OMEscape Canada – Joker’s Asylum [Review]

“Life’s a bowl of cherries and this is the pits.” – The Joker, Batman: The Killing Joke

Location: Markham, Ontario

Date played: April 28, 2016

Team size: 5-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 CAD per ticket

Image of a psychotic clown. It isn't Batman's Joker, but he looks very similar. Under his face read, "Joker's Asylum."
Why so serious?

Story & setting

Joker’s Asylum desperately wants to be a Batman story:

“The Joker was once the pride of his circus, but after troubles started, he left and locked himself away in a mysterious asylum created by him and his doctor. It became his paradise, slowly magnifying his insanity. One day, The Joker decided to leave the asylum to plan his revenge. Before his doctor could leave a diary with the Joker’s secrets, he vanished. Now you are tasked with unraveling the mystery before The Joker finds you.”

Our team began split between two rooms: the “control room” and the “game room.”

The control room was basically a closet that contained a lot of information. The game room was a large space with locks and puzzles. The group in the control room had to verbally guide those of us in the game room to complete the tasks. Eventually we all reunited.

It remained a mystery how we all ended up split between these spaces while investigating The Joker.

The setting had a dark, creepy, vaguely carnival feel to it.

Puzzles

Communication and observation were the twin keys to this escape room.

All escape rooms require communication; Joker’s Asylum required more than most.

All escape rooms require observation; Joker’s Asylum severely punished small oversights.

Nothing in the game was particularly challenging if you found all of the pieces and communicated them… but finding all of the pieces and communicating them was a big challenge.

Standouts

Structurally, Joker’s Asylum was a truly different experience. It was a unique challenge to have two players effectively locked away with little to do other than attempt to puppet-master the game, while the rest of the team played at being semi-autonomous puppets.

We appreciated that this experimentation offered a variation on escape rooms.

Shortcomings

Those players locked away in the control room had few puzzles to solve and mostly had to communicate what they could see in their space. Lisa was in the control room; for the first time since we’ve started writing reviews, she felt like she could not accurately describe the experience because her view into the game was so limited. If you’re volunteering for the control room, you’re volunteering for an incredibly limited experience.

The game room was frustrating because there were so many unknowns. If we hit a wall, it was painfully difficult for us to determine whether we were missing a detail or whether our teammates in the control room had failed to communicate something to us.

Additionally, the final puzzle offered far too little feedback. Without hints, there was no way to know if we were even on the right track.

Should I play OMEscape’s Joker’s Asylum?

The Joker forgot to bring the fun.

The setup was interesting and the setting had ambiance, but it didn’t come together in a satisfying way.

Joker’s Asylum required too much cooperation, which is an unusual statement about an escape room. The team locked away in the control room had too little to do and too much to communicate. The team in the game room had too much to do and too few things to solve.

I appreciate OMEscape’s experiment in Joker’s Asylum, but not every experiment works.

If you’re an experienced player looking to explore an unusual escape room that offers a different set of challenges than most, give this a go. Everyone else should consider exploring some of the other options that OMEscape has to offer.

Book your hour with OMEscape’s Joker’s Asylum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

OMEscape NYC – Room X [Review]

Time travel is tricky.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: May 7, 2016

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4

Duration: 70 minutes

Price: $33 per ticket on weekdays, $38 per ticket on weekends and holidays

Story & setting

The gals started in Medieval Europe. The guys visited the European Western Front during World War II. Our journeys collided in the middle, in a timeless, time-traveler space where we had to escape back to the present.

The concept was neat.

The period rooms were sparsely decorated; the room decor didn’t contribute to the story.

As with many time travel books, movies, and games before it, this room escape struggled to tell a cohesive story through time and space.

Puzzles

Our team started split between two different rooms and time periods (we chose to split girls/guys.) We found puzzles that could be solved independently and puzzles that relied on trans-time communication.

In-game image of a partial suit of armor set against a coat of arms.
“None shall pass!”

When our groups converged in time’s no man’s land, we encountered puzzles relying on confounding associations. Yet, because these were based in words, they were quite hackable. We solved much of this room differently from how the designer intended.

Standouts

The concept was really great.

This was a multi-room design. The rooms connected in a thematically appropriate way that cleverly defied standard multi-room escape game design.

Shortcomings

We like hacking our own solutions, but in Room X, we circumvented too much of the design of the room escape. The logic leaps that we needed to make were frequently too large.

Early on, we could easily communicate across time without our communication devices. It was easier to shout than it was to use our walkie-talkies.

The build quality of the room was spotty, and the overall theming didn’t live up to the previous games we had played from OMEscape. This was a disappointment because the multi-era setup lent itself to really cool set design.

Should I play OMEscape’s Room X?

We enjoyed the time-period thematic nuances in Room X, but it didn’t live up to its promise.

We didn’t feel like time travelers on an adventure. We felt like players hacking at puzzles staged in loosely-themed eras. Room X started off shaky and never stabilized.

The folks at OMEscape offer excellent customer service. They are also continually iterating on their games.

At this time, we recommend both Laboratory of Biohazard and The Penitentiary over Room X for a more cohesive and exciting experience.

OMEscape Canada – Mysterious Study [Review]

Even after winning, the study remained a mystery.

Location: Markham, Ontario

Date played: April 30, 2016

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

We were escaping the office of some sort of researcher. In order to get out, we had to circumvent his security features. If there were any additional nuances to this story, we weren’t able to follow them.

As an office, this set had a pretty typical room feel.

Mysterious study logo - an intricately patterned pentagram.

Puzzles

The various puzzles in Mysterious Study relied on different types of logic and relied heavily scavenging. While some puzzles were harder than others, over all, this game was pretty balanced.

There was one task that required more substantial physical involvement from at least a few members of the team.

Standouts

The best moments of Mysterious Study were driven by technological interactions. One was particularly well executed and surprising.

Shortcomings

This room escape didn’t tell us a story. There were characters and they featured in some of the puzzles, but in the end, it was more a collection of puzzles than an immersive escape room experience.

A lot of the puzzles felt dramatically out of place in the difficult-to-follow narrative.

We encountered a bug in the final puzzle, requiring our gamemaster to enter the room to fix it.

Should I play OMEscape Canada’s Mysterious Study?

Mysterious Study was a standard escape room: It had a solid variety of puzzles, light story, and a few cool moments. It was not outstanding, but it was a fun game.

Ultimately Mysterious Study felt unfinished. There were fun interactions, and the setup was solid, but it didn’t build into anything more than a puzzle room.

It would be an enjoyable room escape for newer players, but it likely won’t offer the excitement that more experienced players seek.

Book your hour with OMEscape Canada’s Mysterious Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

OMEscape Canada – The Kingdom of Cats [Review]

A kung-fu movie with cats and puzzles.

Location: Markham, Ontario

Date played: April 28, 2016

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

We were humans attempting to avoid imprisonment in The Kingdom of Cats. To make our escape we had to battle the various members of the royal family by solving their puzzles. The story didn’t come through very strongly.

The setting, however, was both regal, and, well, cat-like. It was adorable and fun to climb through this feline kingdom, even if the story surrounding it didn’t make a ton of sense.

The Kingdom of Cats was bright and welcoming. It was not scary.

Puzzles

The best puzzles required cat-like interactions. Meow this was cute and fun.

OMEscape Canada incorporated some fun technologically driven interactions as well.

The puzzles drew on a variety of skills. They weren’t particularly difficult, but they were enjoyable.

Standouts

This game was simply charming. The whole experience was weird, quirky and adorable. It was different than your run-of-the-mill escape room.

An adorable kitten rolled in paper, only its face is visible.

Shortcomings

As with the other games at OMEscape Canada, we entered wearing blindfolds. However, there was no reveal in the first moments that warranted the hygiene hazard of the blindfold.

There were many generic puzzles that weren’t the cat’s meow.

Should I play OMEscape’s The Kingdom of Cats?

At its best, The Kingdom of Cats had wonderful cat-inspired interactions and puzzles set in quirky surroundings. At its worst, it slipped into generic escape room tropes and puzzles that could have been in any room. I truly wish that OMEscape fully committed to the bonkers theme and built absolutely every interaction around cats. It felt like they ran out of ideas before the room was finished.

If you are looking for a challenging escape room, this won’t be your game, but it was immeasurably family-friendly.

This game was not handicapped accessible. If you can’t move about an interactive set, this one isn’t for you.

If you can suspend your disbelief and are happy to embrace a different game environment, give this one a try. Enjoy it for the cute, feline-inspired set and the ingenuity behind that experience.

Book your hour with OMEscape’s The Kingdom of Cats, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

OMEscape NYC – Laboratory of Biohazard [Review]

Thwarting evil in the sewers! David’s childhood Ninja Turtles fantasy comes to life!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: January 14, 2016

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Price: $33 per ticket weekday; $38 per ticket weekend

Theme & story

Deep in the city’s sewer system, there is a lab developing bad things. You need to enter the sewer, find the lab, and develop the cure to the ickiness.

Laboratory of Biohazard is constructed in OMEscape NYC’s basement. Thus we walked down into an appropriately themed sewer game. This was a multi-room escape game and the rooms were themed according to the story line.

These rooms were cramped, which, in my experience, is consistent with NYC real estate and sewer lairs.

Dramatic set pieces

There was one particular sewer-themed game element that was brilliantly designed and wowed our entire team. Spoiler alert… It was a water feature!

While this was by far the most dramatic moment, there were other unique set pieces and design elements that elevated the environment of the game.

Laboratory of Biohazard also included an interesting assortment of fun gadgets and physically interactive objects.

A dark room containing a large tank of green liquid. Two human skulls are suspended in the tank.

Polish

Despite the interesting environment, the overall game lacked polish.

There were handwritten clues taped onto the set. They looked messy and were hard to decipher.

The room also had exposed wires (one of which played a part in puzzle breakage).

The design was there, but some of the details were lacking.

A projector shinging an array of green and red dots against a mirror. Wires, springs, magnets, and other mechanisms surround the projector.
Even the demo photos on OMEscape NYC’s website show exposed wires.

Breakage

There were more than a few puzzles in this game that were damaged or finicky.

There were dials that were off-center, critical set pieces that didn’t work as they were supposed to, and the final door took more doing that it should have.

OMEscape NYC needs to fix and maintain their puzzles and set pieces. We had a lot of trouble because all too often we had figured out the puzzle, but then we had to figure out how to make it do what we knew was required.

Repeated operational failures are very frustrating. These problems stopped forward momentum and positive energy.

Obtuse logic

Laboratory of Biohazard included some really interesting and challenging puzzles. Some of them could reasonably be solved by the clues in the room; others demanded dramatic logic leaps.

OMEscape should add more clues into the game and rely less heavily on their gamemaster’s hints.

Hinting

Our gamemaster gave hints over a walkie-talkie. Before the game began, he told us we would receive three hints, upon asking for them. However, he frequently came on the walkie-talkie at his own discretion to give us hints that “didn’t count” toward our three.

In this way, our gamemaster coached us through some of the more obtuse challenges (and a malfunctioning puzzle).

Then he continued to chime in as we approached the end of the game.

He was a nice guy, and a welcome presence (even if our team was a bit tough on him, sorry José).

Team Size

We brought 8 players, which was far too many people for this space. Somehow through buying a Groupon for this game, we misunderstood that 8 players was the maximum rather than the recommended number.

The OMEscape staff was confused when we showed up with 8, and rightly so, as it was impossible for everyone to fully participate in that small space. They did note that they will be lowering the maximum players allowed in this game.

OMEscape NYC - Laboratory of Biohazard
Laboratory of Biohazard is a 70 minute game.

Should I play OMEscape NYC’s Laboratory of Biohazard?

This was an interesting game with a ton of potential, but it needed to be sanded and lacquered.

This was also a hard game. It’s probably best played if you have a few other escape games under your belt first.

But new and seasoned players alike will appreciate the gadgets and set pieces that go beyond lock-and-key escaping. Be patient with the set and you’ll find a lot to enjoy about this game.

Book your hour in OMEscape NYC’s Laboratory of Biohazard, and tell them the Room Escape Artist sent you.

OMEscape NYC – The Penitentiary [Review]

The best parts of this game are the parts I can’t write about.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: August 18, 2015

Team size: 6-12; we recommend 9-12

Price: weekday $33 per ticket, weekend $38 per ticket

Theme & story

You’re attempting to escape a prison that is also holding a famed serial killer.

The set design is strong; it feels prisony. It’s also well thought out and firmly constructed.

This is an intense escape game. It’s not a horror game, but I would absolutely classify it as a thriller.

That being said, the theme falls apart if you start to question how/why many of the items ended up on the set. At times I wondered why certain objects and decor existed in prison cells.

The setting is immersive, but the theme and story don’t match that; they are a difficult to believe and follow.

OMEscape NYC – The Penitentiary - Laser Grid
Image via OMEscape

Unintentionally funny intro video

Prior to the game beginning, we were shown a brief video that set up the story of this legendary serial killer.

The video visually implied that this serial killer had super human powers. It also seemed to liberally borrow recognizable video game art. It was all very dire, unbelievable, and funny… But I didn’t get the impression that it was deliberately humorous.

Nevertheless, our team was all giggles during the movie.

Blindfolding

After the video, the OMEscape staff led us into the room blindfolded. Everyone put their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them (and a few of our teammates made the obligatory Human Centipede joke), while we were led into the game. Our game master put us into our cells, locked us in, and the game began.

From a gameplay standpoint the blindfolds were very effective. From a hygiene standpoint, I strongly object to the use of blindfolds, especially when cold and flu season rolls around.

OMEscape NYC – The Penitentiary - Blindfold

Three cell beginning

The game begins with the team broken up into three groups, each locked into their own prison cell and facing their own challenges.

In theory, I like this added challenge. But in reality, an uneven distribution of difficulty resulted in two teams standing around waiting for the last team. This design concept could use some fine tuning.

Some intensely physical puzzles

The best part of this game is that many of the puzzles offer physically interactive, electronic, and mechanical puzzles. There were a lot of things that we hadn’t seen before, and that was great.

Throughout the course of this escape game, I felt like I was engaged in the activity with both my mind, and body… Moreso than any other escape game I have ever encountered, and that’s a significant accomplishment.

The downside of this was that those of us who were more skilled with mechanical, math, and spacial puzzles were disproportionally more engaged than the folks who handle word, pattern, and language-based puzzles… Essentially this room was the exact opposite of Escape Entertainment’s Prohibition Pandemonium. Lisa thrived in Prohibition Pandemonium, and I was nearly useless; in the Penitentiary, it was the reverse.

Baffling final puzzle

There’s no way around this: the last puzzle was obtuse. We “solved” it when I short-circuited the input panel and the door opened. Our team may have solved it correctly, but I can say for certain that I was not going to be the person to solve it. For the first time ever, I needed the solution to this puzzle explained to me more than once (I think it was three times) before I understood what the game designer intended players to do.

I’m certain that there are people out there who can solve this thing the right way, but our very seasoned escape room team was pretty damn confounded by this one.

OMEscape NYC – The Penitentiary Group Photo

70 minute game for approximately 10 people

This is a 70 minute game; it was the first game we’ve played that lasted over an hour. That extra 10 minutes is a significant amount of time that is absolutely necessary. It wasn’t bad, but it also threw off my sense of timing in the room.

OMEscape’s website doesn’t make it overtly clear that their games deviate from the norm. Consequently, we were late for our dinner plans.

The Penitentiary is a large space. We had 10 players and I think that’s about the perfect number. Three people per-cell at the beginning would be optimal.

Hinting, walkie talkies, music, & language

OMEscape struggled most with hinting. This is a fixable problem.

The owners of OMEscape (like many escape room owners) are not native English speakers. They attempted to deliver hints to us via walkie talkies with poor audio quality, over loud background music… This made it very difficult to understand them (and our team was composed of people who work with multi-national companies and are used to accents). This problem was then compounded by very lengthy hints, that were difficult to follow.

Good hinting is clear and concise. Economy of language is important because the more words a gamemaster uses, the more opportunity there is for the player to get it wrong, and the more time the players burn deconstructing the hints.

Should I play OMEscape NYC’s The Penitentiary?

OMEscape just opened in NYC and they are rapidly iterating.

I loved a lot of this game, but I was disappointed by a good chunk of it as well. Throughout the game I felt like things were almost incredible:

I loved the setting… But story was weak, and the props frequently felt out of place.

I loved the puzzles… But they skewed towards a particular skill set.

I loved the blindfolds… But they also grossed me out.

I loved that they split us up into three cells… But one cell was far more challenging than the others.

I loved that it was a 70 minute game… But I wish that we knew that when we booked the room.

OMEscape has work to do, but they have enormous potential. This game got a lot right, but needs some details fine-tuned.

For their first room, it’s a reasonably strong one. It’s also very challenging.

If you’re a seasoned player looking for a physically interactive game that’s going to force you to perform, then I recommend that you play The Penitentiary.

If you’re new to escape games, I’d suggest working up to this one; it’s a serious challenge.

Book your hour in OMEscape NYC’s The Penitentiary, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Is OMESCAPE Expanding in the United States? (Updated)

OMESCAPE is home to one of the most fun rooms that we’ve escaped, and it looks like they may be opening new locations in the United States that extend beyond their Bay Area location out in California.

Job Postings

On December 10, 2014 OMESCAPE posted four temporary contract jobs on SimplyHired for the following cities (the links are no longer available):

  • New York City, New York
  • Austin, Texas
  • Kansas City, Missouri
  • Cleveland, Ohio

Omescape Kansas City, MO Job Posting

They all read:

“Do you want to create the most interactive experience ever? OMESCAPE specialize in providing sound & lighting equipped Escape Rooms for its customer. This job will require someone with high level of creativity and it would be a challenge to take on. The set needs to be durable and interactive. Please let me know if you are interested in this gig. Together we can create the coolest rooms ever. Desired Skills: Interior Design”

SEO

While the OMESCAPE website does not explicitly reference New York, they have done some SEO work on the words, “New York.”

Omescape Google Results

It was this SEO work that led me to dig deeper into this in the first place.

Thoughts

I welcome their expansion. The folks at OMESCAPE seem like they know how to build a nifty room.

Comments from OMESCAPE

I reached out to OMESCAPE for comment, and they have not responded to the message. I will update this if they do.

Updated

While OMESCAPE did not open in Texas, Missouri, or Ohio, they did open a facility in Midtown Manhattan.

OMESCAPE: The Omega Room Escape [Review]

Location: San Francisco, California

Date played: August, 2014

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-5

Price: $28 per ticket

The Plot

“Professor Stanley, known for his theory of time travel, disappeared inside his own office three days ago. His students say he was about to publish new findings on multiple time dimensions. As his closest friend, you’ve decided to find out the truth of Prof. Stanley’s mysterious disappearance. Pay attention to any clues related to time, otherwise the same thing could happen to you…”

OMESCAPE Omega Room

Ambiance

The room starts off on the right foot. A fiction is explained with a short video on an iPad. While it isn’t the most compelling story in the world, it’s enough to get you going; the room takes care of the rest.

The room is beautifully designed. There’s a character to it; a sense that it is real. The background music is quietly eerie without being distracting. There’s a gravity to everything, but it’s never foreboding. As the game unfolds, that gravity grows into a palpable feeling of adventure.

Sturdy Room

All of this is facilitated by a remarkably sturdy room. In addition to being well-designed, the room is well-built enough that the puzzle masters just tells you the ground rules, and then leaves you in the room on your own.

They don’t have, and don’t need a referee hovering over you, chastising you for touching things that ought-not be touched.

And everything just works.

Strong Puzzles

Each and every puzzle is fun to solve. They are all derived of objects that are in the room, and with rare exception, those objects feel like they are supposed to be there for reasons that extend beyond “we put it there.”

Too Linear

One of the less-than-stellar aspects of the room is that it is very linear. There are approximately six major gate puzzles which prevent a team from doing anything if the gate isn’t cleared.

Since all of the puzzles are fun, this is ok. However if you get truly stuck on one of these, you’re dead in the water.

A Few Weak Props

Among the props that are immediately findable in the room is a bookshelf full of books. They are hilariously fake book-like cardboard boxes, and the detract from the otherwise high quality feel of the room.

4 – 8 People?

We did this room soundly with four people. It’s big enough in terms of square footage for eight people to fit comfortably, but there aren’t enough puzzles to occupy eight smart people.

The fact that the puzzle is so linear makes it difficult to keep more the three or four people fully occupied at a time.

I would recommend doing this with three to six people (six is pushing it).

The Struggle is Fun

This isn’t the most challenging room, but it has enough struggle to it. It’s clever, fun, and sturdy.

I would highly recommend this as a room for first timers.

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