North Valley Escape Room – Escape From Alcatraz [Review]

What are you in for?

Location:  Anthem, AZ

Date Played: March 10, 2022

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: $29.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Escape From Alcatraz was a large game that felt like a couple of different escape rooms merged into one.

The first half had a more traditional prison escape room aesthetic, but a novel approach to gameplay that was elevated by the presence of a performer.

Interior of a prison, bars are visible on two floors, the wall is labeled, "Block B."

The second half of the game stylistically changed to a more traditional escape room feel, and the puzzle design loosened the deeper we progressed.

I haven’t been shy about my general dislike of prison escape games, but there was quite a bit to enjoy here. That said, the last half undermined the overall experience. It felt like the second half either needed to be refined… or some of it could be cut down. Either would be a viable solution.

North Valley Escape Room is a strong escape room company, and I’m glad we visited them. In its current state, Escape From Alcatraz had a lot to offer, but our team greatly preferred Big Top Circus. We expect with some editing, Escape From Alcatraz could be one of the rare standout prison escape games. If you’re in visiting Phoenix, I recommend seeing if you can fit North Valley Escape Room into your trip.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Prison break fans
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The prison set was cool and dramatically lit
  • Solid actor interaction
  • It was a whole lot of game

Story

Our crime had landed us life sentences in Alcatraz… which meant that we had 75 minutes to life to contemplate and enact our escape plan.

View of a the sign for Alcatraz viewed through rusting bars.
Continue reading “North Valley Escape Room – Escape From Alcatraz [Review]”

International Room Escape AZ – Amazon Rainforest [Review]

Cool, but bumpy.

Location:  Gilbert, AZ

Date Played: March 12, 2022

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Strong motion alert – please let your gamemaster know before your game begins if you do not tolerate sudden movement.

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

A strong representation of Ecuadorian culture and story is woven throughout this rainforest exploration adventure. The scenery, especially the first phase of the experience, is genuinely realistic and draws the player into the space. That strong narrative is really emphasized towards the end, and is paired with a broader sense of authenticity that underlines where the narrative is driving your team of researchers.

Deployed oxygen masks in the wreckage of an airplane.

That being said, the absolute core of this escape room is searching, sometimes for items, and sometimes for UV clues in a broad area. Accordingly, the energy level often varied wildly (and unfortunately dipped towards the conclusion instead of ramping up). On a related note, it sometimes felt as though there was not enough gameplay to go around, favoring the involvement of only one or two players at a time with limited provided tools.

In summary, you’ll most enjoy this escape room if you don’t need to be a part of every puzzle and instead can stand back and appreciate the commitment to the underlying story.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Individuals who enjoy searching
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Mixture of scenery
  • Dynamic start (note: motion-sensitive individuals should alert their gamemaster to opt out of this introduction)

Story

An abrupt plane crash forces your adventuring party of researchers to take an unscheduled layover. While tracking down the rescue rendezvous location, you further explore the Ecuadorian rainforest to reveal its secrets.

Wreckage of an airplane in the Amazon. A parrot sits on some of the debris. Above you can see drop ceiling tiles.
Continue reading “International Room Escape AZ – Amazon Rainforest [Review]”

Eludesions Escape Rooms – Mad Hatter’s Tea Party [Review]

Curiouser

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Date Played: March 11, 2022

Team size: 4-10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.95 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Playing The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was an absolutely delightful stroll through the Alice in Wonderland storyline. With few nonsensical exceptions, the game flowed well and invited enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike to engage their imaginations with a myriad of spot-on Alice in Wonderland references. Beginning at the beginning, we found ourselves in a fairytale space that smoothly onboarded us into a world of croquet grounds, Cheshire cats grinning, and Queens that rather preferred you did not have your head.

As we traveled through the scenes, The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party built experiences via a rich mix of puzzle types, encouraging our party of explorers to continually alter our approach. Not all who wander are lost; this escape room rewarded us for individually exploring and interacting with a space easily expansive enough to keep a group of 4-5 entertained.

A room with many colorful doors.

Our primary critique of the experience came towards the middle of our journey with a challenge that would have benefited from gating. Between the unnecessary puzzling and subsequent missing information when it was appropriate to solve, this obstacle temporarily sapped most of the enthusiasm from our group. Later finding out that difficulty solving wasn’t due to a search fail – that some of the information simply wasn’t present – only compounded our frustration.

If you are in the greater Phoenix region, this is the type of escape room that I would not hesitate to recommend that you bring your family to for a fun-filled journey through the looking glass.

Who is this for?

  • Young at heart
  • Scenery aficionados
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Lively group dynamics
  • Amusing storybook references

Story

Our jovial group of explorers suddenly found ourselves with the opportunity to explore Wonderland…what adventures to be had!

Closeup of multi-colored doors.
Continue reading “Eludesions Escape Rooms – Mad Hatter’s Tea Party [Review]”

Incredible! Escape Rooms – The Toy Maker [Review]

But where does he keep the cool toys?

Location:  Glendale, AZ

Date Played: March 13, 2022

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39.99 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock [A]

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We played The Toy Maker when it was brand new… and if I hadn’t known better, I would have assumed that it was designed in 2014.

The game had absolutely no cohesion. With the exception of a handful of small, cheap toys, it barely did anything with its own theme.

One of those old toy bird things with liquid in them that swing like a pendulum.

From a gameplay standpoint, the puzzles were largely common and frequently purchasable. The biggest challenges came from searching.

While there was a slightly interesting twist on a puzzle in the late-game, overall, this experience felt like it was years out of date before it was even conceived.

I used to think that the worst thing that a player could feel after playing an escape room was a sense that they hated the game and didn’t want to play escape rooms anymore. The truth is that there is something far worse… and it’s when a player without relevant skills or a background in game, prop, set, amusement, or hardware design walks out of your gaming believing that they too can create escape rooms. If you felt that after playing this game, go visit The Nemesis Club or Paragon Escape Games for a reality check on the direction that this industry is moving in.

Who is this for?

  • Players who want to add another game to their escape game count

Why play?

  • To see where this industry used to be

Story

Our long lost toymaker uncle had passed away leaving his estate to us, if we could solve his mystery.

Wide view of a generic study-like escape room with a few bookshelves, a large seat, and exposed wires.
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North Valley Escape Room – Big Top Circus [Review]

💪🤡🔮

Location: Anthem, AZ

Date Played: March 10, 2022

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $24.95 per player (or $89 total for teams of 1-3 players)

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Slight steps and narrow walkways

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Popcorn. The very first thing that hit me as we walked through the door was the inviting smell of this delightful treat pulling me into the space. This attention to detail was a telling indication of mysteries to follow, as we found ourselves being drawn further and further into an enchanting circus with each puzzle solved. Fortunately for us, no actual tightrope walking or fire breathing was required during our adventures.

The initial big top set the stage for what was to come, providing an authentic exploration experience and satisfyingly tangible props to interact with along the way. We particularly enjoyed one interaction in the first half that pulled our entire team into an energetic carnival atmosphere, rewarding an intriguing mix of skill and approachable math to advance.

Wide angle view of the inside of a red and white circus tent. A popcorn machine sits beside a stage with props for a magic act.

Of all of the dynamic and intriguing interactions that we encountered under the big top, the one that was by far the most frustrating was the very first. This experience would have benefited from gentle onboarding at the start to point our circus-heroes in the right direction and avoid an introductory dip in enthusiasm.

North Valley Escape Room’s Big Top Circus is definitely worth checking out if you are in the greater Phoenix region, optimally with a group of friends (who aren’t afraid of clowns) ready to punch their ticket to the greatest show on earth!

Who is this for?

  • Circus enthusiasts
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs

Why play?

  • Thematic puzzles working within circus subject matter
  • Novel interactions with the space

Story

The show must go on! We were on the hunt for Frederick the Great’s magic wand that had somehow been misplaced. We couldn’t have a circus without a magic show, after all.

A ticket booth in a carnival, the sign reads, "5 cents."
Continue reading “North Valley Escape Room – Big Top Circus [Review]”