My wife and I have only ever done one actual escape room, but we like the concept a lot. We’ve had a lot of fun looking for alternatives to actually being closed in a small room with strangers, from murder-mysteries-in-a-box to playing virtual escape rooms in Rec Room. Over on Steam, there are a lot of options for in-depth and immersive experiences. Consoles don’t have quite as many options. Recently, mc2games has brought two of their Escape Rooms over to the Nintendo Switch: Palindrome Syndrome and Tested on Humans. Both of these games are out now and playable, but I’d like to focus on Palindrome Syndrome in this review.
The basic loop of Palindrome Syndrome is pretty easy to understand. You wander around in first-person through a fairly well-realized space station, finding clues and puzzles to be solved. Sometimes you’re working with basic physics, like putting different-sized gears in place to connect to points. Other times you’re using math or pattern recognition to crack a code.
The puzzles are mostly straightforward and generally didn’t take us more than a few minutes each to solve. This made working through the game together feel really breezy, with constant moments of triumph as we solved each puzzle. One puzzle did stump us, which made for a nice end to our first night of playing the game. That night, neither of us could sleep because we were both preoccupied with trying to figure out how to crack a code. I ended up running out of the room to write down the solution when I figured it out!
Compared to the Hunt a Killer games we’ve been playing recently, my only complaint about the puzzles is that they were almost entirely standalone. What I mean, is that solving “Puzzle A” might reveal a clue for “Puzzle B”, but otherwise those two puzzles wouldn’t be connected in any way. This makes the puzzle-solving pretty linear because you generally only have the information you need to solve one or two at a time. On the one hand, that did fit into the breezy feeling by letting us let go of each concept as soon as we used it. On the downside, it did make things feel less interconnected.
Playing a console game that was developed for PC is always a bit interesting. Translating those experiences from Mouse and Keyboard to a controller can be hit or miss. Thankfully, the controls in Palindrome Syndrome are fairly simple. You walk and look around using dual analog sticks as if it were a first-person shooter. A single button press is used to either pick up clues or enter into a puzzle. Each puzzle has a fixed camera angle, and you move a cursor around to interact with it.
The concepts for the controls are all solid, but they end up not feeling great in practice. My wife really struggled with clicking exactly where the game wanted her to in order to interact with puzzles, even with the reticle changing color when it was in the right spot. At first, I thought this was just an issue because she wasn’t used to first-person controls. When I took over, I even struggled to “aim” correctly from time to time. Inside the puzzles, where you use the right analog stick to move a cursor, it’s even tougher. An option to be able to use the d-pad to cycle between selectable objects would probably be more user-friendly than the cursor system.
Thankfully, there is never any time pressure at all in this game. Being able to move at a leisurely pace means it’s only annoying when you can’t quite find the right spot to click, rather than being game-breaking. The controls could definitely feel better than they do, but they were never cumbersome enough to ruin the experience.
An Interesting Mystery
Palindrome Syndrome has a mysterious story from the jump when you wake up on a spaceship without any information on how you ended up there. As you work through the game you find journals that tell you a little about what happened on the ship and unlock more and more areas onboard. I won’t get into any details, to avoid spoilers. I’ll just say that I ended up really being impressed with the story. It goes places I didn’t expect and was super, super satisfying in the end.
It ended up taking my wife and me a few hours over the course of a few sessions to play all the way through Palindrome Syndrome. We definitely had a good time playing it, but this is the sort of game you can really only play once. After you’ve seen the story and figured out how to solve the puzzles of the game, there is no reason to go back, but that’s how escape rooms always work! If you’re itching to solve a mystery, and especially for something that you could work through with another person, this game is a lot of fun!
Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 mysterious stars
Side-note: I’d actually intended to review Palindrome Syndrome and Tested on Humans together, but we got totally stumped in the second game. Keep an eye on this space for a review of that game when we eventually figure out how to move forward in it!