Attending an escape room is an impossibility for many of us right now. But if you’ve got a hankering to be locked up in a dark room with no clue how to get out, Unlock! adventures can help you replicate that wonderful, horrifying feeling. At times, these games will make you feel very, very stupid but believe me when I say you’ll have fun all the same.
Unlock! Secret Adventures and Unlock! Mythic Adventures are the latest three-story sets from the long-running escape room franchise, providing a bunch of different story-based experiences for wily adventurers.
The way each ‘escape room’ works is fairly simple. You’ll get a deck of numbered or lettered cards, and in some cases a map, decoder or other accessories you’ll need for in-app puzzles when prompted.
Each set collects packs previously released in singles form. Here’s what you’ll find in the boxes:
Unlock! Secret Adventures
- A No-Side Story
- Tombstone Express
- The Adventures of Oz
Unlock! Mythic Adventures
- In The Clutches Of Hades
- Professor Noside’s Animal-0-Matic
- Around The World In 80 Minutes
To begin each story, you simply start the in-app timer, turn over the first card in the deck and locate every hidden number and letter card spelled out in the first ‘location’.
Object cards can be combined to create ‘new’ cards (card 11 + card 8 will let you reveal card 19) while other challenges will require you to find hidden letters or numbers within existing cards, or operate an app-run ‘machines’ like musical mini-games.
The solutions for puzzles are usually obscure, like finding a needle in a haystack, then using that needle to pop a balloon to reveal a door. Some even involve app trickery like inputting the current day’s date or shaking your phone to reveal the answer. Sometimes solutions are as simple as adding together numbers on the card, while others are genuine brain teasers.
You’ll need to think outside the box to solve the puzzles in the Unlock! adventures, and that’s what makes the game so fabulous.
If you’re going it alone you’ll find some puzzles stupidly tough, but with friends you can really have fun with it. Out-of-the-box thinking is an absolute must for the Unlock! series and it’s easy to get stuck on certain puzzles. Waste too much time and you’ll end up failing the game. But if you’ve got a friend by your side, you can approach it from new angles.
You can replay every Unlock! story. But because the game relies on off-the-cuff problem solving, multiple playthroughs don’t have quite the same impact. There are also some puzzle cards that require you to cut or fold them for the solution (although these are quite rare, and you can avoid destroying the set if you wish).
Basically they’re designed to be one-offs, and once you complete them you shouldn’t tackle them again. They’re also easy to fail, so if you’re overly concerned about replayability these won’t be the games for you.
But if you have a mind for puzzles and you’re good at reading between the lines, you’ll have an absolute blast. The game does punish you if you get particular solutions wrong and it can be near-impossible to finish within the hour-long time limits, but if you take it a bit easier and relax the rules you’ll have a grand old time.
I’d actually recommend bending the rules by pausing when you get stuck on a problem, as the stories can be cruel with obtuse solutions. You’ll eventually work your way through with some extra time, though. And both packs come with solutions (printed and online) in case you need to cheat a little bit.
The games are very good at making you feel stupid. But stare at the cards long enough and you might have an epiphany that’ll save your crew.
Of the six packs including in the two new sets, my favourite escape stories were In The Clutches of Hades and Tombstone Express.
In The Clutches Of Hades is a Greek-themed adventure where players need to use in-app cartography and a freeform ‘pottery wheel’ machine to create objects. Unlike some of the other adventures, it depends on creativity and quick recall.
It does require some background knowledge of mythology (like needing a Drachma to pay Charon, the boatman of Hades) but there’s a clear narrative line throughout the game that buoys the action along. The puzzles are also fairly straightforward and don’t try to ‘trick’ players.
Tombstone Express is a Western adventures where players have to solve a mystery while travelling on a high-speed train. As the timer ticks down, new events occur like engine failure and ambushes that players need to react to on the fly. There’s also an excellent mini-game where players need to ‘shoot bullets’ to escape rogue bandits attempting to hijack the train.
Both adventures use the in-app features excellently, replicating the tense atmosphere of a traditional escape room. You’ll feel a genuine panic working your way through the Unlock! games, and it’s a great motivator for trying new and daring solutions.
While the lack of replayability will be an issue for players new to ‘escape room’ style games, it does make each adventure feel more special. Completing a full story is also a great achievement. Hints along the way will point you in the right direction, but if you approach the games from just the right angle you’ll breeze past the puzzles and get to feel rather good about yourself because of it.
At the end of each game, you’ll be given a score based on your performance and how many clues you used. I will admit to having paused the games a few times to get through the harder puzzles, but I was still pretty chuffed at my final results!
There were moments when I felt like the World’s Biggest Idiot™ but once I worked my way through the harder puzzles and figured out exactly what was going on, I had an absolute blast playing through these adventures.
If you’re looking for a solid puzzler, or just a big ol’ brain teaser, consider putting Unlock! on the menu. It takes a short while to understand the mechanics, but once you get the hang of it, you’re in for a fantastic time. They’re not exactly the same as a good escape room, but they’re the next best thing for now.