack before an exit unlocks.
There are no grounds for failure (read: no ‘Game Over’ screens), so you’re free to mull things over, ransack the inventory, and abuse the hint system until a figurative light bulb appears.
Playing as a thief, your quest begins on the top floor – the resting place of a sacred potions book. Magical contents aside, this is no ordinary tome. Initially mistaken as a witch by the ne’er-do-well who put you up to the nefarious task of stealing it, the book possesses the uncanny ability to talk.
After spending countless years under lock and key, Beatrice – as the book is known – has become delightfully eccentric. She babbles on nonsensically, cracks jokes, and praises/insults your progress in almost equal measure. Sadly, there’s no voice acting and a few typos have crept in during translation from the developer’s native tongue (Russian) to English. The game’s basic presentation is at least reflected by the price – a mere £4.99.
During Beatrice’s absence, a few freeloading demons have moved into the tower, which you can also converse with. This helps give each room a welcome sense of personality. In one room a giant snow demon blocks the door – finding a way to disrupt their sleep is just the tip of the ice burg. Another room is home to an elderly spider who’s proud to present you with a tiny handmade cloak. Tiny, but still useful. Every item serves a purpose, thankfully – there are no red herrings here. There are some red peppers, however, which must be fed to a snail to create makeshift glue.
Not all puzzles showcase a similar level of ingenuity, as most rooms contain a few tropes. Puzzles within Beatrice’s art room centre upon mixing paints to create certain colours, there are a few sliding tile puzzles – albeit with minor variations on the theme – and one instance of arranging a set of different sized gears. Gathering a certain number of hidden objects (the aforementioned gears, leaves, fireflies, etc) also plays a part, a few of which are hidden a little too well.
The potion book helps to induce an extra layer of depth to puzzle-solving, putting a twist on things. The inventory bar includes a cauldron to chuck seemingly random items into, with Beatrice providing the ingredient lists for each potion. One early puzzle entails reanimating a hamster via the ‘Potion of Life’ so that it can generate power with its wheel. As we said, there are a few well-worn ideas.
Mostly, though, each room has enough depth and variety to provide a substantial challenge. Apart from the first floor – which teaches the basics and outlines the premise, as you’d expect – the remaining five rooms took us anywhere from 30-60 minutes to complete, slowly peeling away their layers to eventually reveal a means of escape. You’re looking at a good 3-4 hours of play here.
Aside from a couple of instances of warped logic, there’s another spanner in the works – the control scheme. The mouse-driven point and click interface from the PC version has been simplified further, forcing you to cycle back and forth through all interactive objects, one at a time, by flicking the analogue stick. It’s a weird decision as Artifex Mundi’s hidden object puzzle games – almost twenty of which are available on consoles – all use a point and click interface, with the analogue stick moving a cursor around freely.
While The Tower of Beatrice’s set-up does make it hard to overlook items that can be interacted with – which is perhaps what the developers were aiming for – it also means you must often flick past dozens of objects to get to the item or location you need. A fair few puzzles also involve grids, and as such, you must painstakingly flick through every single square. Now bear in mind that some puzzles are of the trial-and-error variety due to their obscurity or vagueness. That’s a lot of aimless/surplus flicking, and as a result, it’s a set-up that’s not as intuitive as its PC counterpart.
In fact, after comparing footage to the PC version it appears a couple of puzzles were removed as they wouldn’t have worked without a traditional point and click interface. Better that than try and shoehorn them in, we suppose.
If it wasn’t for the control scheme, we wouldn’t hesitate to describe The Tower of Beatrice as being smartly designed. Without spoiling anything, the last two rooms put an unexpected spin on things, leading to some very clever puzzles while adding a much-needed sense of urgency. That said, we did find ourselves fumbling through puzzles more often towards the end, with ‘eureka moments’ becoming less common.
Despite the adventure being confined to a tower, we did feel as if we had been on a journey once the ending credits rolled, and this alone is enough to recommend The Tower of Beatrice to anybody looking to escape life’s grind for a few hours.