Torquay, May 2019
Arthur Moon is a ‘perfectly normal’ schoolboy whose mysterious disappearance forms the plot of Red House Mysteries’ newest game, and the first at their newly opened Torquay branch. If from the name and website description you’ve gathered that it’s set in the 80s but with some unspecified reality-bending twist, then your expectations are on the right lines.
On first visiting Red House’s Exeter branch I was impressed by the efforts they’d taken to establish an atmosphere and house style right from the front door. The Torquay branch was brand new when we visited and looked to be still settling in a little, but it aims for the same effect, where stepping inside already feels like entering a different era well before the game itself starts.
In style, setting and concept Arthur Moon seems to take inspiration from a certain recent TV series, though Red House have created their own story instead of using existing IP. They’ve gone all in on the 80s setting, creating a nostalgia fest for any players who grew up in that decade, which on its own would be a great basis for an escape room but which is emphatically only a part of this game. I’m avoiding details for spoiler reasons, but there’s a dramatic shift of gear partway through which via a combination of decor, audio and story narrative, manages to be wonderfully, creepily effective.
As well as providing story and atmosphere, the central trick of the game design is used in several different ways as a rich seam of puzzle inspiration. But though the puzzles were very good, what lingers is how very convincing their fictional world became, to the point where I found myself genuinely nervous about taking particular actions.
In this lovely, disturbing game, I thought the ending was a weak point. There was nothing wrong with it as such, a perfectly well-designed and logical puzzle, but everything beforehand was so effective I was expecting something more dramatic and theatrical. It demanded a fitting climax, and instead ended a bit suddenly, resolving the story on a small scale instead of going large. I was so invested by the point that it felt a bit like a sudden reminder that this was just a puzzle game; there was a missed opportunity for a truly spectacular finish.
But it’s petty to complain that something very good wasn’t even better, and Arthur Moon is good even by the high standards set by Red House’s previous games, and bodes well for the other games they’re building in Torquay. Play it with a small group if you can – it doesn’t have a huge amount of space and will be best enjoyed with a team of two or three.