National Elf Service • Fast Familiar • Interactive Story Puzzle Game Review
Game Website | Company Website | Based In: United Kingdom
💪 Difficulty: Not specified. Recommended for age 8+.
⏲️ Time duration: 60 to 90 minutes.
🔢 Capacity: Up to 6 devices.
💬 Hints: Wrong answers would automatically prompt helpful nudges from a Santa's helper.
🛒 If you PURCHASE due to this blog, please give EscapeMattster.com a shout-out! ;)
💪 Difficulty (as perceived by Mattster): Maybe 3/10 or so (team of 1). I did skip one puzzle due to illegibility, however.
🔢 Ideal team size: Would work anywhere from 1 to 6--it's more of a festive story to enjoy than a true puzzle experience.
Gather your family or friends and go on a holly jolly journey that will have you laughing all the way! National Elf Service is a puzzle game for anyone who feels low low low on the ‘ho ho ho’... A Christmas like no other. Festive spirit is at an all time low. The toy factory has ground to a halt, the sleigh’s gathering dust in the garage, and everyone’s looking glum. Can you help Holly and the other elves save the day? Escape reality to a winter wonderland which needs your puzzle-solving, code-cracking skills. Join the Elite Elf Force -Merry, Berry and Sherry- on a mission to make this the most wonderful time of the year. (National Elf Service is a cross between a puzzle game, an online escape room, and an interactive audio book.)
"National Elf Service" is a Christmas special online activity designed for the whole family by a UK company named Fast Familiar. Unlike its name suggests, I am actually unfamiliar with this brand, so I did a little quick digging: Fast Familiar designs audience-centric experiences utilizing digital technology, producing participatory, playful, and political artworks.
Well, that does about sum up "Service" nicely as a product. (It isn't exactly "political", though it does contain some powerful and affectionate messages, but more on that later.) The rest, however, is true! This interactive story puzzle game is engaging, cheerful, and it's got a lot of hearts--it's the very representation of Christmas spirit from the inside to out.
The web browser-based game interface includes: illustration, caption, and chat window
"Service" does not completely reinvent the wheel for its narrative, with its main theme being "Save Christmas"! One must wonder... Again? What's wrong with Christmas this time? Well, everyone's feeling a little down--a little *too* sad for the holidays, in fact. The official Christmas spirit-o-meter is at unprecedentedly low level! Considering how they don't have a raging pandemic going on in their universe, something's definitely off. Perhaps evil's afoot?
The story then unfolds gradually and organically in one of the most well designed game interface I've seen in recent online game history:
In the web browser, the biggest subsection displays the illustrations. These still pictures are shown along with audio accompaniments, and paired with a live caption marquee immediately below. Though no actual video clips are used, the great voice acting coupled with the uniquely styled, lively colored artworks bring the story to life with ease. The captioning, per company, is a deliberate feature meant for deaf audience.
This dedication for inclusivity is an active principle for Fast Familiar, and it will remain apparent throughout the experience.
On the left side is a chat window, which has double functions: it, of course, allows you and your teammates to converse remotely from different households, a useful feature during lockdowns; but it also acts a channel where you "communicate" with in-game character(s) and submit puzzle solutions. It's a seamless and immersive input device, creating the perfect portal to connect the players with the story world--it's pretty clever, really.
For the next hour or so, I calmly assured the anxious Santa elf leader, Holly, that everything would be just fine--we would find out the root cause for everyone's depressed mood, send our best task force out in the field to locate the problem source, right all the wrongs, and save Christmas! The plot was surprisingly captivating, holding my attention throughout.
However, the story line was not the only thing that caught my mind, because I noticed very readily the conspicuous characters designs that shattered all common expectations.
The main cast included people of various skin and hair colors, with eccentric personalities and quirks, and even featuring a lad with disability. There is an instance of androgynous fashion choices, and a couple of references to LGBTQ culture.
This is bold and unusual--and yet so needed and welcome--because expanding representations of all audience members will send a clear message to our future generations: Coexistence is important. Respect for each other is important. Christmas spirits, the fuzzy feelings of the holidays, is impossible without our being kind--and in harmony--with one another. If I took anything away from this product, it's that somebody out there got the essence of the holidays right.
As much as I have relished "Service", the puzzle portion of the experience definitely took a backseat, or maybe they're just simply overshadowed by the attractive story aspect. In any case, there were about 10 puzzles to solve to complete the game, and they popped up between scenes as gaming checkpoints that punctuated the story.
Some fit well in the plot line, while a small selection felt a bit contrived, though none was a bad puzzle per se, and I had a good time. I enjoyed the wide range of variety in both topics and difficulties. Some puzzles were as simple as reading comprehension, some required a little bit of arithmetic, and still some other demanded your inner Mariah Carey. Do take note, many puzzles materials were presented as PDF files, a bit unusual, so be prepared accordingly.
There was one logic puzzle in particular that I chose to skip, mostly because it's illegible. On account that it's supposed to be someone's handwritten note, aesthetically, it looked the part and was convincing. Practically, however, it prevented me from even starting the puzzle without extra effort; though might as well, as I am personally not the biggest fan of overly convoluted logic deduction brainteasers--everyone's preference varies. But thank goodness for the answer cheat sheet!
Overall, while these puzzles won't solely carry the title, there is more than enough charm and fun from all aspects of this wholesome entertainment to bolster and finish the job right, so I unequivocally recommend this! Speaking of finish, naturally, it's unavoidable for the ending to be extra jolly and saccharine. But hey, it's Christmas! Why would you even wish otherwise? Happy holidays, and may you and your family keep your Christmas spirit-o-meter blissfully full.
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"National Elf Service" is available for purchase HERE.
If you PURCHASE due to this blog, please give EscapeMattster.com a shout-out! ;)
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⤻ Full disclosure: Complimentary game access was generously provided for review purposes.
⤻ All media credited to and provided by contents owners. No copyright infringement intended.
⤻ Speed code for on-site search: FFElf