Cube Escape Series Retrospective: Part 1 (Android)

(Review archived from October 31, 2018)

I have to be completely honest here. I played a lot of horror games in October. And as the close of the month drew near I was starting to face some burnout. Well, maybe ‘burnout’ is the wrong word for it. I was facing some significant indecisiveness regarding what to play next. Ultimately I found myself trawling through internet lists of ‘The Greatest Horror Games …’, and it was through this endeavor that I eventually I stumbled into the world of Rusty Lake. The specific list in question made reference to Cube Escape: Paradox, the most recent game in this franchise, but suggested that series noobs should start at the beginning. As luck would have it, the majority of Cube Escape games are free (though ad supported). “What the hey,” I thought to myself, “The art style looks interesting, and it’s hard to go wrong with free … plus when was the last time I really sat down with a mobile game?”

What happened next was that I devoured all the initial Cube Escape games over the course of a weekend. These are fun little puzzle-adventure games you guys. And ‘little’ really is the proper descriptor here. Each of these games can be beaten in roughly an hour or less, probably much less if it’s a replay. But don’t let their diminutive nature fool you. The puzzles in these games are quite good, ranging from the relatively easy on up to intermediate levels of difficulty. The setup is that each of the Cube Escape games adheres to an ‘escape room’ formula in which each ‘room’ typically consists of four walls, the ceiling and floor … thus the ‘Cube’ in Cube Escape. You must use items and environmental elements found in each room in order to be able to escape. Obviously this sort of gameplay hinges on well-constructed puzzles and thankfully all of them are solvable using in game clues though many of the clues require a keen eye for observation. The variety of puzzles encountered throughout series is another highlight, and it’s seldom that you see the same type of puzzle repeated.

“So what?” you say, “It’s a mobile game with decent puzzles. I can barely swing a dead cat without accidentally installing seven of them.” I hear ya friend-o, I do. Now put down that cat so it can have its eternal rest. The other hook to these games is the unique art style and especially in the unique atmosphere. One of the major cited sources of inspiration for the developers is David Lynch and specifically his work on Twin Peaks. I’ve never actually seen Twin Peaks, but it’s easy to see some of the Lynch-ian influence at work here. The in-game logic is surreal and often macabre. Each of these Cube Escape takes place in the same world, and for the most part each of them makes oblique reference to the same story and set of events. Determining the exact nature of those events is often left up to interpretation, but really that’s half the fun in games like this.

Really if you can level a criticism at these games it’s that they can be a bit same-y from one entry to the next, which is part of the reason I’m reviewing them as a group rather than as individual entries. But really their brevity is a saving grace here. Considering they more-or-less revolve around the same story and they’re only an hour a piece, you could almost consider them one medium length puzzle-based adventure game with an unchanging set of mechanics.

The quality does vary a bit from one entry to the next though, so here’s my title-by-title break down.

Cube Escape: Seasons
The only game in the series (so far) to feature an active element of time travel. Piece together the memories of an unseen and unknown protagonist to ‘change your fate’. This one sets the stage for the recurring story elements and is the hook for the entire series. If this one doesn’t grab you, you can probably safely walk away from the series.

Cube Escape: The Lake
Mental Health and Fishing! You find yourself in a secluded cabin near Rusty Lake. Hey, might as well get to fishing! Who knows what you’ll pull out of that lake! Perhaps not as inventive or imaginative as the first game, but a decent second showing.

Cube Escape: Arles
Enter the world and mind of master impressionist Vincent Van Gogh himself. Although this title ties in to a recurring theme of artwork and paintings throughout these games, there is little else to really connect it with the world of Rusty Lake. As a result it feels a bit disconnected from the rest of the series.

Cube Escape: Harvey’s Box
In this one you’re escaping from a cardboard box. It’s about as exciting as it sounds. Harvey’s Box also has a strong reliance on music based puzzles, something that always feels hit or miss to me. They’re not bad, but they’re not great either. Not going to lie, Cube Escape was starting to lose me at this point in the series. It was going to take a strong return to form to hook me back in.

Cube Escape: Case 23
Holy Crap. Yep that’ll do it. You’re a detective investigating the murder(?) referenced in several of the other games. This one takes place across four distinct chapters (much like the first game) in which each chapter features a distinct room … er … cube (a first for the series). If you were wondering when the Twin Peaks influence would show up, look no further than this. This game goes further than any of the others (so far) in establishing the lore of Rusty Lake. The timed end sequence is kind of a bummer, but not so much as to really sully the experience.

Cube Escape: The Mill
Here I believe you’re playing as one of the ‘mysterious’ denizens of Rusty Lake (no spoilers), but it’s hard to say. Open for interpretation! This one builds upon the lore established in Case 23, and in some ways is the direct continuation of that game. This is the first game in the series in which you can freely travel from one room to the next across three different rooms. It’s also perhaps the most macabre of the bunch.

So there you have it. The series continues on in a handful of other Cube Escape games and (to my understanding) further expands the world as a ‘traditional’ set of adventure games in the Rusty Lake series proper. The next game in the series is in fact Rusty Lake Hotel, which I plan to play at some point, but this felt like a good point in the series to provide a retrospective of the first Cube Escape games before jumping into a big shift in play style. All told I’ve really enjoyed my time with this series thus far. Recommended for fans of logical puzzles and adventure games. “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.” I mean c’mon that should be right in the wheelhouse of every discerning retro-gamer!






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