Level99 (July 2021) [Review]

This one goes up to 99

Location:  Natick, MA

Date Played: July 10, 2021

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

Duration: as long as you want

Price: $29.99 per player for 2 hours, $39.99 per player for 4 hours, or $49.99 per player for all day

Ticketing: Public

Accessibility Consideration: not everything will be accessible to everyone, mostly due to physical elements

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

If Level99 had existed in the Natick Mall when I was a teenager, I would have asked my parents to take me there every week. If it had existed when I was home on college break, I would have taken myself there far too often. I grew up outside of Boston. I embodied that (not so rare, it seems) combination of athlete and nerd. Level99 would have been my paradise.

Level99

That said, Level99 wasn’t perfect. My initial reaction was one of confusion and disorientation. I didn’t understand the currencies, or most of what was going on on the room check-in panels. Without a mental map of the space or a clear way to reference the rooms, I would point vaguely in a direction (that might be a bit off) and say something like “the one where we pushed buttons” to explain where I thought our group should go next. We’d been exploring for more than 2 hours before we could start making intentional decisions. Level99 had a steep learning curve.

However, even as we pieced together what felt a bit like a mystery box, we were having a ton of fun.

My take on much of our confusion is that Level99 is still figuring out exactly what Level99 is, and how to communicate that to their players. I expect them to improve as they get a better handle on what the beast that they have built even is. This is natural when innovating new structures and ways to play.

3 players hanging from monkey bars in a radiation themed game.
Reactor Sludge

We spent a full day at Level99. We tried every room that was open, competed on every arena stage, completed almost every scavenger hunt, and enjoyed the food and beer. We loved the discovery, and so many of the challenges. I learned that my body isn’t as talented with monkey bars as it was 15 years ago, but also, that that’s totally ok, because Level99 had a lot to offer even after we’d reached our physical limits. In this way, it was more inclusive than I’d ever expected.

If you enjoy puzzles, physical challenges, art, food, beer, or discovery, give Level99 at least half a day (4-hour ticket) and surrender to this weird world where time disappears and fun remains.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Athletes (for some challenges)
  • Any experience level (but experience certainly helps)

Why play?

  • Impressive volume and variety of play, with intellectual and physical challenges
  • A beautiful and fun environment
  • Replayability
  • The food and drink were fantastic
Panoramic photo of Level 99

Setting

Level99 was built into a space that used to be a Sears. It was big.

Approaching the entrance, it was immediately clear that everything about the space was deliberately designed; it was beautiful and exciting.

Front of Level 99 with an entrance for Night Shift Brewing.

Once inside, it felt like a sleek escape room arcade. We were surrounded by cubes, each containing their own games, and art installations (that were part of scavenger hunts).

Night Shift Brewing had an outpost inside of Level99. The food and drinks were fantastic.

Night Shift Brewing order station.
Night Shift Brewing

The bathrooms were great and clean.

Access to Level99 is purchased in units of time: 2 hours, 4 hours, or all day.

We had a day pass, and once we were in, we didn’t really have to leave.

A line of check in stations, each with its own touch screen.
Check-in stations

Gameplay

Upon arrival we were each given a bracelet with an RFID chip that we had to use to tap into all of the games. This controlled our access to everything game-related.

The bracelet recorded a few different currencies. The main ones were gems and coins, and these could be used to gain access to a new game. Once we had access to a game, it became ours for the lifespan of the game.

Rooms

These were mental and physical challenges made for 2-6 players. Everything within them was automated. You play until you win, or you fail and get ejected.

The challenges within Rooms ranged from intensely puzzley to incredibly physical, with a ton of content in between.

Success in a Room can earn up to three stars depending upon how well your group played.

Arenas

These were 1-on-1 battle games that we played competitively. These were more skill-based and didn’t have a puzzle component.

Hunts

There were art installations scattered all over Level99. Some of them were part of a set of scavenger hunts.

Analysis

➕ Level99 had a great vibe. It was aesthetically cool and a fun place to hang out.

➕ The gameplay was varied. Some rooms required physical strength or agility. Others offered mental challenges. To solve these physical and mental challenges, we pulled from a wide variety of skills. Overall (whether we could succeed at them or not), the challenges were a good time.

➕ Waiting was fun too. We could watch the arena battles and take in the details of the art installations, committing them to memory for the scavenger hunts.

➕ The rooms were well designed. They were challenging, but fair, and built up in complexity.

➕/➖ Level99 used technology to create new, harder challenges as we progressed in a room. Technology facilitated transitions in gameplay. It was impressive. That said, it was never as exciting as the reveal of an entirely new gamespace. In each room, to some degree, what you saw was what you got.

➖ The onboarding was choppy. If you only stay for 2 hours, you likely won’t fully understand how this place works, like how you’re collecting which currencies and why.

➖ The currency balance needed work (a fact that Level99 was aware of). We never knew what we were buying into, and then we were stuck with our decisions until we did well enough at our unlocked rooms to open more rooms.

Exterior of the Comic Smash game.

➕ Players win and lose both individually and together. Even if one teammate was less physically adept, and the team couldn’t complete that room to its fullest, other players could rack up in-game currency for their individual accomplishments. This fostered team exploration without the guilt of trying challenges not everyone could do well.

➖ Level99 lacked signage. We didn’t internalize the names of the rooms and then had trouble referencing them. We weren’t even always sure where they were. From a distance, we couldn’t tell if a room was free or occupied, or how long the wait would be.

➕ The check-in screens were impressive in depth and detail. We enjoyed our random “character” names. We appreciated the new details that were added to our character graphics as we leveled up. Plus, we could dig into lots of our own stats. This was fun.

➖ The room check-in process was laborious. Each teammate needed to scan in individually. The scanners were also placed pretty low for adults, so this was awkward, and they were a bit finicky. We spent a lot of time scanning. I would have loved the option to check in with the same group I last played with on a single scan.

➖ Sound was a major challenge. Some rooms were nearly impossible to play because they required precise communication, but were located next to rowdier skill-based games. Our voices were hoarse after a few hours.

➕ We enjoyed the beer and the food. It was fun to stay immersed in the experience during our break.

Many tables in the eatery area in the middle of Level 99.

➖ We were confused about payment. Our credit card was tied to our bands, but then our bands couldn’t pay for food. In a place where you put your possessions in lockers, this would have been a nice touch of convenience… or a heads up would have been helpful.

➕ The staff were kind, engaged, and helpful.

❓ The public leaderboards on big screens make Level99 feel competitive.

❓ Level99 gave off a bit of a casino vibe. Without clocks or windows, time just disappeared.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is plenty of parking at the Natick Mall.
  • Food & Drink: Food and drink from Night Shift Brewing is available inside Level99. Also, the mall food court is right nearby.

Book your time with Level99, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

All images via Level99

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.