Escape from Hell

by Nils Fagerburg profile


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Number of Reviews: 4
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Belphegor didn't want to play., November 8, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Puzzler

Blegh! You came so close last time! So close, but then Satan caught you escaping and threw you back. Stuffed in the body of a lowly counting clerk no less! Fortunately, you feel your powers of possession growing...

You are Zgarblurg (how's that for a malevolent-sounding name...), a demon spirit intent on escaping from Hell. To accomplish this, you must use your power to possess other entities.Fortunately, this particular version of Hell houses just the right creatures whose powers might aid you with your cunning plan (which you will make up as you go along...)

This Hell is a peculiar place, consisting of several regions. You start off in Accounting, move on to a large section loosely inspired by Dante's Inferno and Greek mythology (remember that one time where Orpheus got tangled up in brocolli stalks...), and confront the Princes of Darkness in their palace (which kinda made me think of a college frat house...)

The map is large but not sprawling. It's completely geometric (rectangular) in shape. Many areas are cleverly gated off so your exploration will require some inventive puzzle-solving skills.

I should mention here that the game was developed in a custom engine of the author's own making that closely resembles Gruescript and Versificator, as it is important for the following discussion of puzzles, pacing and map-traversal. These game engines present you with fine-grain options for which actions to take, along with accessible compass directions,resulting in a very parser-like gameplay experience. The available actions have been pre-selected by the author depending on the creature you are possessing and the location you're in.

The game provides an adaptive map grid that grows with the locations you've discovered. Along with the buttons for compass directions, you can click on any location on the map repeatedly to move your player to that square turn by turn. At first this felt like a great feature for player comfort. However, since almost all puzzles depend on bringing the right creature to the appropriate puzzle-location, the map-clicking feature soon felt very mechanical and gnawed away at my engagement. I quickly reverted to clicking the compass buttons as they gave me more of a sense of active navigation. Still, there's a lot of going back-and-forth across the map to switch creatures and positioning them, even if you have a clear objective in mind. When you're stuck and aimlessly wandering, the clicking interface pushed me out of the immersion faster than typing in directions in a parser would have done. (But this is probably just me bringing my parser-bias into a click game.)

The puzzles are fair once you get to know your creature's abilities. Some are decidedly elegant, providing a flash of insight or the satisfaction of a well-prepared plan working out just as you imagined. A nice variety too, with turn/timed sequences, unlocking gates with a twist, some surprising uses of objects. A few obstacles require a bit of background knowledge of Hades or the Inferno, but nothing that a bit of determined trial-and-error couldn't take care of.
There was only one puzzle that has me stumped even after I asked for hints:
-(Spoiler - click to show)The sacrifices to the Moirae. The fact that they want food offerings is well-clued. The colour-coding I understand. But how to deduce the order in which to give Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos their snacks completely eludes me even now.

Although I do think the puzzles are fair, many of them felt ever so slightly underclued. This is another instance where I missed the freedom of the parser to poke around, hoping that fail-responses to PULL, MOVE, LICK or KICK would nudge me in the right direction. (Spoiler - click to show)For example, a simple DRINK WATER on the banks of the Lethe or even SWIM IN LETHE would eliminate any need for background mythological knowledge. (Again, probably just me and my parser sensibilities.)

Once you have penetrated the Palace of the Dark Princes after a fair amount of puzzling, the pace picks up as you confront each of the six Devils (originally seven, but Belphegor couldn't be bothered...). It'sa lot of fun to figure ut their respective weak points and concoct a plan for their undoing.

An engaging and challenging puzzler with some hilarious moments. My main source of enjoyment was how the game invited me to dream up creative (if far-fetched) solutions to the problems it poses. I felt my brain engaging with the obstacles in the background even when away from the screen.