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Anyone else want games of those Usborne Puzzle Adventure books from the 80s and 90s?

Those things were absolute bangers

This weekend I have been playing and absolutely loving Laybrinth City: Pierre The Maze Detective. It's an animated, interactive puzzle game that's sort of a cross between Where's Wally and Hidden Folks. In it, you (Pierre, the Maze Detective) must hunt down the mysterious Mr. X, who has stolen the Maze Stone from the local museum and is using it to turn everything into a maze. This is causing no small amount of havok.

It's a beautiful game, with the mazes growing in complexity and size as you go. You start off in the museum, where the exibits have come to life. The city streets are overrun with a festival. Later you enter a magical forest, and run around the giant trees. There's also a magical city-castle, where the statues have come to life and are rebelling against being statues. It is - perish the word - absolutely charming, and full of details. But after playing for a few hours, I realised it didn't remind me as much of Where's Wally as it did of the Usborne Puzzle Adventures.

The cover for one of Agent Arthur's adventures. I remember this one having a plane crash. And a lot of snakes.

Usborne is a children's publisher in the UK. In the 80s and 90s they published an amazing buncha books called the Puzzle Adventure series, which were not choose your own adventure game books. They were part child-friendly tales of derring-do (exploring Atlantis, seraching for lost treasure, spy highjinks - spyjinks?), and part interactive puzzle buried in the images. Agent Arthur, a spy with rake thin arms and legs, and an orange quiff like a member of Cartoons, might be trying to get into an enemy base - but the door is locked with a weird keypad! So you have to figure out from the drawing of the pad, plus a coded note a bad guy dropped, how to open the door. Or the kids searching for Atlantis have to follow directions to find the entrance - and you have to interpret those directions on a drawing of the ocean floor, from a different angle.

Reader: I fucking loved those books. I had the Agent Arthur omnibus, collecting three of his adventures in one. I had the spooky ones, like The Ghost In The Mirror, The Vanishing Village, and The Haunted Tower (those were my favourite). There was even a weird alien one that had a kind of Pixar vibe called The Intergalactic Bus Trip. I used to go back and look at them even when I had aged well out of them, and was mostly bad at solving them even when I was like 17 years old. I might actually go and buy a bunch of them at exorbitant second-hand prices. Aside from the main story puzzles to solve, there were little extras to spot along the way, and all the illustrations were packed with detail.

A haunted house in Labyrinth City, which belongs to a very friendly vampire.

Labyrinth City reminded me so much of them, because each scene has loads of detail to interact with. Open a vase and water may pour out. A car could contain a giraffe, or a goldfish swimming around the pedals. There are recurring characters that you encounter through each scene, like a polar bear who asks you to solve a little puzzle within the maze, or a ninja trying to collect stars. These stars are one of the extra collectibles for you - there are three in each level, plus four hidden chests and several pages torn from Mr. X's notebook.

Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that Laybyrinth City is adapted from a bestselling series of children's books by Hiro Kamigaki and IC4. Which I must now buy all of, clearly. I would love to see more games doing this - joyful and suitable for children without being patronising, and thus fun for adults at the same time. I would give all of the money I have for someone to make a Vanishing Village video game.

I mean, I would also like to see the Adventure Puzzle series make a triumphant return. Usborne, if you're listening, you should get on it. There is a clear appetite for this sort of thing. I'll write them for you. As long as you're prepared for a lot of puzzle adventures to be about kissing elves, boxes of coloured yarn, or restacking shelves because you've run out of room for your books. Especially because now you have to find space for all the Maze Detective ones.

About the Author

Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

RPS's dep ed. Small person powered by tea and enthusiasm for video game romances. Send me interesting etymological facts and cool horror games.

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