Adventure Rooms New Jersey – The Hidden Cabin [Review]

Fish’in for¬†Faberg√©.

Location: Montclair, NJ

Date Played: June 4, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

Ticketing: Private

REA Reaction

A fishing and art collecting themed mashup, The Hidden Cabin¬†was an old-school search-and-puzzle escape room set against an unusual backdrop. Adventure Rooms made some big strides towards the current market expectations, but things didn’t come together quite smoothly enough (but a lot of it is fixable). While we wished the puzzles had been more deliberately integrated into the physical environment, we really did enjoy many of the puzzle solves.

If you‚Äôre in the neighborhood, you can catch some fun puzzles here. If you’re not excited about puzzle-focused gameplay, there are other fish in the sea.

In-game: A small desk in a fishing cabin.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Fishermen (This isn’t really a joke.)
  • Art collectors
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Strange theme
  • The more interactive puzzles

Story

We were looking for a stolen Faberg√© egg in our uncle’s fishing cabin.

A collection of pots hanging from a cabinet in the a rustic cabin.

Setting

This dimly-lit, wood-furnished cabin contained assorted fishing¬†paraphernalia. The set was busy, with a number of wall hangings, and shelves holding various odd and ends. It was fairly convincing in a fishing cabin-meets-Bennigan’s sort of way.

In-game: A cabinet ore, and taxidermied fish hanging on the wall of a fishing cabin.

Gameplay

Adventure Rooms New Jersey’s The Hidden Cabin was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

In-game: the LL Bean Fly Fishing Handbook.

Analysis

+ It had been almost 3 years since we’d last visited Adventure Rooms New Jersey. We were delighted to find more attention to set design in¬†The Hidden Cabin,¬†as compared to their original escape rooms.

– The lighting was unnecessarily dim. While we did find small handheld flashlights, we found the lighting more burdensome than atmospheric.

– The theming was strangely dichotomous. The story setup was all about art, but¬†The Hidden Cabin was all about fishing… until it was entirely about art. The puzzles were set against this disconnected backdrop rather than integrated into a cohesive story.

+ Aesthetically, The Hidden Cabin was a massive step up for Adventure Rooms.

– There were a lot of locks with identical digit structures. Each time we solved a puzzle, we’d need to try it in many different locks before anything opened. Varying input digit structure or adding iconography to the locks would improve game flow.

– There was a prop screaming for a puzzle… that puzzle never materialized.

– There was one entirely unclued puzzle.

– Most of the puzzles could haven taken place anywhere, including on sheets of paper. In fact, some of the more time-consuming solves were entirely focused on sheets of paper. The puzzle design didn’t capitalize on the physical environment. All but one of the puzzles in this game could have existed completely in a puzzle book.

– One of the process puzzles looped four times. This was tedious.

? Thematic outside knowledge could help you out… It wasn’t required, but it sure would have made a key puzzle flow more smoothly.

+ The Hidden Cabin was a puzzle-focused escape room. Despite the small space, there was a lot of content to work through.

? There’s a solid escape room here. These critiques are quite fixable. We hope Adventure Rooms continues to iterate and improve.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • We recommend Ani Ramen and Cuban Pete’s, but be prepared for long waits.
  • Much of this escape room takes place in low lighting with flashlights.

Book your hour with¬†Adventure Rooms New Jersey’s¬†The Hidden Cabin, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Adventure Rooms New Jersey provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Room NJ – Awaken [Review]

Awaken is one of the best escape rooms in Northern New Jersey. Here are our recommendations for other great escape rooms around Northern New Jersey.

Puzzception!

Location: Pompton Lakes, NJ

Date Played: April 30, 2018

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

Duration: 60 minutes

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

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

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

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

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

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

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

Story

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

Our mentor’s life was in our hands.

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

Setting

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

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

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

Gameplay

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

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

Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

– 18 people in this game? lol

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

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

+ The endgame had some nifty things going on.

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

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

Tips for Visiting

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

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

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

Empire Rooms – Ravenwood Grove [Review]

A Hitchhiker’s Guide To Geek References.

Location: Fairfield, NJ

Date Played: April 9, 2018

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per ticket

Ticketing: Public or Private

REA Reaction

Ravenwood Grove justified this heist escape room. It was fun, puzzle-focused game in a pretty standard setting. It was even more fun for those of us who caught all the nerdy references.

If you’re in the area, check this one out, and don’t get too distracted by the Easter eggs.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Pop culture nerds
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Geeky references
  • Strong puzzle game
  • Solidly written and justified narrative that didn’t get in the way

Story

Our team of thieves had been planning this heist for months. Our tech guy would disable the security system and we would sneak in and steal a rare piece of art from a collector. The plan was perfect. What could go wrong?

In-game: A study covered in art.

Setting

We were in a home gallery setting. Our mark was a collector of rare and nerdy artifacts. The set had an office/ gallery vibe that wasn’t inherently exciting. The fun of the set came from all of the hidden and not-so-hidden nerdery laced throughout the environment. There were many entertaining details to appreciate.

In-game: a small book case with symbols on the books.

Gameplay

Empire Rooms’ Ravenwood Grove was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching and puzzling.

Analysis

+ Empire Rooms did a great job of setting up the story, justifying our presence in the game, and establishing the role of the gamemaster. It’s details like this that cost an escape room company absolutely nothing, but go a long way towards building a strong fiction.

+ There was a ton of content in Ravenwood Grove, in terms of puzzles as well as nerdy references and Easter eggs.

+ The Easter eggs were great. We probably spent 5 minutes pointing them out and explaining them to one another.

– There were a few too many locks with similar digit structures.

– One of the niftiest props in the game did nothing at all. It was the kind of prop that just screams, ‚ÄúPLAY WITH ME!‚ÄĚ We wished it had been incorporated into a puzzle.

+/- There was a narrative twist that was simultaneously cool and kind of a let down.

+ Ravenwood Grove flowed well. It mixed old school play with strong, tech-driven moments.

Tips for Visiting

  • There is a parking lot nearby.

Book your hour with Empire Rooms’¬†Ravenwood Grove, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Empire Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape Garden State – Boardwalk Blast [Review]

Boardwalk Blast is one of the best escape rooms in Northern New Jersey. Here are our recommendations for other great escape rooms around Northern New Jersey.

Skee ball’s revenge.

Location: Fairfield, NJ

Date Played: March 5, 2018

Team size: 1-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket

REA Reaction

Escape Garden State combined the childlike joy of playing in an arcade with escape room gameplay. While¬†Boardwalk Blast¬†had some pacing issues and the story didn’t matter, it caused us to emote in a way that most rooms don’t. We screamed a lot, in a good way.

In-game: The exterior of a boardwalk arcade.

Who is this for?

  • Families
  • Shore goers
  • Nostalgia nuts
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • It’s joyful.
  • Light physicality
  • To scream like a kid

Story

A bomb threat had been called into an ocean-side boardwalk arcade and our team had been sent into investigate and neutralize the threat.

While the setup may have been a bit dire, this was a delightfully friendly escape room.

In-game: A Cruis' n USA arcade cabinet.

Setting

Boardwalk Blast set us on a bright, family-friendly adventure in a Jersey Shore boardwalk arcade. It was complete with arcade cabinets and vending machines to round out the vibe.

Gameplay

Boardwalk Blast balanced traditional escape room searching and puzzling with more physical interactions, some of which were as challenging as they were time consuming… but they all had us screaming like kids when we managed to succeed.

In-game: Large metal signs for an arcade mounted to a wall.

Standouts

Boardwalk Blast was well-themed, lighthearted, and nostalgic. It was also tangible. These qualities combined to make it a ton of fun to play through.

Family-friendly Boardwalk Blast offered lots of opportunities for kids to be involved in the puzzles and interactions. Many escape rooms are fine for kids, this one was perfect for them.

Escape Garden State merged a familiar arcade game with a popular escape room trope in such a way that it felt new and fun.

Our reactions to the boardwalk games were genuine. We screamed Рat triumphs and near misses Рjust as we did as kids playing arcade games. Our excitement was real. Even when we were frustrated with some of the challenges, there was an element of nostalgic arcade fun to them.

Shortcomings

Boardwalk Blast¬†included a few time sinks. We knew how to accomplish these solves, but it took us a while to¬†manage it.¬†Boardwalk Blast¬†bottlenecked around these puzzles because there wasn’t enough additional gameplay open to us. We would have liked for some teammates to be able to turn their attention elsewhere so that we could feel like we were still making forward progress in the escape room, even while we struggled to accomplish these tasks.

In such a themed environment, a few items didn’t seem to fit.

Boardwalk Blast¬†was an arcade-themed escape room with an evacuation mission tacked on. Escape Garden State could do more with the evacuation staging throughout the experience so that it didn’t feel like an afterthought.

Tips for Visiting

  • Bring kids to this one. It’s perfect for the late elementary school crowd.
  • To find Escape Garden State, go toward the back of the plaza. It’s in building 7, all the way at the end. Be sure to check the building numbers.
  • There is ample parking.
  • There are plenty of restaurants in the area.

Book your hour with Escape Garden State’s Boardwalk Blast, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you¬†by using the¬†coupon code ESCAPEROOMARTIST to receive 20% off.

Disclosure: Escape Garden State comped our tickets for this game.

Locks and Puzzles – Western Bank Heist [Review]

Tick, tick, boom.

Location: Lakewood, NJ

Date Played: January 27, 2018

Team size: up to 5; we recommend 2-3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

REA Reaction

Western Bank Heist¬†was a ton of fun. It was inclusive, but not overly simple. It was unrealistic, but it didn’t try to be more than a game. We road off into the sunset smiling… having played our 500th escape room.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Western fans
  • Any experience level
  • Families
  • Players who can cooperate

Why play?

  • The adorable props
  • Solid puzzles
  • Team experience

Story

Our band of bandits arrived in a small frontier town in search of food, water and supplies. We also found the town quiet and the bank full. It was heist time.

In-game: sign for an old western back beside the skull of a steer.

Setting

We entered a collage of an old western town. The walls were painted with murals, each one representing something different. Tangible props lined those walls.

There were more tangible interactions in Western Bank Heist than in Malus the Elf, but at the same time, the focus on the murals made the set more abstract.

In-game: ACME Dynamite

Gameplay

Western Bank Heist had a unique style of play where most of the puzzles came together at once, even when we were doing lots of different things.

Western Bank Heist most readily rewarded observation.

Standouts

Western Bank Heist¬†was adorably thematic. It didn’t try to be realistic. The set and props were playful and fun.

Western Bank Heist could engage less puzzle-minded players. It was easy to get involved.

One larger, layered puzzle required different types of observation. This too helped engage different types of players in a collective solve.

Locks and Puzzles incorporated technological puzzle elements well. These were interactive and gave feedback.

Shortcomings

It was frustrating to get started. Locks and Puzzles abundantly clued the opening interaction, but the layout of the set – more thematic than realistic – buried the opening thread of the gameplay.

The scale and details of a crucial prop were a bit off. We struggled with a puzzle simply because we didn’t realize what the prop was supposed to be.

Western Bank Heist teeters on the edge of outside knowledge. While it would be possible to solve this escape room without these specific skills, it would certainly be much more challenging.

Tips for Visiting

  • Locks and Puzzles has ample parking available out front.
  • There are plenty of food options nearby.

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

Disclosure: Locks and Puzzles provided media discounted tickets for this game.