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Escape from Hell, by Nils Fagerburg

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
An excellent escape game from the depths of the underworld, November 5, 2022

Here's another EctoComp (or should I say ECTOCOMP?) review.

Escape from Hell is about the escape efforts of Zgarblurg, a demon spirit who got caught pulling a prank on Lucifer and was sentenced to inhabit the body of a zombie and count paperwork. But gradually, Zgarblurg has been regaining strength, perhaps enough strength to escape both hell and mind-numbing bureaucracy.

As a spirit, you possess NPCs to travel and interact with characters and your surroundings. There are six total, and each have a specialized skill centered around a verb that can be applied to certain puzzles. For example, the zombie counts things, the succubus smooches, and the golem shoves heavy objects. The main mechanic is to possess these characters to use their abilities to your advantage. I also found two solutions for two puzzles in the game, which was nice.

While it is not obvious right away, the overarching goal is to (Spoiler - click to show) indispose the demon princes so that you can escape through the mineshaft. Otherwise, they will intercept you to keep you from leaving. The solution for each (Spoiler - click to show) prince (I never thought of Beelzebub as a prince, but maybe I am behind on the times) were creative and inventive, especially since they involve using their own vices against them. In total, it is a longer game. I completed it in about two hours.

I am a big fan of Fagerburg's games which can be cryptic, but in good way. These games use creative gameplay mechanics that are streamlined for discovery and experimentation. In Dessert Island, for instance, puzzles feature a magical spatula with pre-prepared spells, but knowing how to fully use it requires some work. While Dessert Island, I feel, is a little more technical than the author’s other games, they all feature strong setting, story, characters, and other attributes that engage the player and motivate them to investigate methods of problem solving, even in the face of a daunting puzzle. Plus, the author also strives to make things user-friendly so that technical puzzles are enjoyable to solve.

Escape from Hell is not a particularly cryptic (if at all) game, but some puzzles will take longer to crack than others. For me, (Spoiler - click to show) it was learning how to cut the golden threads in the courtyard via food offerings. First, it was about discovering the mechanic of food offerings, and then it became a matter of making the right ones in the proper order. It took a while, but rather than being frustrating it was fun and felt rewarding once I solved it. The author has always seemed to have “signature” puzzles, ones that are creative with a distinct style.

In terms of user-friendliness, one of the best features is its built-in map consisting of a grid at the corner of the screen that expands as you explore. If you hover over a box, it lists the location title along with any characters in the room. Characters are also indicated by dots which is helpful since some move independently. You can also click on a location to have your character travel there automatically, room by room. By the end of the game, you will have a 7x7 grid of locations. For a puzzle-oriented game, this was extremely helpful.

The game focuses more on puzzles rather than story, and there is not much else to add other than that Zgarblurg stepped on the toes of the wrong prince. And I do not think it needs any more than that for it to stand on its own because the focus is on exploring the landscape and interacting with (sorry, possessing) people for your own gains.

The bureaucratic monotony paperwork-hell in hell is reminiscent of Perdition's Flames, a TADS game about discovering the mundanities to be experienced after you die. Escape from Hell only touches on those themes lightly at the start of the game (such as the Infernal Cubicle), but they are still a humorous component in the game.

(I am not sure where to put this so I will just list it under “story.”) There are some fun easter eggs with the (Spoiler - click to show) cubicle forms. They list people who are destined to go to the underworld when they die. The catch is that these people are characters from other games. If you look closely, in the corner of each form is a reference number that you can use to confirm the game on IFDB. None of this has any purpose in the gameplay but I still had fun looking for games that I recognized.

This game is a parser/choice-based hybrid. It looks like any of the author's parser games but instead of typing on your keyboard you click on links and buttons. The action buttons change depending on what actions are available based on your character and location. Everything is easy to use, and you can carry out commands at the same pace of a parser game. I also liked the appearance of the game. It has a purple background, white text, pink text for dialog, and pink links.

Final thoughts
Escape from Hell is another fun game by Nils Fagerburg. Great for Halloween or, quite frankly, any time of the year. It is a creative puzzlefest with technical but well-clued puzzles amid humorous characters. If you have played the author’s other games before, you will recognize the trademark qualities in Escape from Hell, and I recommend it to everyone.

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