Hatch Escapes – Lab Rat [Review]

Lab Rat is one of the best games in Los Angeles. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms in Los Angeles.

Human race.

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Lab Rat created a world for us to explore. They built a fiction, presented a complete story with a beginning, middle and end, and thrust us into it with scaled-up set design and fully justified gameplay.

Hatch Escapes produced an intense, joyous, and funny escape room that managed to be outlandish and grounded at the same time. It was quite a feat.

While we didn’t love the middle of the game as much as the opening and closing, this was the kind of game that shifted how we think about escape room storytelling.

Lab Rat is a must-play. It’s worth traveling far to test your human intelligence in this lab.

In-game: A sign that reads, "Keeps test humans alive. For a while."

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Fun scenario
  • Scaled set design
  • A sense of exploration
  • Interesting puzzles

Story

In Lab Rat, we were the “lab humans” in a facility where giant rats tested human intelligence, or lack thereof. If we could complete the a series of tests and puzzles, the presiding rat scientist would be able to write his dissertation. If we couldn’t prove our intelligence and deliver him a passing grade, we’d end up in the chipper.

In-game: a massive hamster water dispenser, lit purple.

Setting

We were locked in a cage for lab humans with food, water, and our exercise wheel. Outside the cage we had access to a maze, created by the rats out of cardboard boxes and the like. The scale of the set punctuated our role reversal into the test subjects. We were tiny; cereal boxes, pencils, and toys were huge.

In-game: a food bowl with letters and symbols printed on it in a large cage. Beside it is a gigantic box of "Fruity Kibble."

Gameplay

Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: a large hamster wheel in a cage.

Analysis

+ Hatch Escapes built a phenomenal set for Lab Rat. The scale brought the escape room scenario to life. The maze made the set feel expansive and delivered a sense of exploration. The representations of the supposed construction materials were funny and supported the backstory. From the initial moments of Lab Rat the set upped our energy level.

+ Hatch Escapes provided backstory through entertaining video cutscenes. Since our time paused during these interludes, we could enjoy the videos without feeling a competing urge to solve the puzzles in those moments. Hatch Escapes incorporated video into the set with a thoughtful layout so that it never felt out of place.

+ We enjoyed one puzzle sequence that wasn’t as it had originally appeared and jabbed at human intelligence. It was amusing.

In-game: A box cover for "Grand Theft Otter"

+ Hatch Escapes used light, sound, and motion to bring the team together for a triggered event. This wasn’t even a puzzle, but it was a moment of joy, wonder, and anticipation that everyone enjoyed together.

– At one point, Lab Rat transitioned to a segment that didn’t live up to the rest of the experience. The gamespace felt a little out of place. The clue structure felt choppy; we could sense ghost puzzles haunting the space. While we appreciated the contrast between this space and the rest of the experience, we left unsure how to connect this segment to the larger whole.

+/- Lab Rat included a humorous late-game segment in an entirely unexpected gamespace, providing an unorthodox and surprisingly entertaining challenge. The gamespace operated a seamless transition to stage this segment. As players, however, we approached this unusual gameplay cautiously and could have benefited from more in-game cluing to get us rolling. Finicky tech also contributed to our hangups moving through this sequence.

+ Hatch Escapes incorporated a concept we’ve been waiting to see for… I don’t even know how long. It worked beautifully in the lab human scenario.

– One pivotal prop felt underused. It had intrigued us from the initial moments of the escape room, but when it came full circle in the culminating sequence, it didn’t deliver on the intrigue. It was one of the weaker puzzles in the Lab Rat in a moment that begged for something stronger.

+ Hatch Escapes presented Lab Rat as a theater piece. From the cutscene videos to the final credits, it was delivered as a narrative-driven, interactive piece of art. Authorship and credit is so often missing from escape rooms. We appreciated this delivery of escape room through the lens of another storytelling medium.

+ Hatch Escapes did a great job with story structure. Our tale had a beginning, middle, and end, complete with character development. Few have pulled this off and Hatch Escapes did it with style.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • At least one person needs to be comfortable climbing a ladder.

Book your hour with Hatch Escapes’ Lab Rat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Hatch Escapes comped our tickets for this game.

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story

Stash House is one of the best games in Los Angeles. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms in Los Angeles.

Update 3/29/22: If you enjoy Stash House, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creator Tommy Honton on The Reality Escape Pod.

💵💵💵💵💵💵🚽

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 25, 2018

Team size: 4-11; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: from $40 per ticket for teams of 4 to $30 per ticket for teams of 11

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Stash House told an exciting, humorous, and memorable crime story through experiential design and puzzles. From the moment we arrived, we entered a fully realized world that almost entirely nailed the details.

When we started tackling the gameplay, we found a traditional escape room presented on a grand scale and filled with layers of puzzling that fit with the narrative and were justified through internal logic.

If you’re anywhere near Los Angeles and are fine with the adult themes of drug use and drug distribution and some light sexual themes, Stash House is a must play.

In-game: the Stash House apartment.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
  • People who think that Stringer Bell is one of TV’s greatest characters

Why play?

  • Immersive storytelling and cohesive world from start to finish
  • Strong puzzles
  • Fantastic small-group puzzling moments
  • Memorable ending

Story

Our meeting with local entrepreneur Ray Jones had taken a turn for the shady when Jones revealed to us that he was conscripting us into his organization. He had turned a seemingly normal Los Angeles apartment into a test to prove our smarts and knowledge of his products. With each challenge we would earn a baggie of coke. If we could finish his test and flush all of the drugs down the toilet before the police arrived, we’d have a place in his operation. If we failed, we were the police’s problem.

In-game: a large Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics poster hanging on the wall.
Accurate.

Setting

Stash House was built as a nice, functional, and large apartment. It looked and felt like a place where a human with an identifiable personality lived. It was larger than our actual apartment. If they installed a shower, I’d live there.

There were secrets, of course, but spoiling them would do a disservice to the player experience.

In-game: the lobby/ lounge of Stash House.

Gameplay

Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, puzzling, and interacting with an amusing character via text message.

In-game: a dining table in an apartment.

Analysis

+ The introduction to the escape room was so smart. It was entertaining and justified the game, established stakes, and made it clear why we needed to succeed.

+ Stash House established clear goals and provided a means of tracking progress that never felt like a scoreboard or some other artificial game construct.

+ Stash House felt like a fully realized world. It maintained its internal logic throughout the entire experience. As a result, we bought into some story elements that weren’t grounded in reality, but absolutely worked within this fiction.

+ The puzzles were great. Many were layered and structured such that we built mastery over the course of completion.

+ Even Stash House’s process puzzles were engaging. They used either satisfying mechanisms or humor to counterbalance the repetition.

– One puzzle dragged and didn’t lend itself to group solving. Another late game puzzle obscured critical information and slowed momentum at the wrong time.

+ The humor in Stash House served the narrative.

– Some of the humor required a lot of reading in dim light.

+ The hint system worked as a game-balancing tool. It could provide puzzle assistance, story, nuance, and humor all at once. It could be easily adjusted to any given team’s needs and it never felt overbearing.

? Some of Stash House’s finest moments happened in confined spaces for small groups. This meant that seeing one segment meant missing other great puzzles and interactions. I could see some players choosing to play Stash House again, at least in part.

– The “grill” in Stash House wasn’t even close to looking like a grill. I’m no expert on the subject… but my brother is.

+ We don’t often get excited to play in an apartment setting; it usually feels like a copout. That was not the case with Stash House. There was depth to this environment. It was large and interesting. It had secrets.

– One segment of the gamespace felt underdeveloped.

+ Stash House was a 90-minute escape room that filled the entire 90 minutes with intrigue. It never dragged.

+ The conclusion was brilliant.

In-game: a glowing set of lights that read "STASHHOUSE"

Tips for Visiting

  • There is street parking.
  • You need to be able to climb stairs to fully enjoy this game.

Book your hour with Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Stash House A Los Angeles Crime Story comped our tickets for this game.

Palace Games – The Edison Escape Room [Review]

The Edison Game is one of the best games in San Francisco. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms in San Francisco.

💡34,000

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: August 20, 2018

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

Palace Games succeeded in blurring the lines between real life and video game.

The Edison Escape Room was a brilliant display of technology in escape room design. The detailed set was phenomenal. The gameplay ranged from well-executed standard puzzles to wholly unorthodox challenges in the physical environment, all of which leaned into teamwork. Palace Games stitched these elements together with technology that brightened each element individually and energized the interconnected experience. The Edison Escape Room was as impressive as it was fun.

This escape room was a commitment. At 100 minutes there might have even have been too many challenges. A few too many of these felt like the final puzzle leading to an unnecessary anticlimax. Palace Games packed a lot of different twists into The Edison Room. 

Palace Games’ latest creation is a wonder of the escape room world.

It is worth traveling a distance to visit The Edison Escape Room.

In-game: an incandescent lightbulb labeled

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Technology fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Brilliant puzzles
  • Radiant set design
  • Dramatic reveals
  • Unusual teamwork mechanics
  • The room reacts to the players
  • Incredible feat of technology in escape room design

Story

Thomas Edison had maintained a secret study in the Palace of Fine Arts during the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, the World’s Fair held in San Francisco, California, in 1915. When the Palace Games team unearthed a telegram confirming the existence of this study, they did indeed uncover the space.

This study hid a secret: Since Edison had deemed his children unsuitable heirs to his businesses, he had crafted a series of challenges into his study in an attempt to find an acceptable heir. If we could solve all his challenges, we could earn the right to lead Edison’s businesses.

In-game: Promotional image of Edison's 1915 World's Fair Tower of Jewels, rainbow iridescent tower.

Setting

Edison maintained a small wallpapered study with a wooden desk, phonograph, and some wall hangings. A display of lightbulbs featured prominently on one wall. It was cozy and welcoming.

This classic study was a facade. The more exciting and dramatic elements of his challenges were yet to come, if we were bright enough to enter his lab.

In-game: an old phonograph on Edison's desk.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room began as a standard escape room and evolved to deliver highly interactive atypical sequences.

The Edison Escape Room offered a high level of difficulty. This difficulty, however, was adaptive. If a team wasn’t up to the level of challenge, the room would adjust to the give the players a better experience.

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

In-game: an unusual room lined with lights, wheels, and gauges.

Analysis

+ The Edison Escape Room delivered phenomenal reveals. It was exciting, dramatic, and invigorating.

+ The set was delightful. There was always more to take in. A close look illuminated disguised jokes and puns. I spent a few minutes puzzling through these humorous tidbits that were entirely irrelevant to the larger puzzle game. I enjoyed every second of this time.

+ The puzzle design encouraged both parallel puzzling and group solves. The branching came back together repeatedly in interactive and entertaining group challenges.

In-game: A period appropriate Periodic Table of the Elements.

+ We enjoyed so many of the puzzles in The Edison Escape Room. These included typical escape room-style puzzles as well as atypical, interactive group maneuvering.

– One of the late-game puzzles felt underclued. Witnessing it play out, we liked the concept, but it seemed as if the game was dragging us through it rather lighting a path of clues that we could follow.

+/- The Edison Escape Room provided audible feedback to confirm that we’d correctly solved a puzzle. Some of the choices of confirmation tone seemed oddly out of place and immersion-breaking in an experienced grounded in 1915… even when they were amusing.

In-game: a grid of incandescent light bulbs all labeled with different words.

+ Palace Games intertwined gamespace and puzzle seamlessly; for much of the escape room these were interconnected on a level far beyond what we’ve come to expect from escape room design.

+ The gamespace responded to our actions. Furthermore, it adapted to the team’s ability. It was impressive.

+ The Edison Escape Room encouraged us to build mastery of the gamespace and the props within. We welcomed Palace Games’ unambiguous approach to prop reuse. It furthered our engagement with the gamespace. The props were enticing and we were eager to see them recalled and reimagined as the game progressed.

-The Edison Escape Room didn’t need to be 100 minutes long. Some of the late-game content became overly repetitive. On multiple occasions we thought we’d solved the final puzzle… and then Edison tossed us another challenge. Considering how much time we spend in escape rooms, it’s strange to say that this was too much escape room, but by the end, that’s how we felt. The energy of the space dimmed.

– The final puzzle – the actual final puzzle – wasn’t as climactic as some of the culminating puzzles that came before it. This contributed to the petering out.

In-game: An old 6 lever Winchester lock.

+ The technology driving The Edison Escape Room was impressive. We were in awe that it worked. While we don’t believe escape rooms need technology to be great, Palace Games incorporated this technology brilliantly to bring the elements of escape room design together.

+ The Edison Escape Room provided a continual sense of new discovery. In a gamespace as elaborate and interesting as this, discovery was invigorating. This was a ton of fun. I still can’t believe that this thing exists.

Tips for Visiting

  • Drive to the back of The Palace of Fine Arts. There is parking.
  • For food we recommend Super Duper Burgers.
  • Accessibility: If you have mobility concerns, speak with Palace Games about adaptations to accommodate for these. The Edison Escape Room is highly adaptable.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ The Edison Escape Room, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.

The Escape Game – Playground [Review]

Playground is one of our favorite recommendations for a great escape room in several cities, including Dallas, Orlando, New Orleans and Nashville. Here are our recommendation guides for other great escape rooms in Dallas, Orlando, New Orleans and Nashville.

Game on!

Location: Nashville, TN

Date Played: July 25, 2018

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31.99 per ticket

Ticketing: Public

REA Reaction

Playground was a joyful escape room. The Escape Game captured the elementary school vibe with a bright and ever-so-slightly cartoonish take that made this relatable space entirely delightful to revisit (and one of the rare games to justify fluorescent tube lighting).

While the puzzling was at times chaotic, we could track our collective progress with a giant glowing report card, and the teamwork-centric gameplay kept us all engaged.

If you’re anywhere near Nashville or one of the other The Escape Game locations, Playground is absolutely worth visiting.

In-game: a bright and colorful jungle gym on green turf.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • The playground
  • From a puzzling standpoint, there was something for everyone
  • It was joyful

Story

It was the last day of 4th grade and the start of the annual Summer Kickoff Kickball Tournament. We were set to play against our rivals, the 5th graders. If we couldn’t complete all of our assignments before the start of the game, however, we would be forced to forfeit… and that was an unacceptable option.

In-game: A pair of classroom desks with strange projects resting on top of them.

Setting

Playground let us loose in an elementary school classroom and adjacent playground. Both segments struck a fantastic balance of realism and bright fantastic fiction. It looked almost realistic, but better, in a Hollywood sort of way.

It was a joyous environment. We all took a turn wandering away from the gameplay to simply enjoy the wonderful gamespace with childlike glee.

In-game: A red apple sitting on the teachers desk in front of the classroom.

Gameplay

The Escape Game’s Playground was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty and a lot of content.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, dexterity, and puzzling.

In-game: The exterior of the school building with a PA and American flag.

Analysis

+ From the moment we entered the gamespace, we felt like excited children on the last day of school. When the gamespace opened up to a playground, we were positively giddy as we explored the set.

+ The set felt overly bright, but authentically so: elementary school meets Disney.

+ This was one of the rare games where fluorescent lighting felt appropriate.

+ If we didn’t know our teammates, introductions were built in, and stayed right up on the wall… as they would all year in the classroom.

In-game: A wall poster with balloons where each player (student) wrote their name.

+ The storyline was both ridiculous and relatable. This escape room didn’t take itself seriously, in a good way.

+ The introductory video was hilarious.

+ We could track our progression through Playground with our report card. This gave us a pretty good sense of how much longer we’d be in class before we escaped to summer break.

– The subjects were a bit abstract and we often had no idea what subject any given puzzle belonged to. One in particular only revealed its true colors upon completion.

In-game: the game's report card, featuring an A+ in every subject.

Playground included gamified dexterity challenges, which made sense on a playground.

+ Many of the puzzles required collaboration. These were some of our favorite challenges.

– When I graphed the data from this game, it became clear that one puzzle overstayed its welcome.

– Nobody wants to do math on the playground.

– One of the larger set pieces didn’t contribute to anything. It seemed like there should have been a puzzle climb.

In-game: a bookshelf, ant farm, and hamster cage.

? We opened up most of the gamespace pretty early in our playthrough. This immediately upped the group energy level. That said, it caused us some confusion as to where to focus our energy, even with the report card’s guidance.

+ The Escape Game created a sweet moment that filled us with a bit of unease, then cracked us up.

+ Throughout Playground, solves resolved to a variety of exciting reveals.

+ This was a low-stress escape room and a joyous experience.

Tips for Visiting

  • Playground is at The Escape Game’s East Iris location.
  • There is a parking lot nearby.
  • Check out the map on the wall in the lobby.
  • At least 2 players need to be able to step over, climb up, sit down, crawl… and generally play on a playground.

Book your hour with The Escape Game’s Playground, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Escape Game comped our tickets for this game.

The Great Escape – The Experiment [Review]

The Experiment is one of the best escape rooms in The Netherlands. Here are our recommendations for other great escape rooms in The Netherlands.

The doctor will see you now.

Location: Zwolle, The Netherlands

Date Played: May 6, 2018

Team size: 4-7; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: €135 per group

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

The Experiment balanced horror with silliness. The Great Escape deliberately designed every moment of this escape room. While the puzzles were not narrative driven, they were fun to solve and they worked with the decor and the acting to deliver an exhilarating experience.

It’s worth traveling out of your way – and it probably is out of your way, if you’re a tourist to Amsterdam – to Zwolle to play the experiment.

In-game: the entry way for the "Wester Clinics national institute for mental health," beyond it is a lobby.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • 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?

  • Intense actor-driven moments
  • Immersive gameplay
  • Fun and unusual interactions

Story

One of our friends had asked us to accompany him to an experiment he’d signed up for. As soon as we settled into the waiting room, we realized that this experiment was something more sinister… and we need to escape.

In-game: the lobby with a magazine wrack, chairs, and a stack of in-take forms.

Setting

We entered a medical waiting room. Chairs lined the walls. The waiting room was decorated with the typical plants, wall hangings, toys, and reading material that we would have expected. (I guess the cliched medical waiting room aesthetic is transcontinental.) All of this foreshadowed the medical theming of the rest of the experience.

Gameplay

The Great Escape’s The Experiment was an escape room that included elements of interactive theater. It had a higher level of difficulty and a high level of tension.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and puzzling, with a bit of improv as well.

In-game: a stack of intake forms in the lobby.

Analysis

+ Through acting, set design, and scent, The Great Escape built the world of The Experiment elegantly and effectively.

+ As we entered the gamespace, we were greeted with a new environment. More than the look, the smell alerted us to the nature of this experience. It worked brilliantly.

+ In the first scene, we got to know the characters. In the scripted part, the actors played off each other. This enabled The Great Escape to develop a menacing character without alarming the players. Interjected throughout the scene were the less scripted interactions with us, which further developed the characters’ roles as well as our place in the game’s world.

– While the puzzles played well, many of them felt arbitrary. They were more escape room-y than mechanisms to drive the plot forward.

+ That said, we enjoyed solving these tangible, large-scale puzzles, and their silliness contributed to the absurdity that balanced the horror-vibe.

– In one scene of The Experiment, we encountered multiple combination locks with identical digit structure. We recommend more variety to make this scene play more smoothly and not stifle forward momentum.

– Height was an advantage. One late-game puzzle presented a lot of information just slightly too high for me to comfortably work with it. The irony was that, given the type of puzzle it was, I was the natural person to solve it… and my three +6-foot (182cm) teammates looked on.

+ The hint system was charming. It worked with the staging.

+/- The Experiment built to a dramatic escape. Our teammates had differing opinions about this ending depending on the roles we took in accomplishing it. From my vantage point (which I shared with David), our clandestine escape operation delivered a dramatic conclusion. Our teammates in another role would have liked more threat of danger/ failure at this juncture. Their ending felt too soft for the experience.

+/- For people who are afraid of the concept of an escape room, The Experiment embodied exactly what they fear: being trapped in an uncomfortable setting that’s just a bit scary. These feelings can be off-putting. For the right players, however, these feelings can also be energizing and exhilarating.

The Experiment was silly-scary. It wasn’t overly horror, but it was intense. The acting, environment, and puzzles came together really well to deliver a deliberately crafted experience.

+ Hats off to the actors who delivered The Experiment to us in their second language. They did a phenomenal job.

Tips for Visiting

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

Disclosure: The Great Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.