Critical Play: Mysteries – Creepy Basement

About the Game

To experience mystery, I played Creepy Basement Escape on MouseCity — I couldn’t find the name of the specific creator, and the name of the general platform was the closest I could find.

The cartoonish graphics made me think that it was aimed more toward an elementary-middle school demographic, but the creepiness of photos like this (see below) made me think that it might be aimed more toward high school or older.


Important Formal Elements

Players & Roles: a single-player, first-person game.

Outcome & Objective: escape the basement while figuring out who put you there in the first place.

Rules & Procedures: collect different items and keys to unlock different locks. These locks give you different puzzles that you must solve to escape.

Resources & Boundaries: there are fixed rooms/perspectives, determined by the fixed screens. You can click an object to get a zoomed-in perspective and take a closer look if something looks sketchy, like this screenshot below:

In the photo, you can also see my resource bank. Every time I clicked on an object of significance, it shrunk to the appropriate size and went into this left area, in which I could see all of my collected items (including keys).


Type of Fun

There’s definitely an element of fantasy in this game — you’ve been plopped in this basement, and you assume the role of the escaper. The puzzle component provides a slight challenge, and going through the different rooms/objects adds a hint of discovery — though this fades once you’ve explored the entire basement. Tied into the fantasy and the premise is narrative, (hopefully) with a successful ending in which you escape this scary basement.

I had trouble immersing myself in the fantasy and narrative of the game because of the poor visual design. There was too much dissonance between the childish colorful arrows and buttons vs. the initial premise and creepy setting of the game. I experienced discovery as I explored the space, but I don’t think I experienced challenge in a fun way — it was just hard to know what to do at each step on the computer screen.


What Worked, What Didn’t

I felt like I had a moment of success when I collected my first item (a hammer) and saw it go into my items inventory. This must mean that I was a step closer to escaping, right? I felt like I had done something right, and even though I didn’t love how much space the items inventory took up on the screen, it was nice seeing my tool collection grow as I went through the rooms.

However, I seriously struggled with how to use the various items I had found and collected. You were supposed to find keys of various colors and match the key to the lock color, then unlock that lock’s puzzle to advance. But when I only had one key (it happened to be orange, which I thought was gold), I had no idea that I was supposed to color match.

It wasn’t clear which items were most important or pressing — how would I know what to use first, and where was I to use these items? There was a linked walkthrough video on the game, but I had trouble loading it. And I should have been able to tell from the game alone!

Given the still screens, I thought that the yellow arrows worked functionally well to navigate the different spaces. However, it did not work well aesthetically. The arrows (the green one in the items section and the yellow navigation buttons) are totally mismatched from the “creepy” vibe of the rest of the game. They’re also visually distracting from the dark and gloomy spaces.

I appreciated the tense music, it was a constant reminder that I was working toward getting out of this weird space. And the objects themselves on the different screens contributed to the narrative by offering hints of what happened — like, why this large photo of a girl? hmm…

Not my favorite game experience, but still offered a somewhat fun pastime!

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