Riddle Room – Utopia [Review]

Happiness through puzzles.

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Date played: August 20, 2017

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

The 2017 Golden Lock-In award, the REA logo turned into an open padlock with a golden ring around it.
2017 Golden Lock-In Award winner

Story & setting

A “variance in our well-being” had been detected and the Ministry of Public Harmony in our dystopian world had summoned us for a recalibration. We entered a chamber for testing and reeducation.

In-game: A futuristic, sci-fi-looking tiled room lit blue.

Riddle Room staged this sci-fi room escape in a dark, bland, and futuristic cell with only a touchscreen in the middle of the room. Upon entering the room and beginning the first puzzle, I immediately worried that we would be stuck solving only touchscreen puzzles for the entire experience. Once we dug below the surface, however, there was so much more to Utopia. The set was smart, deceptive, and attractive.

Puzzles

Utopia had some seriously challenging puzzles. Part digital, part mechanical, Utopia offered a pair of puzzle tracks. These were both integral to success and deeply tied to the narrative of the experience.

Standouts

Utopia had a smart story from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective. Riddle Room created an alternative dystopian world that was menacing, but never felt intimidating.

The set was fantastic. It brilliantly hid a great deal of complexity under a simple facade.

Both tracks of puzzling within Utopia were well designed and satisfying.

Shortcomings

The separate puzzle tracks didn’t lend themselves to tag team puzzling. Because the two tracks were so vastly different from one another, different players experienced different types of puzzles. It would be easy to find oneself wishing to work on the other set of puzzles, but knowing that switching would be detrimental to overall team success.

The gamemaster delivered hints in person. This was problematic for two reasons:

  • Hints were delivered with substantial delay.
  • The hint system broke the otherwise well-constructed narrative.

The most challenging puzzle in the entire experience required detecting a specific detail without much in the way of cluing. The puzzle’s concept was great, but it could benefit from a little more in-game clue structure.

Should I play Riddle Room’s Utopia?

Utopia was a deeply satisfying escape room. The puzzles, narrative, and set worked in sync with one another to make us feel a story.

Riddle Room did an impressive thing in Utopia by taking a concept that seemed boring and then pushing it in all sorts of strange directions before subverting it all. I really enjoyed this escape room and expect that most other experienced escape room players will as well.

Utopia would be a difficult first room escape. In fact, the newbies on our team were a bit bewildered by it. I think this is an escape room to work up towards. You can only play it once, so you should get a few others games under your belt before taking on this clever challenge.

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

Full disclosure: Riddle Room comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape MSP – Dr. K’s Lethal Injection [Review]

Pack extra eyes.

Location: St Paul, Minnesota

Date played: August 20, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 6-8

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

Dr. Kevorkianstein planned to infect the world with a virus and get rich selling the cure. As agents of the CDC, we had to infiltrate his lab to steal the cure.

In game: A laboratory setting with large machinery and a locked cabinet.

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had a standard stark white aesthetic with a wider variety of real life lab equipment than most other laboratory escape rooms. Labs may not be the most exciting environments, but this one looked authentic.

Puzzles

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was primarily a game of searching and connection building; there was a lot to find. Late-game it transformed into a puzzling experience.

In game: A laboratory setting depicting the top of a centrifuge, sink, and counter space with lab equipment.

Standouts

There were a few significant and compelling setpieces. The escape room’s primary late-game focal point was particularly cool.

Escape MSP did a good job creating the science lab aesthetic.

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had an exciting, dramatic ending.

Shortcomings

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection included a substantial focus on searching. We spent a lot of time finding objects, some of which seemed important, but turned out to be completely irrelevant.

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection had significant upkeep issues. One important clue had worn off from a puzzle and we lost a lot of time because we didn’t know it was relevant. Some props were broken in ways that made puzzle solving into guesswork.

There were a lot of red herrings and puzzles with fuzzy answers. All of this served to water down the experience.

The name of the game’s villain,”Dr. Kevorkianstein,” seemed unnecessary. The real-life Dr. Kevorkian was a controversial figure in the debate over physician-assisted suicide. Reasonable people can strongly agree or disagree with Dr. Kevorkian. The suffix notwithstanding, I had a visceral reaction to seeing his name reduced to that of a generic genocidal super-villain… especially since it was a completely unnecessary plot detail, which also wasn’t relevant in the gameplay.

Should I play Escape MSP’s Dr. K’s Lethal Injection?

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was a search-centered, large-team beginner’s escape room. That’s not to say that it was easy; it wasn’t. The set looked good and the tech was fun and responsive. However, Escape MSP constructed the gameplay around finding things. In that way, it will hold far more appeal for newbies. Any player who puts in any effort can greatly contribute by simply finding things; there was a lot to uncover.

Experienced players will likely be frustrated by Dr. K’s Lethal Injection as it usually follows that the more games the players plays, the less keen they become on substantial searching.

Dr. K’s Lethal Injection was not our style of room escape, but we can absolutely see the appeal. Bring a big team and don’t let the stark white walls fool you. There are plenty of places to hide things in a seemingly minimalistic laboratory.

Book your hour with Escape MSP’s Dr. K’s Lethal Injection, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape MSP comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Frenzy – The Haunted House [Review]

It was a triple dog dare. I legally couldn’t refuse.

Location: Edina, Minnesota

Date played: August 21, 2017

Team size: 1-10; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $27 per ticket

Story & setting

After a boring round of Ouija, our friends had dared us to enter the local haunted house… the one where 6 consecutive families had died and the most recent occupants recently vanished.

This room escape began with breaking into the haunted house. That’s where things turned dark, but never terrifying. The Haunted House was a lightly horror escape room with Halloween props and a dark, creepy set. It looked good, not great.

In-game: The exterior of the haunted house featuring a coffin, locked box, and log cabin.

Puzzles

The Haunted House’s puzzles were a lot like the set. They were generally solid, but could have benefitted from a just a little more clue structure and precision.

Standouts

The “break into the room” opening of The Haunted House was fun.

In game: a large brass skull door knocker.

I’ve repeatedly knocked the family-friendly horror genre in escape rooms because I think that it usually projects an image of terror that turns off the fearful, while setting bad expectations for horror lovers. In contrast, Escape Frenzy actually made this work. Their non-threatening escape room description set the right tone, which carried into the escape room’s aesthetics.

Escape Frenzy used tech sparingly, in smart ways.

Shortcomings

Cheesy Halloween store props undermined Escape Frenzy’s more impressive custom construction.

The puzzles could have benefitted from additional refinement. I suspect that if Escape Frenzy took their three most commonly delivered hints and transformed those into in-game clues, The Haunted House would flow a lot more smoothly.

During the reset before we played, the gamemaster must have accidentally swapped similar keys for similar padlocks because early on, we opened a thing that we shouldn’t have. Our gamemaster was all over it, which we respect. This could, however, be completely avoided with unique keychains or locks that accept different key shapes. In its current form, it’s easy to confuse the keys and produce a bad reset.

Should I play Escape Frenzy’s The Haunted House?

The Haunted House was creepier than most escape rooms, but not terrifying. If you’re looking for an approachable room escape with low scare factor, this is a great option.

Escape Frenzy created some escape room magic that will add a layer of complexity for newbies who likely won’t recognize the technology in front of them. The Haunted House will also require a few logic leaps (or additional hinting).

If you’ve played at least one or two escape rooms, The Haunted House could be an enjoyable game. Newbies can absolutely find fun in this game, but they’re going to need a lot of help along the way.

The Haunted House doesn’t break new ground, but this old house was built on a solid foundation.

Book your hour with Escape Frenzy’s The Haunted House, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Frenzy comped our tickets for this game.

Trapped Puzzle Rooms – Very Potter Escape [Review]

The Heroes Who Shall Not Be Named.

Location: St Paul, Minnesota

Date played: August 20, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $24 per ticket

Story & setting

We took a journey to a school of wizardry, but absolutely not the one you’re thinking of. We had to break the rules and sneak into the Headmaster’s study to steal the Elder Wand before it was seized by nefarious forces.

Very Potter Escape was lushly decorated in shades of brown, red, and gold. It had a medieval fantasy vibe. It generally looked great.

In-game: A red gold, and stone room with broom sticks, an animated wall portrait, and a strange telescope.

Puzzles

As we solved the puzzles in Very Potter Escape, we mastered each school subject. Along the way, we interacted with the more recreational aspects of school such as magical creatures and sporting equipment.

The puzzling varied from mechanical to observational to logical.

Much of the puzzling felt magical. We maneuvered physical items and the school revealed its hidden secrets.

Standouts

Very Potter Escape captured the look and feel of an imaginary wizarding school that so many of us have fallen in love with. Without naming the characters, creatures, places, or stories, Trapped Puzzle Rooms recreated a world that adoring fans will recognize and the uninitiated can still enjoy.

The puzzling was varied and largely physical. We picked up props and figured out how to use them to conjure the magic. This could take a little doing.

We loved many of the puzzles in this escape rooms. They were simply a lot of fun.

Very Potter Escape included both padlocks and more tech-driven locking. These were distributed such that they made sense in the setting. When Very Potter Escape responded with tech-driven opens, they felt appropriately magical.

The hint system fit seamlessly into the story.

Shortcomings

Magical opens didn’t always give enough feedback. With a small team, it could be difficult to notice what we had triggered.

While Trapped Puzzle Rooms derived magical opens from technology, I would have loved to see more magic derived from manipulation of space. We know these types of schools have a lot of secrets hidden within their walls. There was opportunity for larger scale surprises.

The final few puzzles didn’t feel as exciting as the content offered by the vast majority of the experience.

Should I play Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Very Potter Escape?

If you’ve enjoyed reading about a magical school of witchcraft and wizardry, or watching movies about one, you should absolutely visit Very Potter Escape. From the décor to the props to the puzzles, you’ll get to spend an hour making little bits of magic yourself.

Very Potter Escape was a mostly linear escape room. You won’t have to skip any dungeon classes to visit the pitch.

There is, however, still a lot of puzzle content in this escape room.

Note that you don’t need to know anything about magical schools to succeed at Very Potter Escape. You will likely have a lot of fun even if you miss the references.

Similarly, you don’t need any experience with escape rooms to fully enjoy this experience. It will be challenging, but likely still a lot of fun.

Book your hour with Trapped Puzzle Rooms’ Very Potter Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Trapped Puzzle Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

PuzzleWorks – The Vault [Review]

“I am a Prince and I would like to give you my fortune in exchange for your social security number and some puzzles.”

Location: St Paul, Minnesota

Date played: August 20, 2017

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket, $25.64 per student ticket

Story & setting

The emails were true! The exiled Prince of Yurgmurgistan really did need our help proving his birthright. If we could break into the National Bank of Yurgmurgistan and steal back his most prized possession, he pinky swore that he would shower us in money.

Staged in the National Bank of Yurgmurgistan, The Vault looked incredibly bank-like… which was to say a bit drab except for the large vault door. Beyond the massive metal enclosure, we found things to be far more surprising.

In-game: A cash register in the foreground of the bank set, a massive metal vault door in the background.

Puzzles

The Vault was a deeply puzzle-focused escape game. Initially the puzzles felt typically escape room-esque. As the The Vault progressed, however, the puzzling became increasingly more tangible, grand, and creative.

Standouts

The second half of The Vault was exceptional: both the set and the puzzles, as well as their integration, were entertaining and innovative.

As a result of many design decisions, The Vault usually had at least two puzzling opportunities available at any given time. Most of these could engage at least 2 players. The Vault occupied our team of 5 people from start to finish.

This room escape was pretty damn funny.

In-game: The wall sign for the Yurgmurgistan Nurgunal Burg.
PuzzleWorks committed to the gag.

Shortcomings

We didn’t enjoy one early puzzle and we were thrilled to stumble upon the solution.

I know that Minnesota is inhabited by the gigantic descendants of Vikings, but there were a number of key interactions that would be difficult for shorter players to execute.

One of the most brilliant puzzle/ setpieces in The Vault was also difficult to manipulate. This was clearly a tradeoff that resulted from the PuzzleWorks’ creative direction, but it was cumbersome nonetheless.

Should I play PuzzleWorks’ The Vault?

I loved this escape room; I don’t say that often.

The puzzle flow and gameplay were fantastic.

The set started a little drab, but that changed in the later half of the experience.

The level of creativity in The Vault was phenomenal. PuzzleWorks brilliantly and creatively spun the traditional bank heist escape room story… and simultaneously made it funny.

The Vault was a challenging escape room. I don’t recommend that newbies dive in here because if they are focused on basic escape room how-to, they will miss what makes this The Vault special. It’s doable for first-timers, but they will need help.

That being said, The Vault is a must-play for experienced room escapers. It’s smart. It’s strange. It’s fun. It’s funny. Go see for yourself.

Book your hour with PuzzleWorks’ The Vault, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: PuzzleWorks provided media discounted tickets for this game.