Despite my love of the point-and-click adventure game, its descendant genre, the “escape the room” game, has never really connected with me. There are certainly several design improvements in escape games, like clearly defined objectives and improved puzzle logic (not a single rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle in sight), but they lack many of the story hooks of more traditional adventure games. Which brings me to The Mystery of the Mayan Ruins, essentially an Android puzzle |ystyegame that pretends to be classic adventure but turns out to be an escape game.
The first hint comes in the opening story screens, still images with text that tells the story of how retired explorer John Smith gets dragged back into the treasure-hunting game when kidnappers take his family for ransom and demand an ancient medallion as payment. Shockingly high stakes, but where a more traditional adventure game hero would seek to track down the kidnappers and handle them directly, Smith caves to their demands and sets of on an expedition.
The gameplay is much like that of Myst, perhaps a more direct ancestor of the escape genre. The player navigates pre-rendered 3D backgrounds by tapping to move from one screen to the next. Though the game takes place over across several temples with connecting outdoor sections, the design is that of a standard escape game. Puzzles are usually found on clearly denoted panels around the titular Mayan ruins. A few require items that can be found around the environment and stored in the player’s inventory, and clues for some of the more self-contained puzzles are stored in Smith’s notebook.
The puzzles are fairly wide-ranging, and I would usually only get stuck if I was underestimating the game’s cleverness. In my defense, puzzles include “find broken lever, put lever in hole, pull lever” and “find clue, input puzzle solution directly from clue.” Still, that lever puzzle hides a secret that I didn’t discover till much later, and easy puzzles can be forgiven, especially considering the common adventure game alternative: getting stuck and never playing again.
That said, The Mystery of the Mayan Ruins is a pretty basic package. The whole game lasts less than an hour. A single music loop (albeit a good one) plays throughout the entire adventure. There is little animation to speak of, beyond a few opening doors. Because of this, it can be hard to remember where you are going or coming from – there is no visual connection from one screen to another. A few signposts mark the way, but multiple locations share the same name. Speaking of which, the English translation is not fantastic (the development team is Spanish), though really, none of the text is terribly important. The story is inconsequential, and I can think of only one puzzle that involved any text at all.
Mystery of the Mayan Ruins is fairly good at what it does, but it’s not exactly reaching for the stars. As a short, simple escape game, it gave me an education on the features that make this genre fun. Unfortunately, I might not recommend this particular title to those who don’t need to learn the same lessons.
A simple adventure game that will neither frustrate nor dazzle.