Underground Blossom Review
Rusty Lake has cornered the market with its weird point-and-click-cum-room-escape genre. Following the cult Cube Escape series which is available to download for free, it released several entries in the Rusty Lake series charting the fate of the Vanderboom family. All of them are linked thematically, and most touch on the macabre at points, but the latest addition - Underground Blossom - is possibly the most linear and accessible yet.
This time you’ll be following the life of Laura Vanderboom from crib to school to … well, that would be spoiling things. However, the framework for Laura’s life is an underground metro station, with each stop covering a snapshot of her development. Packaged in this way, with around four screens per stop, each station represents a mini escape room with puzzles to complete and items to find. Unlike earlier entries, the puzzles are not too obscure — in some cases, you literally have to just follow what you’re told to do.
In this case, success looks like a train ticket to the next station. To get that ticket, you’ll need to use items you find dotted around on other parts of the environment — a fishing line to go fishing in a hole, a bank note to buy a food item to give to a bloke to get a clue… you get the idea. But Underground Blossom excels in its creativity. One puzzle sees you matching up yearbook photos with names based on visual clues, such as being allergic to nuts or afraid of paper planes; of course, you then have to use these items on all of the candidates to elicit the right hilarious response.
Fans will be treated to variations on familiar tropes from the series, including shifting panel frames, items which persist through chapters to help solve puzzles, dark cubes, and of course the deer-headed monster. It’s a forgiving game, generous in its accuracy, especially with puzzles which require you to line up images. There are some odd solutions that you might not necessarily consider, such as clicking on a character to use an item you’ve just given them in order to reveal another item. But the small locations mean that you won’t be stumped for too long in each station, and once you (ahem) get on board with the developer’s way of thinking, the puzzle answers start to flow more or less logically. But this is a game where fish can be found living in trumpets, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
If you’re expecting horror elements, you might be disappointed. Underground Blossom has very few scares; indeed, this is one of the least creepy entries. While the last couple of stations in the game touch on vibes from the past, you aren’t going to be jumping out of your seat. However, that doesn't preclude it from moments of morbid humour — one scene with a bird was hilarious and awful in equal measure.
Visuals are in line with previous entries: heavy outline and dead-eyed faces among muted colours. They aren't going to win awards, but they fit the setting. Audio has been ramped up significantly here, too. Orchestral pieces soundtrack Laura’s life with just the right level of melancholy, and the violin in particular shines through. Voice acting veers between stilted and distorted. It never feels natural, which is in keeping with Rusty Lake games, but might feel odd if this is your first time with the series.
And fans will know that even when the game is over, it isn’t really over. Further challenges await you upon completion which are far harder in nature and require a bit more lateral thinking than the main story. One might even suggest that they need a level of deduction that goes far beyond reasonable, given that some of the clues are based on the lore and media surrounding Rusty Lake. Watching promotional YouTube videos or social media posts to glean solutions is definitely one for the hardcore devotees only — but walkthroughs are available online if you simply can’t be arsed to buy into the backstory.
Underground Blossom is a return to Rusty Lake’s familiar (one might say comforting, but that feels weird) setting, along with all of the Easter eggs you might expect if you’ve played earlier games, It’s equally enjoyable for newcomers even if it doesn’t have the novelty of last year’s brilliant The Past Within. As a far more straightforward and less creepy narrative than other instalments, it will draw you in for a couple of hours and perhaps make you consider checking out its companion games. Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy them enough to start following all of their socials for hints about the next game?
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