UNLOCKED: Escape Room – The Return of the Magician [Hivemind Review]

The Return of the Magician is a real-life escape room livestreamed through an avatar, created by UNLOCKED: Escape Room in Costa Mesa, CA.

Digital interface depicts a magician.

Format

Style of Play: real-life escape room livestreamed through an avatar

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection

Recommended Team Size: 2-4

Play Time: 60 minutes

Price: $60 for first two connections, $15 for each additional connection

Booking: book online for a specific time slot

Description

You’re invited to a magic show by a famous magician. You’re going backstage to discover the magic behind the show.

This is a livestreamed adaptation of a real-life escape room where you play through Zoom via an avatar. There is also an inventory website (Live Stream Adventures) which allows you to do some puzzles on your screen instead of trying to get the avatar to do these for you.

Hands opening a locked trunk viewed through Zoom.

Hivemind Review Scale

REA's hivemind review scale - 3 is recommended anytime, 2 recommended in quarantine, 1 is not recommended.

Read more about our Hivemind Review format.

Cindi S’ Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.

I am always a sucker for magic-themed escape rooms because for me, magic and illusion feed right into the immersion aspect of escape games. In The Return of the Magician, puzzles involved cool magic props that added to the feeling that you were poking around a magician’s storeroom and playing with their stuff. Since you were not actually in the room, however, the magical effects and aha moments were hard to experience, and I found myself wanting to linger over puzzles and props. The game employed a unique inventory system that enabled you to not just view pictures of items, but to actually manipulate them to solve puzzles, which definitely added to the fun factor. That said, switching between Zoom, the inventory, and the 360° room images was distracting, and I missed some of the solutions. While this game had lots of puzzles, great theming, and some really cool magical touches, the livestream version didn’t really do it justice.

Fro’s Reaction

Rating: 2 out of 3.

The Return of the Magician was a solidly executed avatar-style escape room with beautiful, handmade large set pieces and a gamespace that begged you to explore it. The puzzles were fun, fast, and had an accessible degree of difficulty, making this experience a great option for beginning players, groups with children, and experienced players alike. I really liked the game’s inventory system, which not only provided images of the gamespace, but also allowed you to interact with certain puzzles directly on your own screen. I also appreciated the way the creators built ambiance with subtle audio treatments at the game’s transition points. There’s something here for many types of players, so if you’re looking for a light-hearted adventure, give this one a go.

Theresa W’s Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.

What shines for me about virtual escape rooms are the creative liberties companies can take with the format, whether it be an expressive gamemaster or additional online elements. The Return of the Magician somewhat flopped when it came to anything that would make the room stand out online. The game’s inventory system worked well enough, with interactive versions of some puzzles, which players could solve on their own. Using this system, however, detracted from the immersion of the game, and the puzzles weren’t fun enough themselves to warrant an online version. In terms of the puzzle quality, a week later I genuinely can’t remember many of them, although with some tweaking, I believe these puzzles could be more impactful. The avatar lacked personality, and had a shaky camera that didn’t make the online adaptation very smooth at all. I’d be genuinely curious to play another room from UNLOCKED: Escape Room, although I don’t recommend this one.

Joel Smileypeacefun Reaction

Rating: 3 out of 3.

We were invited backstage to a magic show where we learned some of the tricks of a famous magician.

At its best, the overall theme was very fun, the self-made props looked nice, and the background music sounded quite fitting. The set had a gorgeous reveal. They made smart adaptations to certain puzzles, so we could cleverly interact with them through the online inventory. The gamemaster was really helpful. When he knew we got a solution, he didn’t act clueless.

At its worst, the inventory website had us enter a password each time we found a new item. Maybe this could be automated. One physical illusion was a bit lost on the video livestream. The lighting at the beginning was a bit dark. Also, the game has quite a few locks. Maybe one or two of those could be turned into electronic props.

I’ve called out other escape rooms in the past for being a bit light on puzzles. This game, however, has a pretty good amount of content to enjoy.

Matthew Stein’s Reaction

Rating: 1 out of 3.

It’s rare that an escape room loses my interest as quickly as The Return of the Magician did. The gameplay was full of half-baked decent ideas, leading to an experience which felt unironically campy and disappointingly unmagical. Video quality was rather low, and I found light search-based puzzles to be neither fun nor particularly well implemented for livestream play. A partially custom inventory system mostly worked well, and I appreciated that certain puzzles were turned into interactive minigames; however, these puzzles felt disjointed from the physical space – a missed opportunity for some magical justification or camera trickery transitioning between inventory and livestream. Most of all, the avatar’s stilted acting and poorly feigned surprise reactions to various elements and transitions in the game unknowingly mimicked and reinforced my own subdued engagement with the game.

Disclosure: UNLOCKED: Escape Room provided the Hivemind reviewers with a complimentary play.

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