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A light comedy adventure best suited for children to play with help from another, June 11, 2022
To start I want to say I love that the Aurora Public Library created and hosts this game on their website. Just a great opportunity for children to be exposed to interactive fiction in a very welcoming manner.
Escape from the Wizard's Castle is a short and simplistic adventure that holds your hand throughout the game. You play a generic adventurer who discovers a castle that is trapped in time, and to succeed you must solve five spells the wizard cast prior to him inexplicably forgetting how to break them. He wants you to succeed, however, and will provide constant encouragement in the form of terrible puns. There is also a raven who wants you to succeed as well and who can provide strong hints if you're stuck.
The game provides a tutorial on how to navigate a Twine game and the goals are always obvious, making this non-threatening to newcomers. Each room comes with a pleasant hand-drawn art style reminiscent of your typical hidden object game and serve well as a visual aid to the text. While you are frequently picking up everything not nailed down, you never have to manipulate your inventory to solve a puzzle. For example, if you find a key and then come to a locked door, all you need to do is click on the suggested hyperlink to open the door. In fact, the inventory is more of a log of your progress than anything. When you check it, the game lists the items you have and then says, "To look at these items more closely, you'll need to go attempt their puzzles."
The puzzles themselves are separate from the main narrative. When a puzzle is present, the game will prompt you to solve the puzzle by taking you to another screen. These puzzles are the highlight of the game, as they all require either logical reasoning or interpretation of symbolism. The game description warns that small children may need help with some of the puzzles. I can attest that a full grown adult who solved All Things Devours without hints may have also needed help with some of the puzzles. One of the answers was fairly obvious in retrospect (but would be impossible for visually impaired players), and one I still didn't quite understand even after solving it.
The main critique I have for the game is that given the basic story and simple punnery, the audience who would thoroughly enjoy this game is probably limited to elementary school-aged children, while the puzzles seem to be more for a middle-school aged audience. This would be fine if playing with a parent, but I am worried the intended audience would get frustrated at times if playing alone.
Overall, this is a solid effort. I enjoyed a couple of the puzzles, and I smirked a few times at the wizard's running commentary. And even if young players are not enamored by the game, I imagine it could be still inspire them to get into the medium.