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Detective, Mystery, Escape room

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Number of Reviews: 9
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A Victorian escape room, July 10, 2024
by Jim Nelson (San Francisco)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2023

I thoroughly enjoyed Ben Jackson’s Spring Thing effort, The Kuolema, and deduced from Lunium’s cover art that he’d produced another top-notch graphical puzzler. Kuolema’s calling card is that it was fully implemented in Google Forms, which I’m still wrapping my head around. This time Jackson used Twine, which appears to have served him well.

Lunium could be described as a Victorian-era escape room with elements of a crime mystery lurking in the shadows. You awake chained to a wall in a candlelit room. The only door out is wrapped in chains and padlocked. Some mysterious contraptions line a side desk. What’s going on here?

Still images with prose descriptions guide you through the room. Unlike Myst-like slideshows, the page will often display multiple images interspersed with text when you “drill down” to examine details closely.

I found the puzzles straightforward, but not overly simple. Once or twice I felt jammed up, walked away from the computer, and came back knowing what my next step would be. I highly recommend reading the descriptions carefully. There are a couple puzzles where one cannot mechanically take information X and apply it to Y to make progress. You must consider the context of the clue and extrapolate.

While the main focus is to solve the puzzles that will lead you out of this room, Jackson lays over that a murder mystery ongoing outside its walls. Clues, notes, and photographs in the room accrete to the details of the crimes. All this is not mere window dressing; deducing the criminal is part of the endgame.

As with Kuolema, the graphics work is superb. Fans of Victorian intrigues will love the careful attention to detail, particularly of the brass-and-wood contraptions and the daguerreotypes of the suspects. Games can be saved, and context-sensitive hints are available. From a presentation perspective, this feels like a professional effort.

Are there problems? Escape room puzzles lean toward the contrived, and that’s often the case here. The setup of an amnesiac player is stock, but hey, it’s an effective way to start a game. Early on, the prose is fairly stark, but becomes more engaging as the player sees more of the room and begins to grasp the connective tissue between its elements. I do wish some of the crime suspects were more fully fleshed out by the game’s ending.

I will say, the ending surprised me. I needed a hint or two before I correctly named the criminal. One plus is that the game is very forgiving; I found no way to die or lock yourself out of an ending. Even when you do reach an end, you’re given a second chance if you feel unsatisfied. It’s a good design choice in an exceedingly well-designed game.

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