With the cost of just about everything, including video games, going steadily up, budget titles are often an easy sell, especially to the casual gamer browsing the electronics department at their local retail store. Escape the Museum (not related to the upcoming sequel to Night at the Museum movie) is a puzzle adventure that retails for a mere $19.99, but is it truly a bargain or a candidate for the recall pile?
You play as Susan Anderson, a paleontologist of the National Museum of History. Susan brings her daughter, Catlin, with her to the museum one day to catch up on work, but as they’re strolling about, suddenly an earthquake occurs, leaving them trapped. It’s up to you to reunite with Catlin, as well as rescue some of the museum’s most-valuable artifacts.
Escape the Museum is a point-and-click adventure that has you doing a bit of problem solving and a whole lot of item finding. Like the recently released Million Heir for the Nintendo DS, you’ll spend much of your time hunting for various items hidden within static backgrounds. Other times, however, you’ll be tasked with figuring out how to make your way to another room within the museum. It’s an interesting mix of gameplay ideas, but ultimately, Escape the Museum is a flat experience with almost no excitement or challenge.
The game is broken up by rooms, with several rooms making up chapters of the game. As you complete chapters, you’ll then be able to return to certain rooms to take on additional challenges. These little extras, however, are merely more of the same – find items hidden within the picture.
Each room you play through is basically a mission. You’ll communicate with the museum curator, Marcus Duval, via walkie-talkie, and he’ll brief you on what exactly you’ll need to do in order to get through each room. In missions where you’re tasked with finding a means of escape, Marcus will instruct you to utilize items that will clear a pathway for you. In other missions, Marcus will simply ask you to collect rare museum pieces that shouldn’t be left behind.
The actual escape portions of the game are certainly the most entertaining, though the level of difficulty remains fairly remedial throughout the duration of the adventure. As an example, one room will require to you to use a lamp post to cross over a large staircase gap, but you’ll first need to figure out how to access the post, since it’s bolted down. Piecing things together is often mildly rewarding, but unfortunately, there is a far greater number of scavenging elements than actual puzzles.
The bulk of the game is made up of rooms where you simply need to spot items cleverly blended into backgrounds. When you enter these types of missions, Marcus will provide you with a list of things to retrieve, and you just need to click on items in order to complete the room. Granted, most of the stuff is fairly difficult to see, but there’s no real penalty for clicking on the wrong item. You have an accuracy meter that goes down each time you select something not marked on your list, but since your accuracy rating doesn’t earn you anything in terms of unlockables or moving the game forward, you can click away ’til your heart’s content. In addition, there’s a hint option that will point you toward the general vicinity of items on your list, and though it takes a moment to charge back up, you can use hints an unlimited number of times during most of these types of missions.
Escape the Museum is played using only the Wii Remote, and the pointer functionality, for the most part, works well. There’s an onscreen cursor that allows you to select items from your inventory or click on things in the background. When scrolling over backgrounds, you’ll often come across areas with either a question mark or “+” symbol. Areas with a plus allow you to zoom in for a closer look, and the question mark lets you use items on a particular area. To use items in your inventory, you click on the item and then an area of the background.
The only issue with the controls we had, really, was when attempting to zoom in and out. Oddly enough, the developers mapped the zoom feature in a way that requires you to hold the B button while moving the cursor either toward the middle of the screen to zoom in, or further from center to zoom back out. It works… but just barely. The frame jumps all over the place when using this feature and finding a happy contrast can be quite frustrating. Once you’re zoomed in, however, you’ll be required to use the D-pad to scroll to other portions of a background. Selecting items or areas of a background to investigate is done by pressing the A button.
Your stats are accounted for along the way, but there’s no online leaderboard to upload them to. Additionally, there are no real unlockables to speak of in the game, and again, without any incentive linked to your accuracy throughout the adventure, stats becomes fairly meaningless, as does figuring out puzzles without the aid of the hint system.
Since most of the gameplay is worked into the game’s visuals, it’s very disappointing that so little effort seems to have gone into Escape the Museum’s presentation. There is very little animation in the game, and most of it is done using quick changes between two simple frames of 2D artwork. The effect for a flickering light, for instance, is executed by having one frame of a light turned on being periodically swapped with a frame of the light turned off. The cutscenes, too, are static, cartoon-style stills, and though nothing ever looks ugly per se, the game just looks and feels very ho-hum overall.
The music, however, is actually somewhat entertaining and fits the theme of the story. Cadences resolve nicely whenever Susan and her daughter exchange dialogue, and you’ll get some nice, little suspense pieces thrown in while investigating various rooms. The voice work, too – what little of it there is – is surprisingly adequate, but when matched alongside the actual gameplay, the overall aural presentation is hardly enough to make Escape the Museum a compelling experience. The story moves forward with a decent pacing, even if the realistic premise is at odds with the idea that Susan can somehow manage to carry hundreds of museums pieces along with her as she tackles life-threatening obstacles.
Escape the Museum may be priced to meet your budget, but in the end it’s no bargain. Though the escape missions are somewhat entertaining while they last, the rest of what’s on offer here is well below par. Finding items hidden within static frames is perhaps the most antiquated form of gameplay still being manufactured, and being forced to redo it over and over doesn’t make for a good time. Yes, the controls work okay, but that’s no great distinction for a point-and-click adventure. Furthermore, the game makes no use of Wii’s motion functionality, and we’ve seen more interesting gameplay packed into children’s DVDs. It’s easy to stop and consider a game with a $20 price tag, but truly, your money will likely be better spent elsewhere.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.8 Graphics
The cutscenes get the job done, but the visuals, overall, are really out of place on Wii. 3.5 Control
The point function works fine, though zooming in and out is a hassle. It’s a very, very basic formula though, and the Wii Remote is greatly underutilized. 3.6 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work is fairly decent, and the music is surprisingly powerful. It’s all a bit mismatched, however, for the gameplay it accompanies. 2.2
There’s really nothing broken about Escape the Museum; it’s just really, really boring. From the lifeless visuals, to the terribly antique gameplay, it offers little real entertainment. Were it a $10 WiiWare title, this game still wouldn’t be at all compelling.
2.4 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.