Escape Trick: Ninja Castle is the second game in the Escape Trick series that we've seen here at Nintendo Life. The first game, Escape Trick: The Secret of Rock City Prison, failed to really grab us: its ambition was laudable, but its execution consisted of dull visuals, underwhelming gameplay, and nonsensical puzzle solutions.
So when Escape Trick: Ninja Castle became available for download, we weren't sure what to think. The first game had a cornucopia of issues that prevented us from enjoying it very much at all, yet those issues should all be easy enough to address, and therefore a sequel might actually make for a great game.
Unfortunately, Escape Trick: Ninja Castle doesn't seem to have learned much from its predecessor. The visual design remains uninspired, the music is utterly forgettable and the story is so derivative and overcrowded with cliché that it trips over and confuses itself more often than it actually advances.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Escape Trick: Ninja Castle wisely chooses to explain backstory by allowing it to unfold as the game progresses, and as soon as the game begins it drops you immediately into the action. The problem is that "action" in this game consists of staring at an unchanging picture and tapping the stylus around in the hopes that something — anything — will happen.
Graphical adventure games once had an impressive foothold in the video game industry overall. Monkey Island, King's Quest, Space Quest, Maniac Mansion and many more all entertained gamers by dropping them into exotic locales and asking them to find their way home again. Usually, however, violence was not the answer.
Graphical adventure games emphasised brains over brawn. Weapons might feature, but more often than not it was up to you to use the environment, innocuous everyday items, or even just good old common sense to survive. Escape Trick: Ninja Castle seeks to relive those glory days, but, in actuality, all it manages to do is remind us of why the genre was so limiting in the first place.
For example, in a good graphical adventure game, you might find yourself having to open an envelope without tearing it. To accomplish this, you might steam it open with some boiling water. Fair enough, right?
In a bad adventure game, you might find yourself having to extinguish a candle. To accomplish this, you might have to trigger an unexplained mechanism beneath the floor that raises a floorboard perpendicularly so that it can stop a ninja star that flies by when you pull a rope, for some reason, so that you can then take that ninja star and throw it at the candle. You know, instead of blowing it out.
You can guess for yourself which of those two examples actually features in Escape Trick: Ninja Castle. In the interest of not spoiling solutions for those who will choose to download this game, we've only explained the first puzzle in the game. Suffice it to say, though, that the solutions don't get any more logical from there.
Every screen will find you tapping away in the hopes that you'll trigger something, and then, when you do, you progress to another screen and do it all again. Your ninja's predicament becomes more clear as the plot unfolds, but the logic underlining the puzzle solutions never does.
Like The Secret of Rock City Prison, the visual design leaves much to be desired — the almost complete lack of animation has a lot to do with this — and the music is not worth mentioning enough even to dismiss it. While we very much enjoyed the tools the game provided that could help you to solve the puzzles, such as a snapshot feature and the option to leave handwritten notes to yourself with the touch screen, we would have preferred better puzzle design in the first place.
Escape Trick: Ninja Castle feels like treading water more than anything else. If you enjoyed The Secret of Rock City Prison, then this is good news. But if you were hoping for any of Rock City Prison's issues to be ironed out, well... keep waiting.
Escape Trick: Ninja Castle is essentially a book of puzzles in graphical adventure form. Its low-pressure "tap and see" approach is bound to appeal to certain gamers, but it's just as likely to leave others feeling bored and annoyed. We stand by the promise locked away in the concepts of these games, but realising that promise proves to be a puzzle that not even the developers can crack.