Are Escape Rooms Scary?

It surprises most folks to learn that the overwhelming majority of escape rooms are not scary at all.

Yes, scary escape rooms exist.

However, the horror genre is a small subset of the escape room medium. Horror escape rooms are heavily desired by some and hated by others. Among the horror escape room genre, most are more creepy and intense than they are terrifying.

Creepy image of a person fearfully clutching the window of a door.

A few horror escape rooms are legendary in the escape room player community for their fear factor, but they are extraordinarily rare.

Escape room companies label horror games appropriately as horror. If you read a company’s website before you book, you won’t inadvertently book a scary escape room.

Let’s examine:

  • Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?
  • How can you determine whether or not an escape room is scary?
  • Where can you find some truly scary escape rooms?

Why do people assume escape rooms are scary?

There are 2 reasons why most people immediately assume that an escape room must be a horror experience.

SAW

It’s difficult to hear the words “escape room” and not think about the SAW franchise. Those movies are literally about a group of people confined within a space and forced to escape or die.

You can rest easy knowing that whatever escape room you visit in the United States is a proper business with insurance and a desire to not get sued or prosecuted for murdering a paying customer.

The Official SAW Escape Las Vegas logo depicting Jigsaw.
Image via Official SAW Escape

Escape rooms – even the official SAW escape room in Las Vegas – are not operated by serial killers hiding behind a literal puppet.

Escape Room Movies

While most escape rooms focus on puzzle and adventure, the movies with the name “Escape Room” are all horror movies (one was more watchable than the others). More specifically, these movies are basically low-budget SAW knock-offs… which is funny because SAW was a low budget flick in the first place, and the sequels are all SAW knock-offs.

A character solving a puzzle box.
Escape Room (2018)

How do I determine whether or not an escape game is scary?

Scary escape games are generally clearly marked.

Zoe, the scariest escape room that we’ve ever played, had this video advertising it on the booking website. It isn’t coy:

Companies like THE BASEMENT that specialize in horror experiences are direct about this on their websites.

Creators of horror escape rooms are targeting a specific audience. They aim to appeal to players who are excited for the experience.

That said, if a game tells you absolutely nothing about the experience, like Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown, you can also read the total lack of information as confirmation that it’s scary.

Where Can I Find Horror Games?

If you’re the type of person who found this post not out of fear, but out of excitement, here are a few places you can go to seek out the thrill of a horror escape room:

The Basement, Los Angeles, CA

The BASEMENT is one of the most well-known horror escape room companies in the United States. In each of their games, you are trapped by the serial killer Edward Tandy, who toys with you, his prey, as you solve his traps. From their collection, we highly recommend The Courtyard and 2017 Golden Lock Award Winning The Elevator Shaft.

DarkPark, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

DarkPark is one of the leading escape room companies in The Netherlands. At their locations in Delft and Zoetermeer, they create “mysterious, immersive, and blood-curdling experiences that take you to new worlds.” Their games are dark and intense. We highly recommend Golden Lock Award Winning games Honeymoon Hotel (2018) and The End (2019).

Single Games at Escape Room Facilities

Are Escape Rooms?

This post is part of our on-going series, “Are Escape Rooms?…” We’re digging into questions, concerns, and curiosities that are common among new players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Doldrick's Escape Room – Super Bomb Squad [Review]

The Sonic the Hedgehog 2 of escape games.

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Super Bomb Squad was fast paced and frenetic. Doldricks Escape Room merged classic video game design with elements of laser tag and escape room gameplay to create a unique beast unlike anything else we’ve encountered.

The story was a riot and the music was fantastic. What really set this game apart, however, was how great it felt to play it quickly. In my experience, once you get past the thrill of setting your first couple of records, most great escape rooms aren’t better when you play them quickly, they are just shorter. Super Bomb Squad made speed feel engaging and necessary.

In-game: A large laser maze in a mirrored room.

There were a few places where the puzzle and tech design threw some unnecessary and frustrating friction into the mix. It was not game breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but it did feel like there was some unrealized potential in this otherwise genius creation.

I loved this game. I really did. It sparked a child-like glee in me that few escape rooms ever even flirt with.

If you’re a fan of 8-bit and 16-bit era video games, Super Bomb Squad is a must play. If you’re not so familiar with that era of video games, there’s still tons to love about this game – you just won’t be in on all of the jokes (sorry Lisa). I’d love to see other companies play with some of the ideas that Doldrick’s Escape Room introduced in Super Bomb Squad.

Captain Spoopy Bones is their creation that gets all of the attention and adoration from the escape room player community and that’s really well-earned; Captain Spoopy Bones was freaking fantastic. But don’t ignore Super Bomb Squad. This game wasn’t as refined, but it was startlingly innovative.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Classic video game fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Frenetic action
  • Hilarious characters and story
  • A unique twist on the laser maze
  • There’s nothing else like it

Story

When a weapon of mass destruction must be eliminated, who do you call? The elite group, Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome!

In-game: A piece of machinery with an illuminated blue biohazard symbol.

Setting

Super Bomb Squad had us infiltrating an enemy base… so of course we began in the elevator. The beating heart of this experience was the crazy laser maze room that looked badass and felt unique from the many, many, many laser mazes we have traversed.

Overall, the quality of the set build was strong. Everything felt like it belonged and the parts that stood out, really looked great.

In-game: A locked refridgerator filled with an unknown substance.

Gameplay

Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Super Bomb Squad was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: An assortment of wallmounted machinery and a flashing red alarm light.

Analysis

Super Bomb Squad was a high energy escape room. With its cheeky, comedic tone, chip tunes music, and video gaminess, we couldn’t help but rush from puzzle to puzzle.

➕ That music. Doldricks, pretty please put your music on Spotify.

➕ The intro video was too damn funny. I loved the characters. Please sell merch!

➕ Doldrick’s modified a favorite relic of my childhood into the thing that my imagination always knew it was.

➕ In Super Bomb Squad the majority of the puzzles required coordinated teamwork, often across different props, and even different gamespaces. This added to the excitement.

❓ At the top of this review, I compared Super Bomb Squad to Sonic The Hedgehog 2, a game that was at its best when played as quick as possible. I don’t think that playing fast improves most escape rooms, but I wholeheartedly believe that it is true of Super Bomb Squad.

There were a couple of moments in this game that ground to a standstill. They didn’t add to the tension; they broke the intensity. I think that this game would be better with fewer points of heavy friction and a shorter game clock.

➖ Doldrick’s Escape Room could cut down on unnecessary frustration by fixing a case sensitivity problem.

➕/➖ Super Bomb Squad had us dodging, searching, and shooting in a high energy segment that brought video gameplay to life. However, without clear feedback, we spent time resolving where we’d succeeded instead of refocusing our efforts on the action. This sequence was at the same time a high point of play, and the point of our greatest frustration with the cluing, feedback, and pacing.

➖ Super Bomb Squad lacked a final boss fight. It wouldn’t take much for Doldrick’s Escape Room to transform the conclusion of this game into a masterpiece. Most of the elements are already in place.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Doldrick’s Escape Room’s Super Bomb Squad, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Doldrick’s Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.

Talking Tables – Host Your Own Escape Room [Review]

“With Interactive Ending” 🤔

Location:  at home

Date Played: January 11, 2020

Team size: 2+; we recommend 2

Duration: 60 minutes (in theory)

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was not designed for us. If you’re a regular reader of Room Escape Artist, we can pretty much guarantee that it wasn’t made for you either. This game feels like light entertainment for adults who don’t play or puzzle much.

A lantern, instruction booklet, and welcome information.

Host Your Own Escape Room looked good, but it didn’t have much of anything going on beyond its elegant production.

Including setup time, we finished Host Your Own Escape Room in 20 minutes. There was a light searching component and approximately 3 puzzles (depending upon your definition of puzzle), all of which were incredibly common and basic puzzle types.

That isn’t to say that they were bad (except for the one that demanded a bit of outside knowledge). The puzzles were cleanly executed. However, there simply wasn’t much to it.

Creators in the escape room world are making so many delightful and creative games. Host Your Own Escape Room simply wasn’t representative of where this medium is moving.

Who is this for?

People who want to enjoy the faintest whiff of an escape room from the comfort of their own home.

Why play?

  • The 3 puzzles all solve cleanly
  • High production value

Story

We were trapped inside of a cinema in Tokyo.

Assorted large cardboard Japanese items.

Setup

A host is supposed to open the box, read the rules, and hide a few items in a room within their home.

Once the guests are in the room, said host reads a brief introduction to the setting and so begins the game.

The host can play with the group, provided they didn’t solve the puzzles in advance. They just have to hold back on searching (and maybe provide searching hints if they hid items too well or their friends are lazy searchers.)

If the team requires hints or solutions to any of the puzzles, the instruction booklet contains them in the last few pages.

The red maze box art for Host Your Own Escape Room.

Gameplay

Talking Tables’ Host Your Own Escape Room was a standard play-at-home escape game with a low level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

A welcome letter, part of a sudoku, a folder for clues, a collapsed lantern, and part of a script.

Analysis

➕ For $20, the production value of Host Your Own Escape Room was impressive. All of the materials looked great. They had an elegant red, black, and white aesthetic that demonstrated that someone really cared about the presentation of this game.

➕ The option and instructions for adding a search component into the game were well executed.

➖ The story was only thematically relevant.

➕ The puzzles within this game all solved cleanly, and pulled from Japanese culture and puzzle design.

➖ The puzzles were all common puzzle types without much of a twist.

➖ A large volume of the objects within this game had no purpose other than to look thematic. It’s a shame that these components weren’t worked into the gameplay at all.

➖ One puzzle required outside knowledge.

➖ The phrase, “with interactive ending” literally meant that we needed to use a web browser in the most basic way possible.

Host Your Own Escape Room came with a beefy notepad. It was hilariously large for this game. We’ve kept it and will be using it for some time.

A large notepad that says "Notes" at the top.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a room with a door and a small table
  • Required Gear: an internet-connected device, paper and pencil (or pen if you like to live dangerously)

Buy your copy of Talking Tables’s Host Your Own Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Talking Tables provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Are Escape Rooms Claustrophobic?

Many escape rooms contain elements that could trigger claustrophobia in someone who suffers from that medical condition. At the same time, there are plenty of escape games that will likely be playable for someone with claustrophobia.

I’m no doctor and I’m no expert in claustrophobia, but I have played games with friends who were worried about enclosed spaces, and they found this wasn’t an issue.

We’re going to take a look at what claustrophobia is and what you should do to ensure that you’re selecting an escape room that won’t trigger your claustrophobia.

Stylized image of the interior of a steel elevator with closed doors.

What is Claustrophobia?

If you suffer from claustrophobia, you experience an irrational fear of confinement. Common triggers include elevators, tunnels, revolving doors, and other restricted spaces.

This is a medical condition. I am not a doctor. If you suffer from claustrophobia, I would strongly urge you to speak to your doctor. A general practitioner can help you find a specialist with expertise to help you through this. You do not have to live with claustrophobia.

Please read up if this sounds like you or someone you care about.

Will Escape Rooms Trigger Claustrophobia?

Claustrophobia is an individual problem that will affect different people in different ways. I cannot provide a concrete answer that will apply to everyone.

That said, I can speak to some of the common triggers as they pertain to escape rooms.

Locked In or Confined

When escape rooms were first introduced, some of them would lock players in. Modern escape rooms should never lock a player into a space without providing that player with a means of freeing themself.

If you visit an escape room that doesn’t provide you a means of emergency exit, you should ask for your money back and leave.

Tight Spaces

Each escape room offers a different experience in a different sized space.

Some escape rooms can feel cramped or confined, but many of them are large and wide open. A few are even outdoors.

Crawlspaces, small rooms, and elevator-like spaces certainly do exist in some escape games. In many games, however, only 1 teammate is required to go through the small space. This is especially true of crawlspaces.

What to Do Before Booking

If the size of the space is a concern for you, reach out to the company you’re thinking about visiting. If they are a good operator, they’ll answer questions and help you determine if they have a game that will meet your needs.

You should feel comfortable saying, “I (or someone on my team) isn’t willing to enter tight spaces or tunnels. Which of your games should I book?” It’s a completely reasonable question. It’s an easy way to get some peace of mind before booking. The person you speak with may or may not get into the details of the space, but they certainly should be willing to help guide your game selection. If they don’t, call another company.

Also, as a general rule, I’d suggest avoiding horror games. In my experience, they tend to have more crawlspaces, tight spaces, and other attributes designed to poke and prod at human fears.

There are so many different and wonderful adventures to have in an escape room. Many have nothing to do with tight spaces or even escaping. Find the right game for you and go have some fun.

Are Escape Rooms…?

This is the first piece in an ongoing series that we’re publishing to address the common curiosities, concerns, and fears of new escape room players.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Mass Escape – The Eckstein Experiment [Review]

Steampunk Experimentation

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Thinking back on The Eckstein Experiment, I’m kind of amazed that it was only 1 hour long. The set was large, packed with detailed and unique spaces. There were a lot of fantastic team-based challenges. The character with whom we interacted was brilliant.

In-game: A brain and eye in a jar.

We have a weak spot for steampunk sets over at Room Escape Artist, and this was one of our favorites. It was tactile and beautiful.

We loved this game… except for the beginning. The initial moments of the experience were great, but the first few minutes of gameplay felt stale, like they belonged in a different world… one we’ve seen many times before. Once we were past the early gameplay, this game soared.

If you’re near Boston with a car, go play The Eckstein Experiment at Mass Escape. While you’re there, play Ice Station Zero as well, if not all 3 of their games. This is a really cool company that is designing creatively.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Tons of content
  • Strong team-based gameplay
  • A cool steampunk set
  • A great hint system

Story

Strange lights had flashed and even stranger noises had come from the medical office of Dr. Eckstein. One day, curiosity got the better of us and we decided to investigate.

In-game: a steam-punk-ish laboratory with glowing beakers and flasks of liquid.

Setting

The Eckstein Experiment opened up in typical-looking escape room jail cells. Once we were free of the bars, things changed quickly. Mass Escape pulled from steampunk and laboratory aesthetics to create something unique.

The opening was fine; it looked good. The mid- and late-game sets were something considerably more special.

In-game: a large electrical contraption made of mostly wound copper wire.

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s The Eckstein Experiment was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large electrical contraption made of mostly wound copper wire.

Analysis

➕ Although the opening set was nothing special, The Eckstein Experiment transitioned into a beautiful steampunk laboratory. We loved the aesthetic and the dynamic of the interconnected spaces. There was also a surprising set piece that might creep up on you.

➕ Mass Escape crafts charming characters into their games. Our gamemaster set the tone for the experience, acting as a character in our story. His sincere delivery added to the fun. Mass Escape was able to lean into this antagonistic character because they had a different method of hint delivery. We didn’t need to trust this guy.

In-game: a severed thumb on a surgical tray.

➕ The hint system added a playfulness to The Eckstein Experiment. Mass Escape seamlessly integrated the hints, such that it would have been a lesser game without taking them.

➕ Mass Escape made great use of space.

➖ The first act of The Eckstein Experiment was unbalanced. It was a split-team start where some people had a lot more they could do than others. It also felt too generic in comparison to what came immediately after.

The Eckstein Experiment fostered engaging team dynamics.

➕ Mass Escape combined both escape room-y puzzles with more situational-based solves.

➖ Mass Escapes really needed to dial up the size, lighting, and precision of one key interaction.

➖ Additional gating in one section would prevent teams from blindly burning substantial time on inactive puzzles.

❓ The bonus quests in The Eckstein Experiment weren’t integrated as cleanly as were those in their other games.

➕ Mass Escape devoted a whole section of this game to one gimmick, and transformed it into a communication puzzle. Then they repurposed a space that we didn’t expect to reuse, which was impressive.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • At least 2 people have to crawl.
  • The game has a split beginning. Players will start in different spaces.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s The Eckstein Experiment, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mass Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Where To Get Custom Jigsaw Puzzles

A great gift for a jigsaw puzzler is a one-of-a-kind puzzle. I know this because I’ve given a few of these gifts and they are always a hit.

I’ve found 2 different companies that do a wonderful job at this, depending upon the price point and level of quality that you’re seeking.

Traditional Jigsaw Puzzles from Ravensburger

Ravensburger makes some of the nicest traditional jigsaw puzzles on the market. They vary their piece shapes, use good card stock, and have less puzzle dust than most of the jigsaw puzzles that have crossed my table. Also, I really like their trademark blue backings.

If you’d like to have Ravensburger make a custom puzzle for you, it’s easy.

Closeup of Ravensburger puzzle pieces in the box.

They call them Custom Photo Puzzles. All that you have to do is:

  • Take a good photo that is jigsaw puzzle-worthy. (I’ll talk about that at the bottom of this post.)
  • Upload a photograph that’s at least 150 dpi to their website
  • Select a size
    • $27.92: 100-300 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $31.92: 500 pieces, 19.5″ x 14.25″
    • $35.92: 1000 pieces, 27″ x 20″
    • $39.92: 1500 pieces, 31.5″ x 23.6″
  • Pay and wait 1 to 2 weeks
Custom Ravensburger 500 piece puzzle of Love Locks

The final product arrives in a beautiful tin with a sticker of the image on the outside.

Laser Cut Wood Puzzles from Liberty Puzzles

If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, Liberty Puzzles, the makers of fine laser-cut wood puzzles, also offers custom jigsaw puzzles… and they are gorgeous.

Image of an intricate wooden jugsaw puzzle depicting art from the San Francisco World's Fair. "The Jewel City" shows a tower with lights matching teh colors of the rainbow emerging from it.
I made this for our dear friends Amanda & Drew as a memento of one of their favorite escape games.

Like Ravensburger, Liberty Puzzles is easy to work with. All you have to do is:

  • Take a quality, jigsaw puzzle worthy image
  • Upload it as a jpg or gif (and I’d suggest 150 dpi as a minimum starting place for quality)
  • Select a size:
    • $130: Small – 9 x 13in., 225-250 pieces
    • $160: Large – 13 x 17in.,  425-500 pieces
  • Pay and wait for delivery. Remember that Liberty Puzzles is a small business and they can become overrun during busy seasons. (This year they stopped selling custom puzzles in the middle of November, which is why this wasn’t on our 2019 holiday buyer’s guide.)
Close up of the intricately shaped Liberty Puzzle pieces assembled.
Liberty Puzzles don’t come in sealed boxes… so I might have assembled it before giving it to them. Don’t judge me. I never claimed that I was a perfect person.

The final product looks just like any other puzzle from Liberty Puzzles. It will arrive in an elegant navy blue box with a sticker of the image. Within, you’ll find the wooden pieces neatly wrapped in tissue paper and smelling of burnt wood.

What Makes a Good Jigsaw Puzzle Image?

A few things come to mind:

  • A good variety of colors and textures
  • Sharp imagery. Blurriness isn’t great in a puzzle.
  • Depth is really cool (if you can get it without too much blurriness). A pronounced foreground, middle, and background makes the puzzling experience far more interesting
  • You own the image. The companies will send you packing if you submit an obviously copyrighted image. (The Jewel City art was in the public domain.)
  • The image matters to the person who’s receiving it as a gift.

I usually use my own photography to create a custom puzzle. In one instance I used an illustration that’s in the public domain.

Whether you choose Ravensburger or Liberty Puzzle, you’ll be giving a quality, personalized product.

2020 Escape Game Wishlist

At the beginning of last year I wrote a lengthy aspirational list of games that we hoped to play in 2019. At the request of one of our Patreon supporters, I’m going to take a look back at that list, see what kind of dent we put into it, and add new games that are on our radar.

The genie lamp from Aladdin high up on a pedistal.

How’d We Do in 2019?

Of the 11 new games from companies that we’ve visited in the past, we visited 3:

We were supposed to play 13th Gate’s Asylum… but a hurricane thwarted our plans. Sigh.

Of the 14 unfamiliar companies on the list, we visited 4:

At two of these companies, we played Golden Lock Award-winning games!

In all cases, we played all of the most highly recommended games at the companies… no regrets!

Of the 4 new countries that we were hoping to visit in 2019… we visited exactly zero of them.

2020 Wishlist

I’m going to use the same breakdown as last year, and include all of the games and places that we didn’t visit. New 2020 additions will appear in bold.

New Games, Familiar Companies

Unfamiliar Companies

  • Bewilder Box – Brighton, UK
  • Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space – Urbana, IL
  • Clue IQ – Frederick, MD
  • Crime Runners – Vienna, Austria
  • Cyber Racoon – Falls Church, VA (how great is that name?)
  • Edge of Escape – Zion, IL
  • Enter The Imaginarium – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Enter/Locked – Jackson, MS
  • Escape Room Herndon – Herndon, VA
  • Immersia – Montreal, Canada
  • Locked In Edinburgh – Edinburgh, UK
  • Maine Escape Games – Portland, ME
  • MindTrap Escape Rooms – Murrieta, CA
  • Myss Tic Rooms – New York, NY (if they are able to reopen)
  • Mystery Mansion Escape – Little Rock, AR
  • Nick of Time Escapes – Swain, NY
  • Olde City Escape Games – Philadelphia, PA
  • Paradox Project – Athens, Greece
  • Pier Pressure – Brighton, UK
  • Ravenchase Adventures – Richmond, VA
  • The Chamber – Prague, Czech Republic
  • The Sanctuary – Oklahoma City, OK
  • Xscapes – Binghamton, NY (to play their licensed Twilight Zone room)

New Travel Destinations

  • Athens, Greece
  • Barcelona, Spain
  • Beijing & Shanghai, China
  • Moscow, Russia
  • Paris, France
  • Taipei, Taiwan
  • Tel Aviv, Israel

Recommendations Welcome

If you have additional recommendations that should be on this list, please add them in the comments! (Please note if you’re recommending your own game.)

Dare 2 Escape – The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind [Review]

Willy Wonka & the Video Store

Location:  Kissimmee, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was compelling. Stepping into it brought back so many memories.

It was cool to see all of the props and mechanics of a video store thoroughly repurposed into an elaborate puzzle game.

In-game: a cardboard cutout of Keanu Reeves beside a shelf of DVDs.
Whoa. A most excellent cameo.

At Dare 2 Escape, everyone loves Halloween. We haven’t played any of their other escape rooms, all of which are set in a single, scary storyline. The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a break from their tradition (but set in the same universe). It was humorous. The staging fit it into Dare 2 Escape’s world, while delivering a completely different vibe, which was impressive… and especially welcome for our anti-horror teammates.

If you’re in Orlando, and you’re looking for a puzzle-focused escape room in an authentic video store setting, The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a fun trip down memory lane.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Detailed, clever design
  • Lots of nuanced references
  • It was great visiting a video store

Story

Eccentric video rental store owner Joseph Boddy had decided to retire. Rather than sell his lucrative business, he had decided to award it to someone who would truly appreciate it.

Mr. Boddy had randomly issued golden tickets to members of his store for a series of challenges. The person who could solve them would win the greatest prize of all: the deed to a video rental store. That’s a business that can never fail.

In-game: The Harvest Moon Video logo beside a large sign that reads, "Be kind rewind."

Setting

It was a video store through and through. If you’re old enough to have ever visited one, Dare 2 Escape’s creation looked spot on.

The only thing that was missing was a video game rental section.

In-game: Wide view of a video store with shelves of DVDs.

Gameplay

Dare 2 Escape’s The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, puzzling, and enjoying the many references.

In-game: a collection of DVDs in the sci-fi section.

Analysis

➕ The Willy-Wonka-meets-video-rental-store setup was genius.

➕ While The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was visually busy – such is the aesthetic of a video store – every prop had a purpose. Every item belonged in the gamespace.

➖ We encountered some gating issues. In the middle of the game, we sunk a lot of time into puzzles that weren’t yet solvable.

 The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was a nostalgic escape room, crafted with a devotion to the subject matter.

➕/➖ Dare 2 Escape created multiple strong puzzles around DVDs and other common rental store items. That said, it was challenging to keep track of all the different DVD puzzles.

➖ The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind lacked work surfaces, which exacerbated the DVD organization issue. We had a lot of props to organize and solve, but no work area on which to do so. We spread out across the floor, creating a bit of a tripping hazard.

➕ In The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind outside movie knowledge was an asset, but it certainly wasn’t required. With certain knowledge, we moved more quickly through one segment, but without it, the task wasn’t arduous. The solve was neat. Added bonus: if you know the movies, you’ll feel like a rock star.

➖ Although the early gameplay made sense for staging and story building, it dragged. We were hampered by the dim lighting in the first act. The gameplay worked, but the pacing felt off. The opening would have felt more powerful if it had flowed more quickly.

➕ Dare 2 Escape built a sweet transition into this game.

 The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind was full of Easter eggs: nods to Dare 2 Escape’s other games, the creators’ family and friends, and so many movies.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Dare 2 Escape’s The Video Store: Be Kind Rewind, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Artists – NINJA [Review]

Asian Fusion

Location:  Orlando, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape Artist’s NINJA was a bit of a roller coaster. Some portions were attractive, engaging, and funny. Others were finicky, underdeveloped, and tedious. It could change from one moment to the next.

Overall, it was pleasant to experience an atypical escape room scenario, but the great parts left us really wishing that everything was more cleanly executed.

If you’re in the area and are looking for a mixture of puzzles, pop culture references, and an assortment of pan-Asian concepts, NINJA is anything but expected.

In-game: a japanese building with a cherry blossom out front.

Who is this for?

  • Nerds – so many references – so many
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s really different in look and play
  • Some of the set pieces are beautiful
  • The references were as outlandish as they were funny

Story

An evil ninja had been hired to assassinate and sabotage our town. We needed to defeat this ninja and bring proof of our victory to our Shogun.

In-game: a large black and white symbol hung from a wall of bamboo and spotlit in the darkness.

Setting

NINJA had a mostly Japanese – and occasionally pan-Asian – aesthetic. The Japanese architecture and faux cherry blossoms were quite striking.

Every room of NINJA was loaded with nerdy sight gags, some subtle, some overt. These were the highlight of the game for half of our team.

In-game: a lantern hung outside of a japanese building.

Over the course of the game, it became clear that the set design was incredibly uneven with some sections clearly receiving a lot of love and investment. Other sections felt like an afterthought.

Gameplay

Escape Artists’ NINJA was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a puzzle with slots for many disks arranged in a circle.

Analysis

➕ NINJA was goofy. It pulled from all different “ninja” associations, creating an amalgamation of loosely associated themes. The tone was lighthearted and some of the props were especially amusing to read or interact with.

➖ Some of these NINJA associations seemed only vaguely relevant. It was almost as if anything Asian was also somehow “ninja.”

➕ There was a lot of puzzle content, in different styles, which we enjoyed.

➖ Some of the more traditional escape room-style puzzles lacked clarity. There were opportunities to refine the cluing, which was at times ambiguous.

➕ NINJA shined in its physical interactions. We tackled many unusual dexterity challenges. We enjoyed being the ninjas – shooting, punching, tossing, and throwing our way to puzzle solves.

➖ The engineering in NINJA was sloppy. The tolerances on the tech were too tight, which made everything feel finicky. We frequently solved puzzles correctly, but did not receive feedback from the solve.

➕/➖ Parts of the set looked great. In these places, Escape Artists minded the details and added finish. Parts of the set looked hacked together, messy, and unrefined. Even in the low lighting, we could see the seams.

➖ The last gamespace felt especially underdesigned, as if Escape Artists had run out of time or budget.

➕ Escape Artists crafted some most excellent doors within NINJA. We’re always fans of unusual doors; we greatly enjoyed this reveal.

➕ There was one written passage that when read out loud made our jaws drop… before the laughter set in.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking nearby.
  • NINJA is located at Escape Artists’ Orlando location, not their Sanford location.
  • Be advised that NINJA takes place in low light.

Book your hour with Escape Artists’ NINJA, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Artists comped our tickets for this game.

Mind Masters – Strange Magic [Review]

Pulling a solution out of a hat

Location:  Clermont, FL

Date Played: November 17, 2019

Team size: 4-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.10 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Strange Magic was a delightful blend of puzzle design, technology, and set design. Everything came together beautifully in a compact but mighty package.

What made Mind Masters’ inaugural game so fantastic was the stage-magic quality of the interactions.

Additionally, some of the technology was so slick that it’s hard to comprehend how great it is… which really is how tech ought to function.

If you’re in the area, I highly recommend finding your way to this company. It’s rare to see such a polished first outing from a rookie escape room business. I have a feeling that we’re going to see more great things from them.

In-game: Closeup of the magician's hat.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Great thematic puzzling
  • A fun setting
  • Brilliant and subtle magical tech

Story

In the heart of America, the magician in a traveling circus was using real sorcery to feed on the life force of his audience.

We time traveled into his tent during his hour-long performance to disrupt his sinister magic.

In-game: A magical prop, a box with constellations painted on it, slits cut in it, and a knife embedded in one of the slits.

Setting

Strange Magic packed a ton of might into a compact space. The room felt like it was inside of a circus tent, with all of the right detailing in the vaulted ceiling. That level of detail followed all the way down through the props and to the floor.

Everything was focused on circus magic.

In-game: The vaulted ceiling of the circus tent.

The set was well lit and an easy setting to enjoy.

Additionally, Mind Masters’ overall narrative for all of their games focused on time traveling, and their use of a time machine as the doorway/ hint delivery system/ storage for the team’s gear was inspired.

Gameplay

Mind Masters’ Strange Magic was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: wide view of the citcus tent, a magician's hat on a table, crates lay about.

Analysis

➕ In Strange Magic, the opens felt magical. Mind Masters embedded technology to make us feel like magicians. It worked smoothly and invisibly.

➕ Strange Magic was designed from floor to ceiling. Mind Masters built a space that hearkened back to the Golden Age of Magic.

➕ Mind Masters did some really smart 3D printing work.

➖ Some of the cluing was just a bit too subtle. Thematic, absolutely. Beyond reasonable perception, also yes.

In-game: The time travel machine/ hint system.

➕ Narratively, Mind Masters justified anything that didn’t fit through their time-travel portal. This enabled them to use escape room essentials elegantly.

➖ While most of the tech worked brilliantly and thoughtfully, there was an opportunity for Mind Masters to improve this game by disabling double inputs.

➕ The puzzles flow worked well and many had layered solves. Although the space was smaller, there were enough puzzles open at any one time, spread out across the space, that we didn’t feel cramped and everyone could be involved.

➖ The final sequence was bumpy. Although we’d taken the right action, we didn’t get strong feedback from the game and began to second guess ourselves. Nothing clued us that this interaction required patience. While waiting can add drama, in the case of this puzzle, the slow pace of the prop’s response detracted from an otherwise impressive ending.

➕ The technology in Strange Magic ran far deeper than we understood while playing. At the end of the game, Mind Masters gave us a score, determined by their automated system.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Mind Masters’ Strange Magic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Mind Masters provided media discounted tickets for this game.