Crypto Escape Rooms – Below Zero [Review]

Cool!

Location:  Newmarket, Ontario

Date Played: May 26, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Below Zero was a standout game with high quality gameplay, narrative, and puzzling. Crypto Escape Rooms has really jumped out into the forefront of where escape rooms ought to be heading.

Newmarket may be a hike from Downtown Toronto, but it’s well worth the trip. When people ask me why I haven’t gotten bored of room escapes, it’s because of gems like Below Zero. Lisa didn’t play this one with me because I was traveling without her, but I am already trying to figure out how to get back there just so that she can play it too.

Below Zero brought me a lot of joy. If you can play it, you ought to.

In-game: A matrix of glowing dots on a door.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Wonderful character
  • Fantastic set
  • Great puzzles
  • Lots of humor
  • All around strong game

Story

We were among the last surviving humans, cryogenically frozen to protect us from a calamity. The good news was that the deep freeze had worked. The bad news was that we had been thawed hundreds of years early.

We had to figure out how to restore ourselves to cryo-freeze.

In-game: Wide angle shot of a control room.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Setting

Below Zero was set in a sci-fi cryogenics lab overseen by a charming artificial intelligence. The set was gorgeous, with puzzles and effects deeply integrated into the environment.

In-game: Wide angle shot of a room with access terminals along the walls.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Gameplay

Crypto Escape Rooms’ Below Zero was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around puzzling, making connections, and interacting with a character.

In-game: A futuristic blue, glowing screen and interface.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

Analysis

➕ Bert, the AI, was a wonderful and unique character. His influences were clear, but he proved himself to be far more than just another GLaDOS clone.

➕ Below Zero was a strikingly well-written escape game. I have nothing but praise for the narrative structure, character development, and humor of this game.

In-game: A series of chambers, a radiation symbol on the wall.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕ Crypto Escape Rooms made excellent use of choice in Below Zero. With clear options, we made a knowing decision and faced the consequences of our selection.

➕ The set was fantastic.

In-game: A storage device with a red object within it.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➖ There were a number of moments that were too loud. On the one hand, this added to the ambiance. On the other hand, it happened a bit too often and the impact diminished.

➕/➖ There was a clever take on the laser maze. I loved what Crypto Escape Rooms did with this mechanic. Unfortunately, it was a little too easy to bypass one of the coolest parts of this interaction.

In-game: Close up shot of a control computer.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕/❓  Over the course of Below Zero, there were a few occasions where we encountered increasingly challenging renditions of same puzzle concept. I loved the way that this played. I can, however, imagine teams that don’t quite gel with this puzzle type diving deeper into demoralization with each subsequent iteration.

➖ A few props that get handled a lot were showing some wear and could benefit from another coat of paint.

In-game: An input terminal with different disks input into slots.
Image via Crypto Escape Rooms

➕ I’m a sucker for a strong interface where you know that you’ve done something when you interact with it. Give me some good buttons and my enjoyment of a game will jump immediately. Below Zero had great button-y buttons.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: Crypto Escape Rooms has a parking lot.

Book your hour with Crypto Escape Rooms’ Below Zero, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Crypto Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

OMEscape Canada – Joker’s Asylum [Review]

“Life’s a bowl of cherries and this is the pits.” – The Joker, Batman: The Killing Joke

Location: Markham, Ontario

Date played: April 28, 2016

Team size: 5-10; we recommend 5-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 CAD per ticket

Image of a psychotic clown. It isn't Batman's Joker, but he looks very similar. Under his face read, "Joker's Asylum."
Why so serious?

Story & setting

Joker’s Asylum desperately wants to be a Batman story:

“The Joker was once the pride of his circus, but after troubles started, he left and locked himself away in a mysterious asylum created by him and his doctor. It became his paradise, slowly magnifying his insanity. One day, The Joker decided to leave the asylum to plan his revenge. Before his doctor could leave a diary with the Joker’s secrets, he vanished. Now you are tasked with unraveling the mystery before The Joker finds you.”

Our team began split between two rooms: the “control room” and the “game room.”

The control room was basically a closet that contained a lot of information. The game room was a large space with locks and puzzles. The group in the control room had to verbally guide those of us in the game room to complete the tasks. Eventually we all reunited.

It remained a mystery how we all ended up split between these spaces while investigating The Joker.

The setting had a dark, creepy, vaguely carnival feel to it.

Puzzles

Communication and observation were the twin keys to this escape room.

All escape rooms require communication; Joker’s Asylum required more than most.

All escape rooms require observation; Joker’s Asylum severely punished small oversights.

Nothing in the game was particularly challenging if you found all of the pieces and communicated them… but finding all of the pieces and communicating them was a big challenge.

Standouts

Structurally, Joker’s Asylum was a truly different experience. It was a unique challenge to have two players effectively locked away with little to do other than attempt to puppet-master the game, while the rest of the team played at being semi-autonomous puppets.

We appreciated that this experimentation offered a variation on escape rooms.

Shortcomings

Those players locked away in the control room had few puzzles to solve and mostly had to communicate what they could see in their space. Lisa was in the control room; for the first time since we’ve started writing reviews, she felt like she could not accurately describe the experience because her view into the game was so limited. If you’re volunteering for the control room, you’re volunteering for an incredibly limited experience.

The game room was frustrating because there were so many unknowns. If we hit a wall, it was painfully difficult for us to determine whether we were missing a detail or whether our teammates in the control room had failed to communicate something to us.

Additionally, the final puzzle offered far too little feedback. Without hints, there was no way to know if we were even on the right track.

Should I play OMEscape’s Joker’s Asylum?

The Joker forgot to bring the fun.

The setup was interesting and the setting had ambiance, but it didn’t come together in a satisfying way.

Joker’s Asylum required too much cooperation, which is an unusual statement about an escape room. The team locked away in the control room had too little to do and too much to communicate. The team in the game room had too much to do and too few things to solve.

I appreciate OMEscape’s experiment in Joker’s Asylum, but not every experiment works.

If you’re an experienced player looking to explore an unusual escape room that offers a different set of challenges than most, give this a go. Everyone else should consider exploring some of the other options that OMEscape has to offer.

Book your hour with OMEscape’s Joker’s Asylum, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Games Canada – The Unknown [Review]

Shit got dark.

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Date played: May 1, 2016

Team size: they recommend 5-8 and require at least 4; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

“You may know nothing about this mission. You either do it or have it remain a mystery. WARNING: EXTREME CONTENT, 18+ ONLY Not recommended for those with heart conditions.”

Escape Games Canada makes a big deal about keeping this game a secret. Even after watching the introduction video, we didn’t really know what was about to happen.

The Unknown game logo

We won’t give you the scenario, but there was a story and an beautifully intricately designed, immersive set to convey the story. From the start, the story and set were cleverly intertwined.

There are only two ways to read a mysterious “18+ only” interactive experience… and this was not a sexually themed game. So, at this risk of pissing off the good people at Escape Games Canada, I have to explain that this is a horror game (more on that later).

Puzzles

The puzzles were not the star of this room escape. We had to solve them, but the game was about the immersive experience.

Unlike most escape rooms, it wasn’t the kind of game where you could be truly good at it. There were mechanisms in the experience to slow down or speed up the team’s ability to solve the puzzles, to force us to make the most out of the experience.

Standouts

The Unknown was dramatic, immersive, and captivating.

Escape Games Canada used technology brilliantly and paid attention to almost every detail.

This experience expanded the range of the industry. It was still an escape room, but it was miles from what we’ve come to expect from a puzzle-driven live action game.

Shortcomings

While I respect the lure of the unknown, Escape Games Canada doesn’t explain enough about this game up front to ensure that the right players choose to play it.

The Unknown was polarizing. Many will love it. I did not.

This game was not only an immersive experience and an escape room, it was also like being in a psych experiment. This should be made clear before the game. Escape Games Canada has no way of knowing what messed up experiences their customers have had and should allow them to make a more informed decision about playing this game.

Should I play Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown?

Bluntly, I hated The Unknown, but I appreciated it for what it was (after I left). David would have liked it if I hadn’t been in there, but he knew that I was miserable (even if I tried to hide that fact).

If you like the idea of an immersive horror experience with some puzzles, all designed to completely screw with your psyche, this is your game. It will be incredible.

If you don’t want to experience a horror game, stay away. Really.

Book your hour with Escape Games Canada’s The Unknown, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

OMEscape Canada – Mysterious Study [Review]

Even after winning, the study remained a mystery.

Location: Markham, Ontario

Date played: April 30, 2016

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

We were escaping the office of some sort of researcher. In order to get out, we had to circumvent his security features. If there were any additional nuances to this story, we weren’t able to follow them.

As an office, this set had a pretty typical room feel.

Mysterious study logo - an intricately patterned pentagram.

Puzzles

The various puzzles in Mysterious Study relied on different types of logic and relied heavily scavenging. While some puzzles were harder than others, over all, this game was pretty balanced.

There was one task that required more substantial physical involvement from at least a few members of the team.

Standouts

The best moments of Mysterious Study were driven by technological interactions. One was particularly well executed and surprising.

Shortcomings

This room escape didn’t tell us a story. There were characters and they featured in some of the puzzles, but in the end, it was more a collection of puzzles than an immersive escape room experience.

A lot of the puzzles felt dramatically out of place in the difficult-to-follow narrative.

We encountered a bug in the final puzzle, requiring our gamemaster to enter the room to fix it.

Should I play OMEscape Canada’s Mysterious Study?

Mysterious Study was a standard escape room: It had a solid variety of puzzles, light story, and a few cool moments. It was not outstanding, but it was a fun game.

Ultimately Mysterious Study felt unfinished. There were fun interactions, and the setup was solid, but it didn’t build into anything more than a puzzle room.

It would be an enjoyable room escape for newer players, but it likely won’t offer the excitement that more experienced players seek.

Book your hour with OMEscape Canada’s Mysterious Study, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape From The 6 – Escape the Wild West [Review]

Yeehaw! Let’s blow this joint.

Location: Oakville, Ontario

Date played: April 27, 2016

Team size: 2-6; but they recommend 3-4 and we agree

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 CAD per ticket

Story & setting

We were outlaws jailed by the sheriff awaiting our transfer to prison. We needed to break out of our cell, find the evidence of our crimes, and escape with it.

This was an immersive set, solidly constructed as the sheriff’s office holding cell.

Early on, the game made us characters in our own escape, complete with side quest.

The custom construction was brilliantly engineered.

Post game victory photo wearing props from the two games we played.
It’s a called a satchel… not a purse.

Puzzles

Escape the Wild West included a variety of logic puzzles as well as dexterity puzzles that took full advantage of the set.

These physically interactive dexterity puzzles required more patience than room escape puzzles usually demand.

Standouts

The set for Escape the Wild West was a delightfully fun playground. It was beautifully designed. Many of the puzzles interacted with it in a thematically appropriate way that gave us a sense of pride in engineering our own escape.

Each player had a side quest to find their own evidence. This personalized the game and added a simple, yet fun dynamic that elevated the experience.

Escape the Wild West built to an explosive conclusion.

Shortcomings

One of the more traditional escape room puzzles set itself up for overthinking because it had so many possible inputs. That puzzle notwithstanding, the logic puzzles weren’t particularly challenging for experienced players.

The more challenging dexterity puzzles didn’t give feedback and we couldn’t be sure we were on the right track until everything worked (or we called for a hint to confirm we were on the right track). This type of interaction could cause bottlenecking, especially for larger teams.

Should I play Escape From The 6’s Escape the Wild West?

Escape the Wild West relied heavily on physical locks – key and combination – along with set piece interaction. It was low tech in a thematically appropriate way. It worked.

More so than in most escape games, Escape from the Wild West offered players the opportunity to construct their own escape from their environment. This can be both frustrating and rewarding.

The puzzles within Escape the Wild West were hit or miss; this game was more about the experience than it was about the puzzles. As long as you aren’t looking for magical technology or extreme mental challenge, this is an incredibly fun game to play. It’s a great place for new players to start, and a fun playground for experienced players.

Book your hour with Escape From The 6’s Escape the Wild West, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.