You find yourself in the dark. But rather than being eaten by a Grue, you instead find yourself confronted by Linkage, the latest escape game by Mya of Neutral. There's a couch... and a big screen television... some, uh, fluid on the floor... and a photo of a puppy! Why... this isn't sinister at all! Why on Earth would anyone want to escape from here?... what?... bathroom? *sigh* If you must. But getting out isn't going to be easy.
Control, however, is easy; click on the screen to interact or pick up items, and use the arrows at the edges of the screen to change your orientation in the room. If an item is in your inventory, you can mouse over it and click the little magnifying glass icon that pops up for a closer look. And believe me, you're going to be contemplating that adorable little rag-tag assortment of items with furious intensity if you want to solve this one and escape. There's no real instruction so it's up to you to fire up your own grey matter and make like your ancestors, only instead of creating fire you're sobbing incoherently and trying to force answers out of a fuchsia teddy-bear by trying to combine it with a battery and a piece of paper. If it all gets too much for you and you need a break, there's even a save function built into the game. Awwww, shucks, Neutral. We love you too.
Analysis: If you're like me and only enjoy a casual flirtation with the genre, you'll probably spend a while wandering around bewildered, clutching random items and prodding at symbols and switches. What Neutral's games do best is actually encourage experimentation and discovery in a way that most other titles in the genre do not. With the lack of any real direction, the moments of EUREKA, when they happen, are that much more satisfying, and are rarely obscure. If you've played any of Neutral's games before, like fan-favourite Vision, then you've come to expect that sort of thing, but newcomers are going to find this a real treat. The game is cleanly designed, lovely to look at, and playful in its execution. Following the trail of clues is a lot of fun, and the difficulty is challenging, but not enough so that escape novices like myself will feel as though we're running headlong into a brick wall.
The downside, of course, is that there's no changing cursor for those of us who hope to rely on sweeping the cursor slowly from one side of the screen to another looking for a hotspot we might have missed. The game is rarely unfair, however, and if you keep your eyes peeled for things that look out of the ordinary you probably won't have to resort to pixel hunting; look around and you'll notice items peeping around around corners. There are so many places to investigate in the room that you'll want to forget what your mother always told you and be as nosy as possible, peering under chairs, behind furniture, and everywhere else you can think to look. There was one instance where I was prowling around, looking for what to do next, when a new perspective on an area I'd examined multiple times suddenly revealed a hidden key, and I was ridiculously delighted by this. Not only because it meant that I had another piece of the puzzle, but because it was actually hidden in such a logical location.
In the ancient language, Neutral probably means "creator of clever, engaging puzzles" or "bringer of rad-ness". Linkage is another stellar game coming from an already well established pedigree, and if you've been hankering for a meaty chunk of escape to sink your teeth into, it will definitely provide. With clever puzzles, smart design, and of course a puppy (that is the most important), Linkage is a wonderful way to spend your time.