If you missed this 2022 sleeper hit, now’s the time to try it

Last year, first-time developer Coin Crew Games made an unexpected splash with its debut Escape Academy. The escape room puzzler became a modest summer hit thanks to a day one release on Xbox Game Pass and strong recommendations from media outlets like Kinda Funny Games. The enthusiasm came with some common critiques, though. In my own review last year, I noted that the game’s short runtime left me wanting more.

One year later, nearly all of those problems have been rectified thanks to some unexpectedly meaty post-launch support. Now, players can get a much fuller experience in Escape Academy: The Complete Edition, which launches today on Nintendo Switch. Ahead of the release, I spoke to Coin Crew Games about the game’s unusual launch cycle and how it was able to solve the biggest problems players had with the base experience. As a result, the Complete Edition is the best way to enjoy one of last year’s best hidden gems.

Gathering feedback

Before Escape Academy, Coin Crew Games was making real-life escape rooms and arcade machines. When the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut those experiences down, the team decided to use their expertise to make a true escape room video game. That would prove to be a surprisingly ambitious task according to Mike Salyh, Coin Crew co-founder

“For us, especially coming out of the arcade industry, an arcade title gets developed in six or eight months. It’s really quick from starting a project to getting it out into the market and getting people putting quarters in it,” Salyh tells Digital Trends. “We had a similar strategy when we started this game. We knew that we wanted to build a game and get it in front of people quickly to get the feedback to understand what making a game from home even was. We wanted to hear community feedback.”

A player solves a puzzle in Escape Academy.
Coin Crew Games

With that goal in mind, Coin Crew would craft a sleek base game. With just over a dozen escape rooms at launch, Escape Academy was a quick adventure that could be completed in under four hours. While that’s a sizable runtime for a debut game, the handcrafted nature of the escape rooms meant that there wasn’t much room for players who wanted to play more. Once a room is solved, there’s no fun in solving it again. But Salyh was more encouraged by those critiques than he was defeated.

“Reception was positive to the base game, and one of the biggest critiques we got was that it was too short,” Salyh says. “And personally, I really like that note because it’s like, OK, we can make more of this … When our plan aligns with what we’re hearing from players, that’s a high-five moment. We either got lucky or we thought right.”

Road to complete

What players didn’t know at the time was that Coin Crew already had a plan in the works that would address those issues. Within a year, it would launch two sizable DLCs in Escape from the Past and Escape from Anti-Escape Island — both of which were in development six months prior to launch. Those would nearly double the amount of puzzle rooms in the game and solve another common complaint in the process.

“One piece of feedback we got from some people was the idea of tethering and expanding some of the narrative components of the game,” writer and producer Blair Lachlan Scott tells Digital Trends. “That’s where we came up with these mini movie-sized Escape DLCs. One’s a sequel and one’s a flashback, but they’re both these self-contained narrative expansions where we wanted to push environments and aesthetics.”

Player feedback is a common theme during our discussion, and it’s clear that it was key to bringing Escape Academy to its ultimate conclusion. Playtesting had a major role in development; the team was running two public tests a week on average as early as one month into development. That would allow the team to more quickly anticipate a general audience’s pain points and solve them in post-launch plans.

You don’t want to be at a place where you’re about to drop dead and about to press the launch button.

Escape Academy: The Complete Edition is a testament to that feedback-driven workflow, as the package nearly addresses every critique I raised in my review last year. The last piece of that puzzle is still to come too, as a free multiplayer Tournament of Puzzles update will add more replayable puzzles with procedural components. The extra content suite turns it from “must-try” Game Pass recommendation to a “must buy” co-op puzzle game. For Salyh, that transformation speaks to an important truth about video game development: launch day is a beginning, not an end.

“My biggest takeaway is that it’s not a one and done thing,” Salyh says. “Launch day is a big deal, and it’s very exciting, but then the development continues. And it continues on and on whether you’re doing DLC, or supporting the game live, or if you’re on to another project. It’s a continuous thing. You don’t want to be at a place where you’re about to drop dead and about to press the launch button. That’s the first half of the process.”

Escape Academy: The Complete Edition is out now on Nintendo Switch. The base game and its DLCs are available on PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.

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