Novel Escape – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea [Review]

Under da sea

Location:  Austin, TX

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public and Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m going to sum Novel Escape’s inaugural game, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in one word: elegant

The only thing that impresses us more than a big budget game executed brilliantly… is a humble game executed brilliantly. That’s what we’re talking about here.

The setup, puzzles, and climactic story beat were smart, elegant, and smile-inducing.

In-game: A periscope hanging from the ceiling.

Novel Escape poured a lot of love and care into this game. For those who are looking to have every inch of the set blow their minds or experience mind-boggling technology, there’s a little of each, but it’s the gameplay that stars in this show.

We heard word of Novel Escape from two long-time readers who beta tested the game. We squeezed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in on our most recent trip to Austin, before Novel Escape officially opened their doors, and we’re thrilled that we did.

If we have one concern for Novel Escape, it’s durability. We played in a pristine, pre-opening version. Some of these props might need additional reinforcement to survive the daily grind of escape room players.

Now that Novel Escape is finally open, if you’re nearby, I highly recommend diving into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jules Verne fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Wonderfully crafted puzzles
  • Adorable set design
  • Solid storytelling

Story

Our ship had wrecked and the notorious Captain Nemo had taken us aboard the Nautilus and press-ganged us into serving him. Nemo had decided to be kind and offered us a deal: if we could find and return a long-lost family heirloom of his we would be free to go.

In-game: A locked hatch within the submarine.

Setting

Our adventure opened in a one of Captain Nemo’s submersible pods. The infamous Captain was issuing his orders… and promises.

The set offered a lot of variety, and was a little uneven. None of it was weak, but some segments stood out.

In-game: A shelf covered in shells, ships in bottles, and a lighthouse.

Gameplay

Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A control panel with a variety of switches and buttons.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea carried this game forward swimmingly. They were thoughtful, clean, well-tested (we played before the game had officially opened), and generally engaged multiple people in group solves. They had depth. Each teammate had a different favorite puzzle, which speaks volumes.

➕ Novel Escape draws inspiration from classic novels. Before we entered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, our gamemaster read us the rules in the Novel Escape style. We’re hardly ever captivated by the rules, but this thematic delivery was a rare exception.

➕ We commend Novel Escape for minimal reading in an escape room inspired by a book (we were a little worried that we’d be hit with large passages). We appreciated how Novel Escape incorporated text to deliver an “aha” rather than by slowing us down with reading material.

➖ One puzzle seemed narratively out of place. Although it was a fun group solve, there was an opportunity to do something more relevant with that segment.

➕ In this primarily lock-and-key escape room, Novel Escape surprised us, hiding a twist in plain sight, and cluing it expertly. It was low tech – and low budget – but so well crafted as to deliver an incredible moment.

➖ The set was uneven. Some parts of the gamespace were more inspiring than others. It all looked good, but there was an opportunity to enhance it in some areas.

➕/➖ We enjoyed that our game was introduced in-character. Novel Escape could sell this more strongly, both pre-game and post-game, to raise the stakes of the adventure.

❓ We’re worried about the durability of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was in great shape when we visited, but this was before Novel Escape had officially opened. We aren’t convinced that the delicate components will withstand the beating that escape rooms take over time.

In-game: a quote from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"painted to the wall: "The Nautilus confirmed the words of an astute engineer, 'There is no well-constructed hull that cannot defy the sea."

➕ Hints floated in as needed. We loved the hint delivery method.

➕ We enjoyed a call back and an Easter egg. These little details added charm to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Novel Escape comped our tickets for this game.

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