Déjà vu is hard to define. When déjà vu overtakes you, it is an unexpected and otherworldly sensation, like a vision of some place you're meant to be or a predication of some task you're fated to do. It's enough to make you stand back and pause, musing "I'm sure I've been here before... but when?" Now experience Team Escaper: Escape Castle, an unexpected new escape game that moves beyond genre definitions. It's also the first release by Team Escaper, a collaboration of several game designers, some who are well-known to JIG fans including Strawberry Café, Tesshi-e, Cogito Ergo Sum, and some who are new to the Casual Gameplay scene (Dora Game, Dominion's Rest, Four-Leaf Clover, and more).
In Team Escaper's Escape Castle, true to the spirit of team effort, not only do you need to escape the devil king's trappings, you also must elicit help from a menagerie of familiar characters, building a dream team to undertake gaming's iconic quest: rescue the fair princess from the villain's diabolical grasp. You've done it all before, but never quite like this. Use the arrows at the side of the screen to navigate by clicking on them, and a map at the top left of the screen will help you keep track of where you are and where you're facing. Items appears in your inventory on the right when you pick them up, and you'll need to make sure to save your game often if you want to take a break by clicking the "save" button!
Analysis: Playing Escape Castle will feel like a comprehensive test for anyone who aspires to be called an expert escaper. You'll rely on your experience to work out puzzle solutions that are not obvious on the surface but which seem oddly familiar. While the puzzles are not exactly formidable, it's refreshingly entertaining to see these well-known figures drawn together... and that offers a new challenge in recalling characters from games past. Do you remember Motchi's favorite dish? Nyan's best skill?
Novice players are not left out: Escape Castle has an Escape-the-Room 101 feel to it as well. Simple navigation, inventory items close at hand, clean graphics and a changing cursor come together to make this game accessible to everyone. Still, it's best to not underestimate the amount of cunning achieved when multiple room escape designers meld their efforts. Necessary objects don't wear neon signs and solutions are not overt so expect to employ diligence in your detective work. Regardless, leaps in logic or eclectically lateral conclusions are not a factor here; the power of deduction and a keen eye are all that's needed to successfully make your way through.
Although some puzzles may leave you feeling you've been there, done that, Escape Castle's final "puzzle" is a welcome twist on the genre, elevating it to a new level while harkening back to an age-old gaming tradition of the final boss battle. Maybe you'll even stand back and muse "What if?" before re-launching the game to try again, so fortunately the save button comes in handy here.
With all it has to offer, Escape Castle is a sure crowd-pleaser, and yet it's not without some disappointments. During main game play, there is no ambient music but the final overtures are jarringly loud to the degree where you might want keep one finger hovered over your computer's sound controls. Every puzzle in Escape Castle is well-designed and coherent, but some tasks seem too by rote; that makes for a rather quick escape despite the multiple rooms and some players might be left wanting for additional obstacles or escalating difficulty or greater risk in the end battle... yet none of that takes away from this game's echoing charm.
Escape Castle consistently defines fun. There is something for everyone to enjoy in the fusion and (if the 1 after Team Escaper's URL portends anything) I expect we'll be seeing this cast of characters again someday.