For what is basically a very narrow category of gaming, room escape games can run the gamut of experiences. They can be epic, multi-layer challenges wrapped up in a small space that can take hours or days to solve, or they can be tiny, quick gems that are over in a few minutes. What makes a good game is not the length or the size, but the experience involved. This week's game is on the light end of the spectrum, a game that can be solved fairly quickly but still gives good value for the experience. Welcome to Matiawase by Bianco-Bianco. It's Weekday Escape Time!
Is this really an escape game? Well, you are trying to find your way around and perhaps out of the space, but as with First Love (co-created with Robamimi) Matiawase is more of an emotional experience. The nameless protagonist of this little room (space station? space ship?) appears more to be searching for someone rather than looking for a way out. Of course, the title of the game tells us this, as it is the word (machiawaseru, in Japanese) for rendezvous. This mood is heightened by found objects, each of which has a little phrase written on it. Is this a search for companionship? An emotional journey? Pointless teenage angst? The experience will be subjective, and dependent on the gamer's own perceptions as they wind their way through the corridors.
Bars that appear at the side of the screen will turn the player right or left, but bars at the bottom of the screen will either back you up from a close up or turn you around 180 degrees, a dynamic that can take a little getting used to. Fortunately, there is a handy little map at the lower right of the screen, highlighting which area of the L-shaped space you are facing. Play around for a few minutes and you will get used to the strange movement. Although there are a few puzzles, this game is mostly use of found objects and combinations thereof. There's a handy changing cursor to point out areas of interest, but there is still a little pixel hunting involved as you must sweep the area to find the clickable points of interest or objects.
Analysis: The space you are wandering around in appears to be...well, in space. The look and feel is that of a space station, or a ship, with interesting futuristic design and technology all around. Other than looking good in a nicely rendered 3D way, though, the location is rather incidental to the emotional story that appears to be taking place. The lack of a musical accompaniment only adds to the illusion of being somewhere where no-one can hear you scream. It's not completely silent, since there are appropriate sound effects to be had, but the overall feel is one of melancholy, or perhaps emptiness. Although this is a Japanese game, there is an English translation; you just have to remember to click the "English" button before you begin. Odd for such a small game, there is a save option, which can come in handy if you wish to go back and attempt to find the second ending. Yes, two endings, one happy, one sad, and each dependent upon the player's actions within the game.
This is not, perhaps, Bianco-Bianco's best. The strange navigation and somewhat choppy story detract a little from what is otherwise a fun escaping experience. The action required to get the happy ending is somewhat non-intuitive as well. Despite the flaws, though, there is still fun to be had. Just don't bother screaming in frustration, because, you know, space and all.
Some games are the equivalent of a multi-course feast, something that takes a while and must be spread out over a certain amount of time. Matiawase is more the equivalent of an hors d'oeuvre or an amuse-bouche, casual gameplay that is small and over quickly, but delicious nonetheless, and leaving you wanting more. Short, sweet, and sentimental, Matiawase is still an entertaining little escape from the everyday. Perfect for playing during a short break or using as an excuse to take a short break, something that will transport you away from reality for a few short minutes, a perfect cure for the mid-week and mid-winter blahs.