Escape Room NJ – Awaken [Review]

Puzzception!

Location: Pompton Lakes, NJ

Date Played: April 30, 2018

Team size: 1-18; we recommend 4-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket for public bookings, scaled rates based on team size for private bookings

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Awaken grabbed our attention with a captivating grayscale set and a large quantity of interesting puzzles. It was hard to connect with the narrative, however, and the concluding sequence didn’t quite stick the landing. With just a bit more tweaking to the later half, Escape Room NJ could transform this strong escape room into something truly brilliant.

If you’re anywhere near Pompton Lakes, NJ, this one is worth checking out.

In-game: The front of a greyscale home with a clothes line running towards it.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Creative gray scale set
  • Strong puzzle game
  • A lot of content

Story

In the year 2059, professor Paul Carpentier, the creator of a psychic surgical technique, required his own treatment. As his students, we were given the responsibility of saving his life by administering that treatment: diving into his dream state to find and preserve his pillar memories.

Our mentor’s life was in our hands.

In-game: The front of a greyscale home with a telescope on the porch and a light on in the window.

Setting

The entirety of Awaken existed in the dreams and memories of our mentor. In keeping with the fiction, Awaken was presented entirely in grayscale. The few colored items corresponded to the pillar memories needed to restore Carpentier’s mind.

The setting itself carried us through key memories, all centered on his home. The exterior looked especially phenomenal.

In-game: A glowing street lamp with an apple hanging in front of it by a fishing line.

Gameplay

Escape Room NJ’s Awaken was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

+ I loved the grayscale aesthetic of the set. It effectively communicated that we were in a dream.

– The story didn’t come through very strongly. We knew that we were mucking about in a man’s memories, but we never became emotionally invested in him as a human being.

+/- The additional concept of colored items representing pillar memories was brilliant. However, the colored items lacked vibrancy, diminishing the effect of this smart design choice.

Awaken had a good mix of lock- and technology-based gameplay that allowed for the unexpected to occur.

– A critical interaction was entirely too worn. In being gentle with it, we failed to use it properly.

+ There were a lot of puzzles to chew on and they were generally quality challenges. There was a lot of content; we were always puzzling.

– 18 people in this game? lol

+ There came a point where we accidentally broke the sequence of puzzles by solving a puzzle with partial information and concluding that this was part of the puzzle’s design. Our gamemaster was brilliantly attentive and intervened to prevent confusion.

– Much of the content in this escape room could be intentionally or accidentally bypassed.

+ The endgame had some nifty things going on.

– The final puzzle involved guesswork. It was missing a metapuzzle to pull the experience together.

+ The home’s exterior was a wonderful place to start the game and puzzle. There were moments that I found myself returning to it simply because I found it an enjoyable place.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot behind Escape Room NJ.
  • We recommend Thatcher McGhees for a convenient post-game meal.

Book your hour with Escape Room NJ’s Awaken, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room NJ – The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls [Review]

New Jersey Necronomicon.

Location: Madison, New Jersey

Date played: June 12, 2017

Team size: 4-18; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Story & setting

After finding refuge in a cabin in the woods, we learned that we needed protecting from our shelter. The only way out was to find the Book of Souls and use it to break an enchantment.

From the walls to the ceiling, Escape Room NJ designed a compelling and spacious cabin. The dim lighting, coupled with the enchantment, made it feel just a little bit haunted (but certainly not scary).

In game: A bull's skull hangs on a wood cabin wall, with a window and rocking chair in the background.

Puzzles

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls combined traditional locks with tech-driven interactions.

The puzzles wound their way through every set piece and prop in the gamespace.

Standouts

With The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, Escape Room NJ vastly improved their set design. They built an intriguing, compelling cabin set, complete with the exterior details, visible in the lobby.

Escape Room NJ embedded a lot of tech in this cabin. The room’s response to our actions contributed to the eerie atmosphere and worked well with the theme.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls contained many excellent puzzles with satisfying solutions. There was a lot to explore. Furthermore, the puzzles lent themselves to teamwork.

Shortcomings

There were, however, a few far-fetched connections. One puzzle in particular seemed unsolvable without a hint… or in our case, an outside knowledge bypass.

There was a moment in this escape room that deviated completely from the otherwise thematically cohesive experience. If Escape Room NJ wants to use that type of interaction, they should rework how this setting produces it. In this room escape it felt silly.

While Escape Room NJ built an excellent set, it didn’t feel quite to scale. It felt too big for the story and the props within it, which in turn made the otherwise nifty interactions feel small.

Should I play Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls?

When we entered Escape Room NJ’s newer Madison location (we’d previously visited them in Hackensack), we were immediately impressed with their commitment to the theming. They had designed the outer walls of each escape room, which were visible in the lobby. When we entered The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, we entered an enchanted forest-cabin puzzle adventure.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls was a puzzle-centric room escape in a fun environment.

Note that the environment was a tad eerie, but certainly not scary. In that sense, it’s fit for all audiences, except for little kids who are afraid of the concept of ghosts.

The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls would be a challenging escape room for beginners, but approachable. Experienced players will move faster, but will still find The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls a worthy puzzle opponent.

Book your hour with Escape Room NJ’s The Lost Cabin: Book of Souls, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room New Jersey – S.W.A.T. [Review]

There’s another mad bomber. Call the puzzle SWAT team!

Location: Hackensack, NJ

Date played: March 6, 2017

Team size: up to 18; we recommend 5-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket for an open ticketed game, $22-45 per ticket for private game depending on team size

Story & setting

As the SWAT team assigned to the mission, we entered a terrorist’s apartment to determine the location of a series of bombs and disarm the bomb in the room with us.

S.W.A.T. took place in an apartment. Although furnished with typical desk and dresser pieces, it never felt like an apartment. The hacked-together aesthetic and odd assortment of props to puzzle through made it more a space for a puzzle adventure than a terrorist’s apartment.

In-game: A bomb incased in plastic.

Puzzles

The diverse puzzles relied on different intelligences, including keen observation. There were puzzles for nearly any type of puzzler.

Escape Room New Jersey combined traditional locks with tech-based mechanisms to drive the interactions.

Standouts

S.W.A.T. began with an exciting physical challenge for a single player. Failure to complete this interaction would impede subsequent gameplay. We appreciated how Escape Room New Jersey designed immediate (but temporary) consequences into the interaction.

There was a lot of strong puzzling that kept our team of six engaged until the final seconds. We worked through many of the puzzles collaboratively. A few moments were particularly fun.

Escape Room New Jersey created an “apartment” escape room with intrigue. There was enough of the out of the ordinary to uncover that our team remained energized throughout the experience.

Shortcomings

Although the set was fun to explore, it wasn’t really themed. More than anything else, it was a space for puzzling.

There were a number of game elements that triggered based on player behavior. The puzzles didn’t always give enough feedback to know who had triggered what, leaving us uncertain which elements had been completed.

S.W.A.T. suffered from double cluing. The multiple ways to uncover the same information made us doubt otherwise correct solutions. At one point in particular, when multiple solutions funneled into one complex input, the double cluing proved more challenging than helpful.

One crucial late-game puzzle truly lacked appropriate cluing. More often than not, teams will find themselves guessing at this point in the room escape.

There were a couple of moments that were painfully corny and out of place.

S.W.A.T. prominently featured a game timer. Its only function was as a timer, but it kept incorrect time. Our gamemaster notified us of this, so that we wouldn’t be relying on it, but it was frustrating to look at it and know it was wrong.

Should I play Escape Room New Jersey’s S.W.A.T.?

S.W.A.T.  was a lot of fun. In fact, similarly to Escape Room New Jersey’s first escape room, The Other Side, S.W.A.T. was more fun than the sum of its parts. They’re a bit of an enigma.

This was a largely un-themed puzzling adventure. If you seek immersive set design and storytelling, this won’t be your escape room. However, there was a lot to puzzle through, both in breadth and depth. Overall, these challenges were tangible, interactive, and entertaining.

This would be a challenging escape room for first-time players. The double cluing and lack of feedback made communication more challenging than it needed to be.

All other considerations aside, S.W.A.T. was a lot of fun. If you’re a puzzle lover in northern New Jersey, you’ll enjoy it.

Book your hour with Escape Room New Jersey’s S.W.A.T., and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room NJ provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room New Jersey – The Other Side [Review]

Chaotic and kooky, yet curiously captivating.

Escape_Room_New_Jersey

Location: Hackensack, New Jersey

Date played: December 14, 2015

Team size: 2 – 16; we recommend 6-8

Price: $30 per ticket

Horror or Detective mode

The Other Side has two slightly different modes of play for the same game.

The horror mode adds a few small, but significant, features and effects.

The detective mode includes the same series of puzzles as the horror game without the extra dramatic flair.

So long as you aren’t overwhelmingly fearful of horror experiences, the horror game is vastly superior, if only for one moment that was both surprising and very entertaining.

Theme & story

In the horror incarnation that we played, The Other Side was kinda sorta based very loosely on the movie The Ring… I think it had one subtle reference and one not-so-subtle reference to the movie. If there were more, I missed them.

Beyond that, the room was barely themed. The Other Side had a collection of puzzles and some interesting art on the walls, but it lacked a cohesively themed experience.

Wall art

Immediately upon entering The Other Side, its standout feature was obvious: the hand airbrushed walls were beautiful.

The art did more to set the mood of the game than everything else in the room combined.

©Sean J. Rhinehart For more of me:  http://seanjamar.com/
A mirrored glimpse of the wall art.

Dry erase walls

In addition to the striking wall art, it was also coated in dry erase paint. I can’t overstate how great that was.

Our gamemaster, the game’s designer, explained that he hated when games involved pen and paper because teammates couldn’t easily see what other players jotted down… So he made the walls into giant dry erase boards.

He designed a simple and elegant solution to a common escape room problem.

Overwhelming beginning

After taking in the beautiful wall art, our team rummaged through the room and then stalled.

The game was incredibly difficult to start. It relied heavily on scavenging even when we had the right pieces. It was challenging to determine just which pieces went with which locks (there were a lot of 4 and 5 digit locks).

As the game progressed, we started to find patterns and get into a groove. As the quantity of locks diminished, it became easier to find the right place to plug in a solution.

Hints (and hints)

The Other Side provides 3 free hints, then each individual hint costs the team 5 minutes of time.

Our attentive gamemaster also piped up with unsolicited guidance. Unfortunately, this was necessary at times because some puzzle mechanisms didn’t work as planned and others weren’t nearly intuitive enough.

“Yes, there are two paths you can go by…”

There are two ways to derive the answer to nearly every puzzle in The Other Side. This mechanic operated as a fail-safe for some of the more inconsistent puzzle mechanics, but it felt more like a necessary evil than a boon to gameplay.

There was always the awesome, physical way, and the less interesting, secondary way.

Consequently, we solved some puzzles through the secondary system, completely bypassing more interesting game mechanics. This led to the game’s big letdown: we accidentally bypassed the coolest part of the game.

Some of the puzzles in this game were perfectly skippable, but there were a few that should have been mandatory.

No finale

As confusing as the beginning of the game was, the end was equally befuddling.

We still had many unsolved puzzles in the room when we derived a code. With no other viable options for its input, I applied it to the door. Thus we escaped.

Some of the puzzles were left unsolved because we didn’t need to finish them all. Others were left a mystery because we bypassed them with the secondary system. During the postgame walkthrough, we learned about all of the puzzles we had skipped.

A couple days later, I cannot remember what puzzle gave us the exit code.  There was no finale. My whole team was still working on the remaining puzzles when I opened the door.

The ending was abrupt.

12346356_490250644491535_9187831218416386170_n

Should I play Escape Room New Jersey’s The Other Side?

The Other Side is an interesting game because it got a lot very right and quite a bit very wrong. However, it stood out because it was ineffably fun.

It kept every single one of our seven person team busy throughout every moment of the game. Everyone continued working on puzzles after we had won.

While the game was unfocused, largely unthemed, and at times baffling, it was always entertaining. And that’s really the point of a room escape game. It’s easy to get caught up in build quality, theme execution, and cohesiveness. Setting aside these intricacies, the core question is: Was it fun? The Other Side was incredibly fun.

The airbrushed wall art was beautiful and the whiteboard walls were a welcome bit of ingenuity.

The Other Side would likely be very difficult for first time players, but I bet it would still be fun. And I am truly excited to play Escape Room New Jersey’s next room.

When you go play, ask them to take you on a tour of the rest of their facilities… It’s a massive – and bonkers – party / indoor airsoft space. Everything in this place was delightfully nuts.

Book your hour with Escape Room New Jersey’s The Other Side, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room New Jersey comped our tickets for this game.