Escape Trick: The Secret of Rock City Prison
DSiWare | INTENSE | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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16th April 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
The game has you taking control of a prisoner who's been framed for a crime that has put him behind bars. At the start of the game, you're introduced to a small cast of characters, including Jason, a fellow inmate in the cell next to yours who seems very interested in your survival. While some of these NPC's just act as filler roles to advance the story, a couple of them actually play a key role in your quest towards liberation. Along the way, you'll encounter dialogue choices that allow you to interact with said characters. Making a wrong move may or may not impact your progress later on, but most of the time, following the riskier path just ends up leading you to the same key spot along the main path. The story is very interesting to follow, although it is pretty generic to start with. As you start to piece things together, the plot advances in directions that you may not have even expected, which is good for keeping players engaged.
Over the course of the game, you'll pass through a series of mini-puzzles and tense scenes that will eventually lead to your freedom. Everything takes place on the Touch Screen so you'll be using your stylus to tap things in your view. Arrows off to the side allow you to move around a given space or get a closer look at some place higher up. You'll come across a series of simple items like spoons, wall tiles, and light bulbs that you can grab just by tapping them. Additionally, some items are hidden behind panels that must be moved in a certain way in order to gain access to them. I found the system was very picky about this and it actually upset me at one point when it didn't seem to be responding.
By bringing up the Item menu, these same items can actually be inspected further. Sometimes, just by tapping on objects you can gain small clues as to what it could potentially be used for. From here, you can also combine items that go together to make a single entity, like using a piece of wood and a rubber cup to make a plunger. There's also a Notebook function that you can bring up by tapping the icon in the top-left corner. This will switch the two screens around, allowing you to write or erase notes and save your progress. Once you've finished, any notes you've taken down will be displayed on the top screen, which does come in handy for some of the later puzzles.
Now, the way in which these items are used to solve mini-puzzles is in such a way that it resembles MacGyver-like thinking. In one scene, you'll use a spoon to remove screws from a wall unit, and in another, you'll create a homemade battery to power an electronic device. Thinking of these kinds of solutions are easy to wrap your head around initially, but as you get further into the game, you're likely to experience much confusion over how to use, say, a metal table leg to your advantage. Uncovering the solution will only take place after you've eliminated all the linear answers in your brain (e.g, "I'll use brute force to break my way out!"). I enjoyed seeing how much the game gets you to expand your thinking from seeing things in just one way when there's another less-obvious purpose that an item can be used for.
In a somewhat surprising move, players aren't confined to just the walls of Roy's jail cell for most of the adventure. At the start of each day, you'll head to the cafeteria and meet up with some of the other criminals incarcerated at Rock City Prison. The most notable of all characters that appear in this area is the Informant -- an all-knowing man who will gladly share his nuggets of information with you for one paper bill. As you continue to discover some of the secrets of your jail cell, you'll eventually gain access to the prison's sewage area and a couple other more intriguing areas. Solving puzzles in different areas of the prison was an enjoyable process, mostly because you felt like you needed to hurry to avoid being discovered by the guards (and in one scene, this was actually a real threat).
By the time you reach the half-way point, things change considerably on multiple fronts. First, the storyline gets a bit deeper in that you start to learn about the main character's secrets and the overall conspiracy that seems to be taking place. The puzzles also get tougher, housing more clever solutions than what was seen before. However, I think most won't appreciate what the developers did here mostly because the element of frustration really crowds out any acknowledgment of clever execution. Many times, the clues you receive from the dialog boxes are ambiguous, leading to a largely-unintentional emphasis on trial and error. You really have to try every hunch and angle and even then, frustration over a lack of direction still sets in many times. It's at this point that you start to notice what could be considered a major flaw -- the lack of any kind of hint system. The developers probably dispensed with this element hoping the game would be more challenging, and in that respect they did succeed. Evidently, they neglected to evaluate the possibility of having players completely turned off by the difficulty.
On that note, towards the end of the game, I found myself getting very frustrated with one puzzle in particular. There were two visible clues that one could refer to, but even then, the puzzle was tough enough that the average gamer would be desperate for some sort of a hint as to whether or not they're on the right track. Sadly, this level of frustration is something that's present for about 30-40% of the game, and it really takes away from just how engaging this game can be. Sure the game is kind of addicting in its own right, and the idea of seeing what would happen next did push me forward during those moments of frustration, but I could only take so much before I turned the game off completely. I am certain that just about anyone who plays this game would experience the same feeling, especially those who get frustrated easily.
As you can imagine, beating the entire game was no easy task, but it's definitely not impossible. Once you're done the game, though, that's it. I mean, you can always let your friends try it out, but the fact that there's only one save file doesn't exactly help. To be honest, it's hard for me to say exactly how long I spent playing the game. Taking into consideration idle moments of trying to figure out potential solutions and extended periods of frustration, I'd estimate the game lasted me about two to three hours. Playing through it a second time, though, it is possible to finish the game in less than half an hour if you've memorized all the solutions. But for $5, I think it's a pretty reasonable buy.
As far as presentation goes, I didn't have any qualms about the look of the game or the polygon-esque character models. However, it should be ntoed that the game did freeze on me more than three times in separate instances. Thankfully, any technical issue I was having was resolved once I re-downloaded the game so it's possible you won't have to deal with this. One aspect of the game that definitely deserves a mention is the music. Although the tunes only played once without looping, I felt most of them were actually good at capturing the tensity of each scene. There was one instance where I had spent too long trying to figure out what to do, then all of a sudden, I received an unexpected warning that was accompanied by some startling music (and that was without headphones). So it definitely served its purpose there.
Aside from some aggravating moments that will test your patience, I think the developers did a good job with this release. Again, if you get frustrated easily, there's a strong possibility you may give up as things get a lot harder. Still, at the end of the day, this game is worth playing through and I hope more of these "Escape" titles come over here.
19/30 - Good
Gameplay 7/10 - Interact with and combine simple objects, clever puzzle solutions, multiple settings, lack of a hint system, can be picky with stylus swipes
Presentation 7/10 - Decent visuals, really effective music, storyline is interesting to follow, possible game freezes
Enjoyment 3/5 - Frustrating moments really take away from the fun later on, desire to find out what happens next makes the game addicting to play
Extra Content 2/5 - Will last you some time but there's nothing to sustain interest afterwards, not bad for the price, no additional save files
Equivalent to a score of 63% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)