Review – Unlock! Secret Adventures

As we’ve written about in the past, we really enjoy “escape room in a box“-style puzzle games. So when a new trio of Unlock! games was released, we wasted no time in getting and playing them. We had a ton of fun with them as usual, and since this set of games seemed to introduce a few new elements beyond just the cards and app, it seemed like a good opportunity to give our impressions of them. We’ll cover each of the three games in the “Secret Adventures” set of Unlock!, from easiest to hardest (by the publisher’s ranking). For each game, we’ll include a spoiler-free overview and general impressions, as well as a more detailed review that may contain some spoilers, though we’ll try to avoid putting the actual answer to any of the puzzles so you can still enjoy playing through these games and figuring things out for yourself (albeit with a bit more foreknowledge of some of the game’s surprises). So grab your thinking cap and prepare to solve some puzzles to make it through the Unlock! Secret Adventures!

A Noside Story

We start by facing off against Noside, the mad scientist who made his first appearance in Squeek & Sausage, one of the first Unlock! adventures. Noside is up to his old tricks again, and you are tasked with putting a stop to his schemes! This was a pretty standard Unlock! game, and the puzzles weren’t too difficult — as fitting for its 1 lock (out of 3) difficulty. We were able to solve this one relatively easily, well within the allotted time, getting the full five stars for completion.

Spoiler

As I said, this one was a pretty typical adventure without any crazy new elements. There were a few hidden numbers we missed that we needed the app’s hint system for, but otherwise didn’t have any major troubles. The one caveat for this particular game, which is probably only one that I noticed because we played it in a busy coffee shop, was that there was at least one instance of an audio clue that showed up randomly. Fortunately, the phone vibrated and showed an indication that it was playing a sound clip; otherwise we may have missed that piece. So, if you’re planning to play this one, I’d recommend trying to do so in a quiet environment.

Tombstone Express

In this adventure, you’re taken back to the old west of the late 1800s. You’re on the eponymous train, escorting a valuable artifact to broker peace with the Apache tribe. All seems well until chaos starts breaking out on the train, and the artifact turns up missing! You have only an hour to find it before the train arrives at its destination, or else the peace treaty will fail! This game definitely introduces some new, surprising elements, covered in detail in the spoiler tag below!

Spoiler

The first thing you’ll notice when opening this game is the addition of another component beyond the usual cards — 6 cardboard bullets and 6 stands. This game also has (as far as I can tell) random events, which is something other Unlock! games haven’t done previously. As I mentioned, a few minutes after the start of the game (which is probably actually scheduled), the artifact you’ve been tasked with guarding is stolen, providing the actual plot of the game. Then, throughout the course of the game, a couple of things happen — there’s an explosion, providing extra cards and clues, the machinery powering the train malfunctions, and most excitingly of all, the train is ambushed by bandits! This is where the bullets and stands come into play. The bandits are provided on 6 of the game’s cards, and you must use the stands to stand them up vertically. Then, you divide the cardboard bullets amongst the players, take a couple of steps back from the table, and throw the bullets at the bandits to try to knock them down! It was definitely unexpected to have a dexterity section in an Unlock! game, and I didn’t even mind that we couldn’t progress until getting past it because it was a fun little diversion. On the other hand, the machinery malfunction I mentioned earlier was a less welcome halt in gameplay. Basically we had to play a version of Lights Out on the app, and couldn’t proceed or work on any puzzles until we solved it. For whatever reason, that gave our group a lot of trouble, meaning there were 5-10 minutes where we couldn’t really do anything, and only one person of the three of us was really active at a time. Another frustrating aspect of this particular game was that it seemed to throw a lot of cards at you all at once, and there was a lot less discarding than in previous games (or at least so it seemed), meaning we had a lot of cards on the table at once, which made it hard to know what we should be using at any given time. Finally, the last puzzle of the game was a whodunit of sorts — from all the other passengers on the train, figure out which one stole the artifact. The problem with this was that there was really only one solid clue pointing to the culprit, and we misinterpreted it. Apparently there was another clue, if you remembered where a certain item came from, but as I said this game threw a lot of cards at you all at once, so we didn’t even think of which character said item came from. All in all, while some of the puzzles in this game were fun, and the addition of a dexterity-based minigame was unexpected, the mediocre final puzzle was a bit of a letdown.

The Adventurers of Oz

The final game in this trio took place in the wonderful world of Oz, which is the first instance of a intellectual property-themed Unlock! game (though the Wizard of Oz novel is in the public domain). This game too uses some new elements, and while it is purportedly the most difficult of the Secret Adventures series, we were able to make it through without too much difficulty. This was definitely our favorite of this new trio, with the theme playing a large part of that. Check out the following section (which does contain some light spoilers) for the low-down on what’s new in this game of munchkins, witches, and flying monkeys!

Spoiler

Just as in the previous game, this one contains some elements besides cards in the box — a cardboard “mirror” and a large map of the land of Oz. The story of the game more or less follows the story of the Wizard of Oz that you’re probably familiar with: Dorothy lands in Oz, crushing the Wicked Witch of the East, meets the munchkins, travels to the Wizard, etc… One of the first things players do is receive character cards corresponding to Dorothy and her three companions (Toto is included on Dorothy’s card), which are to be divided up evenly among the players. These cards are used to tell the story of the group’s travels along the yellow brick road and beyond, using a pretty innovative method where each character has portions of the story that lead into one another. Another neat new element is the addition of something other than numbers to identify the cards, with the addition of five differently colored gems on the back of each card. These play into a few puzzles in pretty cool ways. The mirror card mentioned earlier has four differently colored holes corresponding to gems around its edge, and looking through them leads to the answers in a couple of cases. The one drawback of this game is that I feel it expects you to be familiar with the Wizard of Oz canon to solve it perfectly. For instance, at one point you’re facing off against the Wicked Witch of the West with an array of different items you can use on her. The correct answer is to throw water on her, which would be obvious for anyone who has read or seen the Wizard of Oz, but as for as I could tell, there weren’t any hints to that solution in the game itself. While I guess this is a very well-known story, it seemed kind of weird to have an escape room puzzle that required outside knowledge like that. One last cool thing about this game was that each character got a quest from the Wizard, with Dorothy’s being required to complete the game and the others being optional. Being completionists, we opted to complete the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion’s sidequests as well, leading to more puzzle-solving fun! Altogether, this iteration of Unlock! was a ton of fun, and I hope that future installments in the series are more like it!

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