Real Escape Games by SCRAP – The Pop Star’s Room of Doom [Review]

New SCRAP On The Block

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 21, 2018

Team size: 4-9; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes … ish

Price: $33 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

SCRAP, the creators of the escape room format, did it again: they created an entirely new 60-minute immersive gaming structure. We found ourselves trapped in a 5-minute actor-driven time loop that kept ending with the death of our neighbor in the apartment across the alley.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was unlike anything we had ever played before. It’s a concept we hope others explore too. The core gameplay was pure genius. Although aesthetically it was subpar and the story left a bit to be desired, it was remarkably innovative and intriguing.

I’m so glad that we played The Pop Star’s Room of Doom and strongly encourage anyone who is interested in gameplay and innovation in the escape game format to check this one out.

In-game: view from one apartment window through another. Across the way is the popstar's blue walled apartment covered in 90s references.

Who is this for?

  • Players who welcome a challenge
  • People who can ignore a weak set
  • Story seekers
  • 1990’s pop fans
  • Any experience level
  • Patient players
  • SCRAP fans

Why play?

  • Brilliant time loop game mechanic
  • Humor
  • Read challenge
  • Wonderfully innovative

Story

So we like, totally lived across the street from our favorite popstar Angel Infinity… and like, witnessed his murder. And like, as soon as he died, we time looped back to Angel entering the apartment again. It was like Groundhog Day and we like, had to save Angel’s life.

In-game: a plain white walled room with a whiteboard and a large fading cassette tape decal on the floor.

Setting

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom played out across two adjacent apartments (rooms) separated by a few feet of “alleyway.” The first room was “our apartment,” a bare, white-walled space with a locked box, a white board, a giant cassette sticker on the floor, and a window that looked out into the other room. The room was barren and worn.

The other room was the pop star’s apartment: a living room filled with Ikea furniture and assorted ’90s geekery. The pop star’s room was essentially a stage with an actor. We never set foot in that space; we could only view it.

In-game: a wooden box locked down to a very beat up table by three padlocks.

Gameplay

Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was an atypical escape room.

A single series of events repeated on loop. With each loop, we could take actions to affect how the events played out. Each decision we made was reflected in the actor’s changed behavior and a change in how he died. We needed to determine which actions to take when in order to save Angel Infinity.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was challenging because the gameplay and strategy were unorthodox… and every choice we made could introduce a new unforeseen variable into the equation.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, attention to detail, patience, coordinated efforts, and repetitive actions.

Analysis

+ The time loop concept was incredible. SCRAP’s earlier game Escape From The Time Travel Lab was essentially an escape room that pulled the time travel mechanic from The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and reimagined it for an early escape room. The parts of that game that revolved around time travel were brilliant. The Pop Star’s Room of Doom focused entirely on time travel, but did so in a way that was much more akin to The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. By putting us in a constant time loop, the gameplay was unique and focused.

– There’s a technical term for the aesthetics of The Pop Star’s Room of Doom… and that word is hideous. This was one of the ugliest escape games that I’ve ever seen. I assume that SCRAP was trying to limit the variables in the gamespace to streamline gameplay, but this could have been done with some elegance and finesse… or the least some upkeep and maintenance.

+ Each time loop took less than five minutes. SCRAP introduced an impressive amount of variability and traps within that brief span of time.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom thoughtfully explored the time loop concept and made us think carefully about what our options really were.

+ The solutions were well clued. While they might not always have been plausible, they followed logically.

– By the time we had solved the game in our 8th loop, we had become so efficient at our respective jobs within the game that we spent a lot of the time waiting. The drama had diminished. This could have been compensated for with a really interesting conclusion, but that never materialized.

– If a team doesn’t follow the early learning curve properly, it’s possible to burn a few time loops with silly early mistakes and ultimately render the game unsolvable later.

+ SCRAP’s team oversaw this game with an impressive level of timing and discipline. Everything occurred on time in predictable ways.

+ The actors were approachable and responsive. They kept in character regardless of whether we were being cooperative, silly or rude. (We experimented a little.)

– The story fell flat for us. There was depth in gameplay, but not in the narrative. This wasn’t initially clear, but by the time we saw the story play out for the 6th time it had become apparent. Story really matters when the same scenario keeps looping.

– The game was set in 1990, but included anachronisms from later in the decade. This seemed like a silly detail to ignore.

The Pop Star’s Room of Doom was exciting because it felt like the birth of what should be a whole genre of immersive entertainment. SCRAP is a fount of creativity and imagination.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.

Book your hour with Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s The Pop Star’s Room of Doom, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Trials of Bahamut [Review]

Moogles and cactuars and tonberries, oh my!

Location: New York, NY

Date played: October 20, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $38 per ticket early, $41 per ticket regular, $46 per ticket at the door if available

Story & setting

Based on the events of the video game Final Fantasy XIV, the primal dragon Bahamut, long thought dead, was reviving. We needed to gather the tools and knowhow to assemble a battle plan that would defeat this almighty beast. Failure would mean the end of the world.

In-game: The faux stone cavern set walls. There are ropes to guide lines and a sign that reads "Cactuar Cavern."

Trials of Bahamut was a mass escape event put on by Real Escape Games by SCRAP, the creators of many other large-scale events that we’ve reviewed such as a Legend of Zelda game. In typical SCRAP fashion, Trials of Bahamut took place in a sparsely decorated event space. The center of room was full of tables, one for each team of 6. Around the perimeter of the room, various sets represented different locations, each guarded by characters, played by actors.

Puzzles

As is typical at SCRAP mass events, much of the puzzling took place as a team around our table with pencils and paper.

As Trials of Bahamut progressed, there were opportunities to solve puzzles with the characters along the perimeter. These were more interesting and dynamic puzzles that also granted more compelling rewards.

Standouts

Each player was assigned a character class (thief, paladin, bard, ranger, black mage, white mage). Each character came with individual powers that only they could execute at specific points throughout the game. Some of these powers were the keys to individual paper puzzles; others required creatively interacting with actors. The roles kept everyone involved throughout the event and added an intriguing dynamic to the gameplay.

Post-game photo features our team holding up the signs of the character classes that each person played.

Trials of Bahamut was the most interactive SCRAP event that we’ve played (running around a stadium notwithstanding). In the past we’ve spent almost all of our time around a table, solving puzzles that could just as easily have appeared in a puzzle book. That was not the case in SCRAP’s Final Fantasy game.

Trials of Bahamut was more approachable than the previous SCRAP events that we’ve attended. Don’t get me wrong: most of the teams lost, but more than a few won or almost won.

In-game: The initial table setup. There's a book sealed shut with a padlock, a Moogle doll, and an assortment of paper puzzle components.
That Moogle was so damn adorable. He was also the team MVP.

The final puzzle sequence was smart. Our most common criticism of SCRAP events has been painfully obtuse final puzzles. While this challenging last puzzle sequence still required us to think exactly like the puzzle designer, at Trials of Bahamut, since we had been paying close attention, the steps were clear and deducible without logic leaps. This was a huge improvement on previous SCRAP mass event finales.

Most of our teammates had little or no experience with Final Fantasy and we still found Trials of Bahamut enjoyable.

There was a hilarious and morbid moment that anyone who has ever played a Final Fantasy game could appreciate.

Some of the actors really went for it.

The stuffed Moogle on our team was freaking adorable. You should get one. 

Shortcomings

Trials of Bahamut suffered from long lines to meet with characters. Luckily our team got out to a quick lead and never relinquished it, so we didn’t wait on too many lines, but these really backed up. This is a common event problem. With linear progression, individual characters become bottlenecks.

Some of the character classes assigned to us were more interesting and essential than others.

While Trials of Bahamut was less paper-puzzley than previous SCRAP events, it still relied heavily on them… and some of them were pretty silly.

Trials of Bahamut began and ended with a lengthy, cringeworthy video.

SCRAP hires most of their actors and staff in each city that the game visits. We played the first instance of Trials of Bahamut in NYC and at each juncture our team was the first to approach the actors with solutions. Far too often our correct answers were rejected because the staff wasn’t quite up to speed. A little more training would go a long way.

The ending was anticlimactic. We had prepared to battle a dragon… but we only needed to submit a dragon-fighting battle plan. The conclusion had all of the drama of turning in a pop quiz.

Should I play Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut?

I’m really glad that I went to play Trials of Bahamut. This experience has given me hope that SCRAP is evolving their events, that they aren’t a one-trick pony, and that they can do something different with this rarely-explored escape game format.

I was ready to write off SCRAP’s events. Bluntly, I didn’t want to attend Trials of Bahamut. I’ve played Final Fantasy III and X, but I can’t claim that I’m a fan of the series. We attended because a friend bought the tickets, planned the evening, and invited us.

Trials of Bahamut was an engaging, intriguing, and entertaining event. We left excited that we had conquered a fair and interesting challenge. SCRAP’s escape events still have plenty of room to grow, but the next time they bring one to New York City, I will not drag my feet on booking a ticket.

We would recommend Real Escape Games by SCRAP’s Trials of Bahamut, but New York City was the final stop on its tour. If it ever experiences a revival, you should check it out.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale.)

 

Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

SCRAP – PuzzBox [Review]

Difficult to acquire. Difficult to win.

Location: at home

Date played: October 8, 2016

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

Price: $45 (only available for pickup at SCRAP’s San Francisco facility)

Story & setting

Welcome to the PuzzKingdom. We were intrepid puzzlers undergoing a test from the PuzzKing in an attempt to earn the prestigious rank of PuzzKnight. No PuzzJoke.

A cardboard box with a yellow label that reads,

The PuzzBox was an at-home escape game in the same vein as The Werewolf Experiment or the ThinkFun Games. However, this was a SCRAP game and it stuck to the SCRAP script.

The game was paper-based and the materials, printing, and paper quality were solid.

The game, however, was limited to a run of 100 (although they may do another), and it was distributed exclusively through SCRAP’s San Francisco facility. Dan Egnor of the Escape Room Directory was kind enough to acquire one and ship it to us.

Puzzles

This was a SCRAP game. If you’ve played one, you’ll know exactly what that entails:

It was a challenging paper-based game in a rigid and predictable structure with a brutal final puzzle.

The entire game's contents. A lockbox, three envelopes, a yellow sheet of paper, and a replay set.

The PuzzBox, like every other SCRAP game I’ve played, was puzzles upon puzzles. They were detail-oriented and at times felt a little trite. However, SCRAP did manage to create some brilliant puzzles, which is also their modus operandi.

Standouts

As far as paper-based puzzles go, this was a solid batch; they were generally satisfying to solve.

The story was incredibly cute and delivered with a light touch. This was an improvement over all of the other stories we’ve seen from SCRAP because it didn’t try to be epic while delivering a paper-based puzzling experience.

The PuzzBox felt like one of SCRAP’s better mass events. However, playing at home was vastly superior to playing in a giant room with a ton of other people and a 60-minute countdown clock. We could take our time and enjoy ourselves without having to scavenge a huge space for additional paper-based clues.

Shortcomings

If you absolutely hate SCRAP mass events, then you’re not going to love the PuzzBox.

Playing the PuzzBox destroys the materials in the PuzzBox. It came with a single refill kit, but after two playthroughs, it’s dead. This thwarted my desire to share the game with a handful of East Coast puzzle lovers who couldn’t get their hands on a PuzzBox.

The

The lockbox was basically irrelevant. It didn’t have to be there at all, but I think it was included because that’s been their signature object in their mass events. Opening it revealed nothing special.

Bottom and side view of a red metal lockbox with a gold 4 digit padlock. The box's bottom reads

It was challenging to acquire the PuzzBox and it was expensive to have it shipped. This was frustrating in retrospect because if SCRAP had dropped the lockbox, the game would have been entirely paper-based and thereby far easier to produce and ship. The kicker is that the game would not have suffered from lack of that anti-climactic lockbox.

PuzzBox open. There is a lot of free space in the box.
There was a lot of air in that box.

We solved the final puzzle through a clever (not my idea, but I wish I came up with it) reverse engineering of the components.

Should I play SCRAP’s PuzzBox?

We spent a little under an hour twenty solving the PuzzBox and we had a lot of fun throughout. There were interesting puzzles and boring puzzles. We felt let down when we opened the lockbox, but overall, we truly enjoyed ourselves.

A small yellow pin with a puzzle coat of arms. The pin reads,

If you love more challenging escape room puzzles and can get your hands on a PuzzBox, it’s worth playing. If you prefer the experiential side of escape rooms, run the other direction.

The PuzzBox has convinced me that SCRAP’s games are best played at a lower price-point and in the comfort of my own home.

Order your copy of SCRAP’s PuzzBox, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.