Room-in-a-box, Apr 2021
Based on Jules Verne’s novel, you do indeed have 80 minutes to solve this one rather than the standard 60 minutes, so it fits Unlock’s usual pattern of having the third game in a box be longer and more difficult. In many of their other box sets the third game is also the best designed, but I thought this was more middle of the range, an ambitious game with plenty of good ideas but also plenty that didn’t work so well.
It opens ‘in medias res’ partway through, before jumping you back to play through the narrative from the start, which is a nice enough flourish to the story-telling. The main innovation specific to this episode though is a new concept of subtracting numbers instead of adding them. Where you’d normally add the numbers of two cards together to find which card to look at next, here you sometimes need to remove something from a scene or item; and if you can find a way to turn that something into a numerical value, you can subtract it from the card’s number to get a new card. That was one of the things I liked about 80 Minutes – it was used in intelligent ways to add in some fresh puzzle ideas.
You also need to keep an eye out for your nemesis, Detective Fix, throughout the game. This felt like a somewhat superfluous attempt to shoe-horn in a character from the source novel in a ‘Where’s Wally/Waldo’ style. Unlock games have mostly moved away from their old hidden number system, and are broadly better for it; peering closely at small cards for tiny details wasn’t a highlight, so it’s not particularly welcome for that to be reintroduced in a different form.
For the actual puzzles, the game boasts a variety of clever ideas – several of which I thought were just a bit confusing in practice. Nothing was badly broken, but the flow felt somewhat uncertain and bumpy. But maybe we just didn’t click with it, and if you’re more on the ball it might appeal to you more.