Archimedes Inspiration – MAD [Review]

Brain Breaker

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: £30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Previously known as Kill M.A.D., Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD wrapped an escape room around an award-winning short film. To our surprise, it worked.

If you had asked us going in, “Do you think that building an escape room around a short film is a good idea?” we’d have been pretty dubious of the concept… and still kind of are. However, Archimedes Inspiration picked the right film and found a clever way to essentially turn it into a compelling and justified cutscene.

It was worth playing MAD to see how Archimedes Inspiration pulled this off. We especially recommend it for players looking for something different.

In-game: The hallway of an asylum with patient clothes hanging from hooks on the wall.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Now, as with Project Delta, this attempt at deep storytelling through gameplay stumbled in places. In the case of MAD there were two bigger issues that we found. The initial two thirds of the game were pretty standard escape room fare. The execution was fine, but nothing special, which was juxtaposed strangely against the interesting ending.

Additionally Archimedes Inspiration used a fairly recent real-life disaster as a plot point, which put an unnecessary social burden on this escape room.

Those challenges aside, MAD was worth playing for all of the things that it did differently. It was exciting to see the climax come together. That’s the memory I’ll keep from this game. If you’re interested in storytelling and don’t mind that the game is set in an asylum and pulls from a disaster in living memory, then MAD is worth your time, energy, and thought.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The strange and twisted story
  • Strong integration of an award-winning short film
  • A memorable ending

Story

Strange and terrible things were happening at Sally Star King Hospital. We entered this psychiatric institution to investigate unusual reports about its staff and patients. What we found was twisted…

Setting

MAD’s staging wasn’t fancy, but it was atmospheric. Archimedes Inspiration used each location that we visited within the hospital to convey something about the characters. It was spooky.

In-game: The hallway of an asylum with patient clothes hanging from hooks on the wall with the lights turned down.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Gameplay

Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD was an atypical escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In the end, we had to truly understand and internalize the story to earn the “optimal” conclusion.

Analysis

MAD’s story featured the 1993 sinking of the MS Estonia in the Baltic Sea. This was the second deadliest sinking of a European ship, claiming 852 lives (the deadliest being the Titanic). If the use of a real disaster from living memory is going to present a problem for you, then you should skip this game.

➖ We were unfamiliar with the MS Estonia going in. (I have a vague memory of it from when it happened.) Archimedes Inspiration’s website should disclose this aspect of the game. I’m not really sure what the MS Estonia added to MAD. If they had swapped in a made-up disaster, it would not have substantively harmed the game. It might have improved it by eliminating this whole discussion.

❓ While this escape room presents puzzles, it was more about the characters than the gameplay.

➕ Each environment within MAD conveyed something about the characters. The spaces were dreamily, yet eerily themed. It worked well.

➕/➖ Throughout most of the experience, the puzzles were good, but not particularly interesting or exciting. They worked pretty well. With the exception of the final puzzle, however, they weren’t memorable.

➖ One puzzle required us to coordinate an effort against really tight tolerances and some finicky tech. This was the low point of the game.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration incorporated an award-winning short film into the narrative and gameplay of this escape room. This was unusual and strangely captivating.

➕ The final sequence was beautifully lit and delivered a satisfying culminating reveal.

❓ At its core, MAD was a giant deduction puzzle. Our experience through the sets, puzzles, and gameplay would help us execute a final cerebral puzzle. There was no “correct” answer, but there was an “optimal” solution. This was an unusual approach to game design. We imagine that some folks will appreciate this approach to narrative and interpretation more than others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transit to Bermondsey Station on the Jubilee Line.

Book your hour with Archimedes Inspiration’s MAD, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Archimedes Inspiration provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Plan – Battle for Britain [Review]

“… We shall fight them in the puzzles…”

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £89 per team off peak / £120 per team peak

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Battle for Britain was fantastic blend of delightful, quirky design with an elegant but humble construction.

In-game: A slide viewer
Image via Escape Plan

Escape Plan created an entire escape game around directing the response to the Luftwaffe’s attack on London. Our job was to set the battle plan by placing squadrons on a gigantic map. When all was said and done, we watched the information come in on the success (or failure) of our plans… and it was a great moment.

Battle for Britain was a thoughtful game built into the right building. Escape Plan nailed the right details. This one is absolutely worth playing if you’re visiting London.

Who is this for?

  • History buffs
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A charming set
  • A unique mission
  • The massive battle map setpiece
  • The end sequence

Story

With the Luftwaffe inbound and poised to attack London, we had to decipher their ciphers, determine their targets, and dispatch fighter squadrons to intercept them.

In-game: a dartboard in a pilot's bar.
Image via Escape Plan

Setting

Battle for Britain was built into a beautiful old building that was brimming with charm. The various props and setpieces integrated perfectly into this space, like they’d always belonged there.

Escape Plan spread the game out over two different spaces: a pilot’s bar and a war room. The centerpiece of the entire game was the gigantic map of Britain, which we used to order squadrons about.

In-game: The door to the Operations Room.
Image via Escape Plan

Gameplay

Escape Plan’s Battle for Britain was an atypical escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Our goal wasn’t to escape, but to order the fighter squadrons to the correct intercepts.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and keeping organized.

In-game: The war room map.
Image via Escape Plan

Analysis

➕ The charming set and props in Battle for Britain felt like they belonged in the building. They were fun to behold and manipulate.

➕ That giant map. The gameplay would have functioned just as well with a smaller map, but the battle wouldn’t have been the same. That map made all the difference.

Battle for Britain presented contained searching. While it was a search-heavy game, all searching was directed. We knew what we were looking for and how many items we still had to find. We didn’t mind searching because we weren’t searching blindly.

➖ The puzzles were themed, but not story driven. While they made use of the props, most of them rested on top of the mission rather than within it.

➕ Teams need to stay organized to succeed at Battle for Britain. Escape Plan provided all the tools to do this easily.

➕ The gating for the final battle was cleverly crafted to avoid teams triggering the climactic scene before placing all their squadrons.

➖ There were some in-game instructions that were out of character. While there will always be the teams who need this, it would be great if it could hit you over the head while still feeling like part of the game world.

➕ Teams don’t win or lose Battle for Britain. Instead they watch a battle unfold and see how well their squadrons performed. This unorthodox game design was intriguing and kept us engaged through the final scene, watching the battle play out. It was a memorable finale.

➕ Escape Plan minded the historical details, but not to an extent that it broke the game. They took liberties as needed for gameplay, but the escape room felt true to the source material.

Tips For Visiting

  • Battle for Britain is at Escape Plan’s Kennington location.

Book your hour with Escape Plan’s Battle for Britain, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape plan comped our tickets for this game.

Clue Quest – ORIGENES [Review]

Honey I shrunk the players. 

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 12 per copy of the game (they have 2 copies); we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: £30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We were having so much fun wandering around and looking at things in ORIGENES that we could have accidentally lost this game.

The bizarrely named ORIGENES shrunk us down and took us through a chapter of Clue Quest’s serialized adventure. We had no idea what the rest of the story was because we hadn’t played their other games, but it didn’t matter. Being tiny in this game world was joyous.

In-game: Closeup of a large circuit board with multiple glowing LEDs.
Image via Clue Quest

At the risk of sounding like Marie Kondo, we’re increasingly finding that a big differentiator for an escape game is how much joy it instills in us while we’re playing.

In the case of ORIGENES, our delight over the set and interactions made this a game that we loved, in spite of an ending that fizzled.

If you’re visiting London and love escape games, ORIGENES is a must-play. For more current information on other great games to play in London, check out the UK escape room blog The Logic Escapes Me. It’s written by Ken Ferguson and he’s a fantastic reviewer.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A delightful set
  • Great set pieces and interactions
  • Entertaining puzzles

Story

In order to stop the evil Professor’s plans, we had to shrink down and enter his base.

In-game: a red glowing LED strip labeled "THE RULER OF..."
Image via Clue Quest

Setting

Clue Quest began our adventure in a shrinking machine. Once we’d figured out how to get our shrinkage on… we entered a delightfully oversized world.

This set was a joy to explore.

In-game: Closeup of a circuit board with a large glowing green LED.
Image via Clue Quest

Gameplay

Clue Quest’s ORIGENES was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: closeup of a large circuit board.
Image via Clue Quest

Analysis

➕ The world of ORIGENES was fun to explore. The set delivered its own aha moments as we reoriented ourselves as small beings in an oversized environment. Recognizing the huge set pieces and props as real world objects was as fun as anything else in the game. Clue Quest didn’t strive to keep the all props and decor to scale against themselves. They didn’t need to. From our shrunken vantage point, each aha was as exciting as the last one.

➕ The oversized mechanisms were a delight to manipulate. The puzzles built into these props solved with satisfying haptic feedback.

➖ We encountered some confusing gameplay as the result of multiple ghost puzzles. We respect Clue Quest for removing these from a game already jampacked with content. With a few more tweaks, however, they wouldn’t be so unnecessarily distracting.

➕ The puzzle flow was lovely for the majority of the experience. The gameplay came together well.

➕/➖ One late-game puzzle slowed the pace of gameplay. This sequence had a lot going for it in both story and interaction. It was an interesting take on the “boss battle” puzzle. From a gameplay standpoint, it was a bit too clunky and made the climactic moment drag.

➖ ORIGENES fizzled out at the end. We were coming off a slower puzzle sequence, but a sense of accomplishment. Then, in order to escape, we had to re-enter the shrinking machine and un-shrink ourselves. While this made sense narratively, it lacked excitement the second time around.

❓ We never felt connected to the story or a part of a larger world and its characters. While they factored into the puzzling, we weren’t invested in their plight.

➕ There was a lot of joy in this game.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transportation to King’s Cross.

Book your hour with Clue Quest’s ORIGENES, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Quest comped our tickets for this game.

REA’s Best Day Ever!

A gold trophy

Yesterday we had our best traffic day ever! We’re celebrating with an impromptu contest and video:

So… no planning (or ya know… hair styling), but hopefully this is fun.

To Enter the Contest

  • Leave a comment (on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, or the blog) with your guess for the post that had triggered our previous best day ever.
  • One entry per person. If you enter more than once, we’re going with your first entry. Please only enter once.
  • Anyone who guesses correctly will be entered into a drawing. We’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner… assuming someone guesses right.
  • If no one gets it right, we’ll do a random drawing among all who submitted.
  • You have until 11PM Eastern on Sunday, June 16th to submit your entry.
  • If you win and don’t respond to our messages, a new winner will be drawn.

1 Ticket Left for Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans

And as noted in the video, we have 1 ticket remaining for our New Orleans Tour.

The purple, gold, and blue Escape Immerse Explore New Orleans Logo

For more details, checkout the tour description.

If you’re interested, shoot us a message.

We’d love to have you join us!

Archimedes Inspiration – Project Delta [Review]

Recursion

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: £35 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Project Delta was a 100-minute sci-fi mystery that took risks in service of storytelling. We wholeheartedly recommend it to players who are looking to explore a narrative-driven world. Archimedes Inspiration is one of the few companies that seems really committed to conveying story through gameplay.

In-game: a glowing sci-fi computer in a spaceship.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

That said, when pushing out to the frontiers of storytelling through immersive gameplay, there are common pitfalls. In Project Delta, these primarily stemmed from editing.

There were puzzles that would have been more entertaining if the interactions had been streamlined: more grappling with the concept and less fighting with the input mechanisms.

Project Delta told the most detailed and nuanced story that we have encountered in our escape room careers to date. It felt like too much to take in through the gameplay, necessitating an extensive debrief at the end.

These are the kinds of problems that creators encounter when they push boundaries, so they aren’t the “bad kind of problems” to have in escape room design. They are lessons to learn from.

Absolutely go play Project Delta. Pay close attention. Know that the gaps will be filled in at the end.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • An ambitious story
  • Some great puzzles
  • Surprising interactions and twists

Story

As new recruits for Rainbow Galactic, we had boarded our spaceship and set off on our first mission: Project Delta. Our goal was to run a series of experiments with the aim of improving upon the human race.

Our mission seemed straightforward until we learned that our employers had been far from truthful.

Setting

Archimedes Inspiration transported us to a spaceship for experimentation. The set was distinctly homemade. Some elements looked quite detailed; other aspects looked like present-day household furniture painted to match the color of the ship.

For the most part, it looked good enough to maintain the illusion. Every once in a while, something jumped out as being out of place.

In-game: Illuminated displays in a spaceship.
Image via Archimedes Inspiration

Gameplay

Archimedes Inspiration’s Project Delta was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty, and a lengthy, nuanced story.

Gameplay was almost entirely linear.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

Project Delta took us through a series of solid puzzles with distinctive inputs. We enjoyed the varied puzzles and the many unusual input mechanisms.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration included some challenging layered puzzles. We especially appreciated how puzzle nuances were justified in the narrative and the game world.

➖ With involved layered puzzles, when a solution was incorrect, it could take a long time to uncover the error. Additional feedback would make some of these puzzles more approachable for a timed escape game. Sometimes they started to drag.

➕ In Project Delta, we built mastery of concepts that then recurred… with a twist.

➖ There was a lot of required reading aboard the spaceship.

➕ Archimedes Inspiration used their space creatively to support their narrative. While the decor was minimal at times, it was used thoughtfully to illustrate important story beats.

➕ /➖ Archimedes Inspiration attempted to tell a complex story through gameplay in Project Delta. The story was interesting and inventive. We picked up on pieces of it through the gameplay, which was neat. Some of the key story beats, however, weren’t communicated clearly enough through gameplay. When Project Delta “told” us rather than “showed” us the narrative, it became tedious and a bit annoying to follow.

➖ Archimedes Inspiration was eager to tell us the story after our escape and we were eager to understand it. This rehashing of our playthough, however, felt as though we were in school, being quizzed. This was a rough way to end an entertaining and engaging experience.

Tips For Visiting

  • Take public transit to Bermondsey Station on the Jubilee Line.

Book your hour with Archimedes Inspiration’s Project Delta, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Sherlock: The Game is Now [Review]

“You look but you do not see.”

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: £54 per player

Ticketing: Private or Public

Emergency Exit Rating: meets amusement park code

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sherlock: The Game is Now carried a lot of hype:

  • It was made in partnership with Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, and Mark Gatiss, the writers and producers of the BBC’s Sherlock.
  • Sherlock: The Game is Now featured audio and video performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, and Andrew Scott, the show’s Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft, and Moriarty.
  • The entire experience was “Presented by Time Run,” one of the most impressive escape room companies that we’ve had the fortune of visiting.
  • There are 5 copies of Sherlock: The Game is Now built within a 17,000-square-foot facility.
  • At £54 per ticket (approximately $71 US when we played), Sherlock: The Game is Now is almost certainly the most expensive escape room on earth as of publication.

With all of that in mind, Sherlock: The Game is Now is a fantastic experience if – and only if – you are a fan of Sherlock.

You have to be excited to spend a couple of minutes hanging out in 221B Baker Street. You must look forward to having Sherlock and Mycroft condescend to you for 75 minutes. To enjoy The Game is Now, you have to be eager to step into the world of the show.

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty.
Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty

Sherlock: The Game is Now stood out for us because of 3 key factors:

  • the amount of worldbuilding
  • the Sherlock-esque deduction
  • Andrew Scott’s performance as Moriarty, which stole the show

All of this boiled down to an appreciation of the world of Sherlock.

If you’re just a fan of escape rooms or you saw the show a few years ago and kind of enjoyed it… or kind of remember it… The Game is Now is just a very fancy, very expensive escape game. The stuff that made it special will fall flat for you.

Similarly, if you were a diehard fan of Time Run and you’re eager to play the third Time Run game, this won’t be it. This was something different. It was not necessarily worse, but it served a different purpose for a different audience.

Go play Sherlock: The Game is Now if you love the show or you want to see big-budget immersive fan service done well. Make sure you leave plenty of time to hang out in the bar after the game.

Brush up on Sherlock season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3 before you visit this game. You’ll want to have a strong grasp of the story and characters.

The living room of Sherlock's cluttered London flat. The wall is graffitied, "THE GAME IS NOW."

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great performances from the show’s original cast
  • To hang out in 221B Baker Street
  • Detailed sets in a physically massive game
  • The deduction puzzle
  • Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty

Story

As new recruits in the clandestine service known at The Network, our new boss Mycroft Holmes had brought us in to assist in an investigation. His dear brother Sherlock was out of the country and we were the best he could find on short notice.

The Doyle's Opticians faux storefront. .

Setting

Sherlock The Game is Now was a pretty game.

We began in a “front.” We entered an optometrist’s office in a London mall. It was fairly convincing.

From there we explored a number of familiar locations from Sherlock. Each set was detailed with show accuracy in mind. (We encountered the exact phone from Mycroft’s desk in the show.)

We exited Sherlock The Game is Now into the experience’s bar, The Mind Palace. Like the game, the bar was beautiful. It was also fairly well stocked.

A skull and preserved bugs in 221B Baker Street.

Gameplay

Sherlock The Game is Now was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The experience progressed through a series of sets, each presenting a unique collection of challenges. We had only a certain amount of time in each set before we were moved on to the next scene.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, deducing, and puzzling. The deduction component was an intriguing addition to the game.

A smiley face spray painted and shot into the wall of 221B Baker Street.

Analysis

➕ From the moment we entered the optometrist’s store, we were in the game world. Our gamemaster’s introduction was entertaining.

➕ Before the game started, our gamemaster led us through a deduction exercise to get us thinking as detectives. It was a humorous in-world onboarding.

❓ The onboarding was long. If you don’t want to engage with the actor – or aren’t sure how to – it will likely drag on. For escape room players who understand the idea of deduction and aren’t fans of the show, it will likely feel tedious. That said, it was worth playing from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective.

Sherlock The Game is Now was at its best when it asked us to deduce, (almost) as Sherlock did in the show. For us, this scene was the strongest in the game because it zeroed in on what made Sherlock Holmes special.

➖ Although we enjoyed the lab’s deduction puzzle, that scene lacked some cluing, which was especially evident in the presence of a lockout safe.

➕ Mycroft’s office had some nifty input mechanisms. They were fun to manipulate and worked well. They also felt believable in this spy-esque office, but were hidden enough that the office felt like a set pulled directly from the show.

A silhouette of Sherlock Holmes flanked by profiles of John Watson & Mycroft Holmes. A yellow spray painted overlays the image.

Sherlock The Game is Now included audio and video from the original cast. It was exciting to meet the characters again and solve mysteries along side them. Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty was exceptional.

➕ 221B Baker Street was true to the show. We enjoyed poking around in this familiar space. The women playing before us were huge fans of the show, but not escape room players. This was their favorite part of the experience. Additionally, the transition out of this space and into the gameplay worked well.

➖ If you don’t know the show, you’ll feel a lot of dead time in this game. 221B was purely experiential, with no action you could take to further the game. The actors perform information, which could easily be more accessible in other medias and through other interfaces.

➕ The hint system was a part of the gameworld. We enjoyed Sherlock’s jabs at our intelligence, or lack thereof. The hint system was designed for players who need a lot of hinting. If they are dragged through the puzzles, they’ll enjoy that process because it was another tie-in with the show. (That said, for escape room players, the hint system might feel overly pushy, especially in the first act.)

❓ The premise of the crime felt a little haphazard and impersonal for a Sherlock mystery.

❓ The memorable moments were delivered as an extension of the show, to the fans. They were the moments spent in Sherlock’s world, touching his things, hearing from to his friends and enemies, and experiencing that charming condescension first hand. The gameplay worked, but the moments were largely forgettable. Your mileage will vary.

➕ Post-game, our gamemaster presented a personalized analysis of our team’s performance at each stage of the game. It was funny and felt pretty accurate.

The Game is Now let us out into their own bar, The Mind Palace. The bar was beautiful and well stocked.

The Mind Palace's wooden bar.

Tips For Visiting

  • Sherlock The Game is Now takes place in a mall.
  • There are 5 copies of this game. Most bookings are private, but there is 1 copy always reserved for public bookings.
  • Watch the following episodes of Sherlock before your visit: season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3.
  • Leave time to visit the bar after your game experience.

Book your hour with Sherlock The Game is Now, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.

NEScape! on the Nintendo Entertainment System [Review]

Going Retro

Location:  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Date Played: June 9, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Duration: 60 minute time loops

Price: $10 (ROM), $60 (cartridge & ROM)

Publisher: KHAN Games

REA Reaction

NEScape! is a new escape room video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or downloadable ROM).

This game captured old-school escape room gameplay on old-school video game hardware… and did a generally good job.

Translucent blue NEScape! cartridge.

There are 4 days left to back this Kickstarter and it is fully funded. The decision to back should be simple:

  • Do you like the idea of old-school, puzzle-forward gameplay?
  • Does playing an escape game on NES hardware sound fun?
  • Do you have access to a NES?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then give them your money.

Lisa's hands on an NES controller.

NEScape! isn’t flawless. There are more than a few things that I think could improve it.

NEScape! isn’t revolutionary. It can’t be. It runs on 8-bit hardware in 2019.

For me, that was fine. Now that I’ve completed playing it, just looking at the cartridge makes me smile.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Retro gamers
  • Point & click fans
  • People who really just want to own the game cartridge
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • Classic escape room puzzle play on the NES
  • It’s different

Story

We were in an escape room and needed to puzzle our way out. Like I said, old school.

Setup

We received NEScape! in cartridge form. That meant that the first puzzle was finding a working Nintendo Entertainment System or a high quality NES clone like the RetroUSB AVS. The Retron5 and RetroDuo (which I love) unfortunately didn’t do the job.

So… we went out to a local retro video game arcade called Yestercades to play with their toys.

NEScape! in a NES.

Puzzle two was mounting the cartridge so that it, ya know, worked. It was as tough as I remembered. A friendly reminder: Blowing on Nintendo cartridges doesn’t help and can cause corrosion.

Once we were up and running, NEScape! was a point & click puzzle game on an 8-bit platform. The controls were simple. We had to find objects and use them to solve the puzzles that lined the game world’s 4 walls.

Gameplay

KHAN Game’s NEScape! was a point & click escape game with puzzles of varying levels of difficulty and a non-negotiable 60-minute game clock that terminated the run at 0.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game animation: a cursor selecting books with zodiac symbols on them.
Via KHAN Games

Analysis

➕ Opening the mail and finding a translucent blue NES cartridge was utterly delightful.

➕ The colors were vibrant and made good use of the limited graphics capacity of the NES.

➕ The controls were easy. Lisa was never a console gamer and had no problems picking them up quickly. There wasn’t any action, so my decades of muscle memory weren’t particularly useful.

➕ The opening sequence was an unusual intro that taught the basics, provided a puzzle and allowed us to bypass it.

➕ There was solid point & click escape game-style play that captured the feeling of escape room puzzles from 4-5 years ago.

➕ There was a structured, self-service online hint system, should you get stuck (or, like us, be playing in a loud space, which inhibited us from solving auditory puzzles).

❓ There were a number of auditory puzzles that we had to bypass with hints. The clanging of pinball, the beeping of arcade cabinets, and the crashing of Skee-Ball at Yestercades meant that we couldn’t hear audio puzzles. It seemed like NEScape! was doing some interesting things with sound, but I genuinely have no idea how anything sounded. When I eventually replay in a quiet location, I’ll update this.

➖ At the start of each chapter, we began with the “lights off” and had to find the switch. This was hard the first time and easy, but annoying, in subsequent chapters.

❓/➕ We aren’t good at slide puzzles. We’d like to get better at them when we have a little time. We ended up sinking a little more than half of our time in our first play loop into a slide puzzle. In our second hour, we just used the hint system to power through the slide pattern. (We so appreciated that the hints included the solution pattern.)

➖ There were times where puzzle solves had no visual indication of completion. There may have been auditory feedback, but we don’t know. It made certain aspects of the game feel clunky. Sure we were playing under sub-optimal circumstances, but visual feedback of success would have been a significant improvement, even if it was just for accessibility purposes.

➖ The ball maze puzzle was visually jittery and difficult to look at.

In-game animation: A ball navigating through a maze.
Via KHAN Games

➕ There were some really great destructible puzzles… the kind that you wouldn’t typically see in a real life escape room.

NEScape! would have benefited from more puzzles that could only work in a digital environment. There were a few too many puzzles that were straight translations from the real world.

❓ We felt pretty conflicted on the rigid timer that terminated the game at 0 forcing us to start over:

  • On one hand, it was annoying. It felt like there was an opportunity to do something more creative at 0 or offer more outcome options.
  • On the other hand, unforgiving fail-states is pretty much tradition on the NES. It wasn’t a big deal because we were able to navigate through the game pretty quickly on our second playthrough to pick up where we’d left off.

➕ It’s a Kickstarter… but the full product exists. For those of us who have been burned before, knowing that a crowdfunding project is more than notional ain’t nothing.

Tips For Playing

  • Time Requirements: I would plan on playing at least 2 or 3 hours (unless you’re good at slide puzzles or plan to bypass it with the hint system).
  • Required Gear: You’ll need a Nintendo Entertainment System or a high-quality clone. We also used pen and paper to track our solutions. This was especially helpful on our second play-though.

Back KHAN Game’s NEScape! on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

There are only 4 days left to back this.

Disclosure: KHAN Games provided a sample for review. 

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Selling Hints in Escape Rooms & Puzzle Games is Bullshit

It’s time to discuss something that’s dumb, but necessary. 

It has come to our attention that there’s a tiny minority of games that are making their players buy hints. 

I’m not really sure who’s doing it, but someone asked a question about this behavior to the panel that I moderated at the Escape Summit in Canada in May. 

So, let’s get this out of the way once and for all. 

Selling Hints is Bullshit

There is an assumption of fairness in escape room design. While some companies pull this off better than others, at the core of escape room play is the idea that these games will be fair even if they are difficult. 

Selling hints undermines that fairness by introducing a financial feedback loop that encourages bullshit puzzle design. I’ll explain:

If a company sells hints, then they make more money from bullshit puzzle design because bullshit puzzles necessitate more hints. 

This in turn encourages the company to include more bullshit puzzles, which drives more bullshit revenue. 

Bullshit leads to hints, hints lead to cash, cash leads to more bullshit. The cycle loops until collapse.

This loop repeats recursively until the company strangles the life out of their business and closes because they suck. Along the way they will hurt the other local escape rooms by convincing the local player base that escape rooms are filled with bullshit puzzles, and thus depleting the potential customer base.

Digital Games

We’ve seen some this kind of nonsense from digital escape games like the point-and-click mobile escape room Spotlight: Room Escape (that’s not worthy of a link.) We’ve refused to review them.

We just assume that if the game is selling hints, the puzzles are probably bullshit.

We have better things to do with our time and so do you.

What Do We Do About This?

If an escape room company is selling hints, beat the hell out of them on Yelp for it.

Be fair. Don’t hit them with a 1 star review, drop something rational, but explain why this is a problem. Shame them into changing.

Also, alert the local player community. If you have a regional Facebook group, leave a note in there about the company.

The Exception

The one time that I can see “selling hints” to be a viable option is if, and only if, the money is going to a good cause, in the name of the players (not the business).

Same goes for something like a blood drive.

Then even if the puzzles are bullshit, at least there’s a good cause to support.

But then again… maybe check out the cause on Charity Navigator first?

Locking Players In & Restraining Them, Escape Room Meme

Man finds out his name isn't on the list for Hell. Explains that he "Owns an escape room that locks players in & restrains them with police handcuffs." He is brought to "Extra-Hell."

At this point you’re probably thinking, “that’s dark… but kind of funny…” or you’re in the teeny tiny minority of escape room owners who are really pissed off.

If you are in the vast majority of owners who understand the basics of how to run a safe business and are on board with me, feel free to carry on with the rest of your day.

If you’re feeling like telling the dumbass blogger off, come with me on a short history lesson and thought journey before writing a comment that you will probably regret.

Poland Fire

On January 5th, there was a fire in Poland that claimed the lives of 5 teenage girls. The escape room owner is in prison and is expected to serve a long sentence.

We covered it in depth. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, read up.

As a result, escape rooms are slowly experiencing a crackdown by fire inspectors all over the world.

This Can’t Happen Again

If something like this happens again or happens on American soil, the ramifications will be catastrophic. They will be especially devastating if the company responsible was anywhere near as negligent as the culpable company in Poland.

Most escape rooms aren’t locking players in or restraining them without providing a self-service way of freeing themselves. Most escape rooms are safe.

There are still some companies, however, who haven’t caught on to the fact that it is not ok to lock your players in your games.

Over on Room Escape Artist, we’re all about grey area. This is not a murky subject. If you are still locking players in your games %^&*ING STOP.

If you feel like fighting me on this, I’ll call your local fire marshal to referee the debate.