Switch version tested
Review code provided
Thinking outside the box
As I might have mentioned in some of my other reviews I consider myself to be a bit of puzzler, and by that I mean a keen fan of puzzles and not one of Batman’s weak sauce villains. So, when Access Denied, a locked box puzzle game from Stately Snail and Ratalaika Games, came my way to review I jumped at the chance.
At first glance this game immediately reminded me of Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes with its buttons, switches and maze puzzles. However, unlike KTANE there isn’t the added pressure of a countdown clock, a printable PDF of instructions or rapidly disintegrating friendships. This is a lonely experience with nothing but the gentle sound of rain and occasional clap of thunder to keep you company.
There’s very little hand-holding at all in Access Denied and the closest thing you get to a tutorial is a quick overview of the controls before you are presented with your first box. The first few levels are relatively simple and for the most part you can figure out what each puzzle wants from you from first glance. Then there are some boxes where you might have to push a few buttons to see what they actually do, and who amongst us doesn’t like mashing buttons? Then there are puzzles that are far too obtuse for their own good.
There were quite a few levels where my tried and tested tactics of frantic switch fiddling and hammering buttons didn’t seem to do anything or offer any hint of a solution. On some occasions I sat there, eyes glazed, spinning a box around while the once relaxing sound of rain started to make me long for the outdoors and a simpler time of splashing in puddles!
I know that some “hint” functions in puzzle games can be a bit intrusive, like the Netflix “are you still watching” message, and I get a bit petulant when I feel like technology is judging my life choices or indeed stupidity. But I would honestly have welcomed that in this game. Without it, and I’ll hold my hands up in mild embarrassment and shame, I might have infiltrated a Steam community board for a few tips and solutions.
Out of the 36 levels I only really needed to crowd-source a solution on 3 of the levels and unlike some other notable puzzle games, the cake was most certainly not a lie!
There were a lot of things I liked about this game. The art style slightly reminded me of the Fifth Element, grimy and futuristic with a slight hint of Borderlands style cell shading. The background sound of rain made it feel quite immersive and kept you focused on the puzzle in front of you, and there was nothing more pleasing that hearing that satisfying little ping when you successfully cracked the box.
The controls are pretty basic, the A button is the action button, the left stick or D-pad moves the cursor around and you can spin the boxes with the right stick. You can also zoom in with X and out with Y. Some of the other functions you’ll have to figure out for yourself!
Only joking, as a heads up, as this is never explained, the + button on the right joy-con will take you back to the level selection menu. If you are absolutely stumped on a puzzle you might notice something that looks like a pause symbol in the top left of the screen. If you select this with your cursor it will let you skip ahead a level. You can then always go to the level selection menu to go back to unsolved puzzles.
The only time I experienced any difficulties with the controls was with dial-based puzzles. I found that selecting the dial and then moving the stick in the direction I wanted to turn the dial only resulted in fairly random movement. Instead I had to select the dial and then either continue hitting right on the D-pad to move the dial clockwise or left for anti-clockwise. Not too complicated but when do this you’ll find that if you are turning the dial clockwise a lot, you’ll end up with your cursor at the very edge of the screen nowhere near the box. While this isn’t a major game changer it’s a bit on the clunky side.
It’s not an especially long game and I completed it in about 2 hours, but on my shameful visits to walkthrough videos it’s clear to see that this game definitely has some speedrunning appeal. in terms of replayability you could set yourself a time challenge and try to complete it quicker, although if you’ve got a pretty good memory and know all the solutions off by heart, this might not be much of a challenge.
Access Denied is a great example of a locked box puzzle game, the puzzles are varied and each solution feels unique and rewarding. The difficulty curve isn’t too extreme, however if you like tutorials and hints a plenty this game might not be for you unless you’re up for a challenge. Yes you can look for hints and walkthroughs online like I did, but they are a hollow victory and there is nothing more rewarding than figuring it out on your own. The controls are a bit clunky in places and I don’t think it’ll be a game I replay now I’ve completed it, but it was a fun distraction for an evening.