I think in the last year of Buried Treasure, no developer/series has had as many mentions as Rusty Lake. Despite the widespread success of their Cube Escape games on mobile, not least because they’ve often been free, their premium games have still failed to see the level of coverage I believe they deserve. So I shall keep championing them until they do. Which brings us to the completely excellent news of the Cube Escape Collection.
Escape Room games may have passed you by if you’re not a mobile gamer. They’re a genre that is of course matched by the real-world fad for the same (a business model I can only assume has not faired well in 2020), where you begin locked in a room with an ostentatious collection of puzzles between you an your exit. The developer, Rusty Lake, did the most genius thing: they took that formula, and put it through a Lynchian lens to make it really damned unsettling.
The result is the Cube Escape series, their on-the-nose title not betraying the weirdness that exists within these box-shaped escape rooms. Set across time, through generations of questionably human families, they’re as likely to have a three-digit code to solve as they are a dead body into whose nostrils you must explore.
Within this are recurring themes and characters, that honestly send a chill down my spine when they appear. There’s the scratchily drawn outline of a white box, the spinning cube, the owl-headed man… And just as importantly, the puzzles are great examples of the form, whether traditional or just plain creepy.
But for PC they were released in Flash, and come the end of this year, Flash is finally dead forever. Which brings with it the tragic loss of countless games of the 00s and 10s. Fortunately, Rusty Lake have seen fit to preserve all of theirs in this new collection, nine games, now with achievements and a hint system (where before there was only a YouTube video to watch), for less than £3! (£4 after the 21st October.)
Being originally made in Flash, they’re able to stretch without losing fidelity to any resolution you fancy. (Sniff, I’m going to miss you, Flash.) Rebuilt in Air, the only loss is some of the cool turny effects when you rotated the rooms, but otherwise everything’s preserved. And gosh what a treat it is to play through all these again.
In fact, this is the first time I’ve played them back-to-back, and it feels like there’s so much more to be revealed this way, as the repeating motifs seem to link slightly closer together, and the dream-like world is a little easier to connect together. Not actually possible, of course, or it wouldn’t be Rusty Lake. But it’s very satisfying to play them in a row, and gosh what a lot of game you get for your few pounds.
As ever with this series, the only real issue remains that it too often directly references Twin Peaks, rather than be inspired by it. Quotes occasionally appear, and there’s the backward masked forward talking, and it stops feeling like tribute and more like copying. But around those moments there’s so much originality, so much that’s genuinely unsettling and weird despite essentially solving generic cog placing or pipe turning puzzles. That and the dead bodies, hanged police officers, and bits where you find spiral staircases inside people’s ears…
Grab this with both hands. It’s a real treat, and a great introduction to the increasingly peculiar world of Rusty Lake. I don’t think there’s any other developer in the world that’s put this many years into what’s essentially one large project, and it’s paying off. This is a brilliant way to get started. Or if you already did, a joyful return to some games you may not have played in five years, and almost certainly don’t remember properly. Because, who can remember dreams that clearly?