Escape rooms have a lot in common with theater. One major similarity is the impermanence of it all. When these games close, that’s it. The magic is gone. There is often very little evidence that the game ever existed except for a review on this website, or sites like ours.
While we never had a chance to play these games, we are taking the opportunity to preserve a little piece of them.
When Paula Norder, the owner of Clock N Lock Escape Rooms in Kalamazoo, Michigan, sent us a message saying, “I’m going to be closing, would you like a video tour of my games?” we were honored.
She’d told us, “My games aren’t the best, but they are good for where I am. I feel like I could write your review of my place.” And honestly, we’ve long had respect for companies in small markets that serve them well, even if they aren’t producing the world’s most renowned games. It was our intention to return to Michigan, and take a trip to Kalamazoo to play a game or two at her place.
Sadly that won’t happen, but we did get a chance to see what Clock N Lock was all about, and I’m going to share a bit of that with you.
Clock N Lock Games
Clock N Lock games were traditional mom & pop escape rooms. Each one was a lovingly designed, classic-style game, with limited tech, and an emphasis on themed puzzles. They each had a unique mission and objective. They felt like many of the games that made Lisa and me fall in love with the escape room format back in our early years of Room Escape Artist.
These games weren’t changing the industry, but they were representing it with care.
Clock N Lock’s first game was a UFO Diner that – spoiler – had ties to Area 51.
The experience began outside of the room, and involved solving a short puzzle sequence in a phone booth to gain access.
Amelia’s Attic explored the story of Amelia Earhart, and not in a crass way.
While it really was a standard escape room, there was a unique vibe to what we saw. Sometimes it’s the little things.
Baby Unicorn Rescue
This was Clock N Lock’s newest and most ambitious game, and I think that shows from the photos.
I love the Baby Unicorn rescue concept. It’s super clever, and the execution was adorable.
For all the avatar adaptations of real-life escape games that we’ve played during the last year, many facilities have sat empty, like Clock N Lock. These games leaned into the tangible – both in puzzles and in customer service – and wouldn’t have adapted easily. For some many owners, a digital adaptation isn’t the right answer. We respect the difficult decision to close a business (in many cases, one that had been healthy before 2020) rather than commit to a digital adaptation and risk the debt. We know many folks are facing this struggle as we cross the one-year mark.
We truly appreciate that we were given a chance to see these games, and share a little piece of them with you.
If you are closing down your escape room company, and you have something that you’d like to share, please let us know. When someone has put their heart into their games, we want to document what was while we can.
Style of Play: real-life escape room livestreamed and played through an avatar
Required Equipment: computer with internet connection, maybe a pen and paper for notes
Recommended Team Size: 4-5
Play Time: 60 minutes
Price: $30 per person
Booking: book online for a specific time slot
The Experiment is a straightforward avatar game livestreamed over Zoom. The inventory system for this game consists of password-protected files that are emailed to you beforehand. The host gives you the passwords to unlock them as you progress through the game.
This is described as a “meta-escape room” so it’s like an escape room about an escape room. It becomes more and more clear as you progress through the game.
We were booked to travel to Los Angeles back in mid-March… before the apocalypse shut everything down.
Level Games’ The Menagerie was on our list of top games to play on that trip.
We have generally avoided playing escape rooms in avatar mode if we thought that we would play them in real life eventually. When we learned that Level Games was closing, however, we booked The Menagerie immediately.
Should I play Level Games’ The Menagerie?
Let’s get this out of the way: yes. Yes, you should play The Menagerie while you can. It is only open for a few more weeks before the company closes completely.
Why should I play Level Games’ The Menagerie?
As an avatar game streamed through Zoom:
The streaming and avatar character were narratively a part of the game.
It managed inventory better than most.
The puzzles played particularly well through the camera.
The unusual structure of The Menagerie lent itself to interesting online play.
Beyond all of the mechanical elegance of The Menagerie, the biggest factor for me was how much fun I had while simultaneously wishing that I had had the opportunity to experience this game in real life.
In the end, I am honestly glad that I got to play it at all, in any form. This is a game and a company that will be missed.
The Dame Disappears was a lovely, beginner-friendly escape game in The Storyteller’s Cottage, a Victorian mansion turned escape room/ writers’ workshop/ event space.
Located in a charming small town, we absolutely adored The Storyteller’s Cottage, its programs, and its goals. We wish there was something like this near us.
As an escape room, The Dame Disappears was a strong game for newer players. It was elegant, engaging, and told a story.
Who is this for?
Any experience level
Solid, beginner-friendly puzzling
The Storyteller’s Cottage is a wonderful place to visit
The Victorian charm of the set and setting
Agatha Christie had gone missing and Scotland Yard had sent us to her home to inspect her belongings. Could we solve the case of the missing mystery novelist?
We entered a gorgeous historical home that has been repurposed as an escape room/ writers’ workshop/ whatever other crazy and fun ideas the owners and patrons dream up. It was a wonderful place.
The individual escape rooms were set in rooms within this house. In the case of The Dame Disappears, the room was Agatha Christie’s bedroom. The space was simple, yet lovingly built with clear and consistent art direction.
The use of technology was limited, yet imaginative.
Great Scott Mystery Rooms’ The Dame Disappears was a standard escape room with an easy level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ Great Scott Mystery Rooms was built into the beautiful Victorian mansion that is The Storyteller’s Cottage. The Dame Disappears took place on the second floor, in a bedroom that hearkened back to the era of the house with its bold wallpaper and antique furniture. The adorable set felt at home in The Storyteller’s Cottage.
➕ The puzzles were well clued. Although the gameplay was search-heavy, we never found ourselves ransacking a bedroom blindly. While at times there was a higher volume of text, we never found ourselves pulling random words or numbers from documents.
➖ Much of the clue structure was on laminated sheets of paper. We’d love to see Great Scott Mystery Rooms pull more of the clue structure into the set and props and find less anachronistic methods of delivering written materials.
➖ The puzzle gating included a number of locked boxes. Locked trunks belonged in The Dame Disappears. Other locked items felt out of place. There was an opportunity to vary the puzzle gating and build it into more set pieces and props, rather than place it atop these items.
➕ We enjoyed stepping upon a nifty reveal.
➕ The hint system was part of the game world. It was helpful and responsive.
➖ The final puzzles lacked excitement. Although they involved fun mechanisms, they were single player solves, and located in a corner such that they wouldn’t really be available for onlooker participation. For a group of more than 2 people, we expect that much of the team would disengage right as they reached the finale.
➕ The narrative had a fun twist for the final act. This added intrigue.
➕ The escape rooms at Great Scott Mystery Rooms are inspired by literature. They incorporated Easter eggs for the Agatha Christie fans.
Tips For Visiting
Great Scott Mystery Rooms is located within The Storyteller’s Cottage, an adorable vintage Victorian home that hosts literary events, literary societies, writers’ workshops and retreats, storytelling events, author salons, literary-themed mystery rooms, and much more.
You can park on the street directly in front of the house, or anywhere on Hopmeadow Street (on-street parking is free). Additional free parking is available behind the Fiddler’s Green building (where Joe Pizza is located).
The Dame Disappears is on the second floor of the house, up a flight of stairs. There is another escape room on the first floor of the house, which is wheelchair accessible.
Book your hour with Great Scott Mystery Rooms’ The Dame Disappears, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Great Scott Mystery Rooms comped our tickets for this game.
The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set within a commercial kitchen with a horror twist… and it felt right because the creators of this game own a couple of actual restaurants nearby. The environment delivered with an authenticity that greatly exceeded the norm.
Esscape Room’s gameplay was brutally hard. It felt like 2014-level difficulty, which was jarring after half a decade of the industry at large shifting to more approachable gameplay. But it was fair. Our team of 5 very experienced players finished the game with 5 minutes to spare and used 0 hints. It was winnable, but we were only the second team to do so. This was a shame because the best part of the game was, without a doubt, the cleverness of the ending… which most players never see.
Our biggest knock against The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a rule about “not making a mess of the kitchen” which ultimately ran contrary to the search-heavy nature of the game. Beyond this, there were a lot of smaller issues, which is common for a company’s first game.
The Real Kitchen Nightmare was an impressive first outing from a brand new company. The game was memorable. The New York City escape room scene has really aged and it’s exciting to welcome a newcomer. This is one of the stronger games that the market has. If you like horror, we recommend it. Bring a mighty team, or it will smoke you.
Who is this for?
Players with at least some experience
Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle
A realistic set
Tons of puzzle content
A fantastic ending – if you can get to it
After mysteriously closing, 3 Michelin star celebrity chef Francois ‘Le Boucher’ (the butcher) Hellerstein had finally reopened his flagship restaurant. Hellerstein was world famous for his incredible food and intense rage. We were investigating him because the entire staff of his last restaurant had disappeared without a trace.
The Real Kitchen Nightmare was set in an old, run down restaurant kitchen. It felt real. Essentially all of the props were originally from a restaurant kitchen, and the owners/ creators of this game also own a pair or nearby bars/ restaurants… so they have a pretty good idea of what a restaurant kitchen is supposed to look like.
Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a standard escape room with a very high level of difficulty.
Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.
➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare felt real and raw. The set was a restaurant kitchen.
➕ Esscape Room used sounds and practical effects to amp the intensity.
➕/➖ The gameplay was solid, yet dated. The Real Kitchen Nightmare was a search-heavy, lock-heavy game, where much of the gameplay was in uncovering what props connected to which puzzle and which lock. Many of the puzzles were only there to give players a hint for another puzzle. The puzzles were thematic, but grounded primarily in escape room logic. Despite feeling dated, the gameplay worked. Connections became clear and each solve marched us forward.
➖ At times instructions and cluing felt at odds with the gameplay. For example, because of in-game cluing, we thought we’d encountered an order preservation puzzle. Everyone knew how to solve it, but nobody touched it for far too long because of misleading cluing. We’d also been instructed “not to make a mess of the kitchen,” but in a search-heavy room, those explicit instructions misguided us to gameplay errors that we wouldn’t have made otherwise.
➖ This kitchen didn’t have a timer. In easier escape rooms, we’d rather not have gameclock present because clocks don’t usually make sense, and we’d rather play for the experience than for our time. In The Real Kitchen Nightmare, however, the absence of gameclock was problematic. It was a difficult game where hints and time were a resource to manage. We knew we could easily lose, and without a clock, we had no way to gauge whether we should ask for a hint. Having seen this game through to the end and won, we think teams would have a better experience if they were armed with a kitchen timer.
❓ The Real Kitchen Nightmare was really hard. We won with 5 minutes to spare, having taken zero hints. We like challenging puzzle games, but they present a structural challenge. Since the linchpin of this escape room is near the end, if players don’t get to that moment, they miss out on a lot. At the time we played, less than a handful of teams had reached this moment, regardless of win or lose. Since Esscape Room doesn’t show players the rest of the game when they fail, losing teams can walk a way with a substantially lesser experience.
➕/➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a stellar introductory scene. It set up the experience. From a tonal standpoint, it delivered. From an experiential standpoint, it enabled the game to come full circle. That said, it primed players for a different type of escape room gameplay than they would experience in the next hour.
➖ The Real Kitchen Nightmare needed onboarding. It had an intense introduction, in character with a horror game. That said, players will be able to enjoy the game more if they are presented with a fair onboarding that explains things such as where to find the the bathrooms, hint system instructions, and in case of emergency safety instructions.
➕ Esscape Rooms had a really interesting design aesthetic that is shared with their real restaurant. It was cool.
➖ There were legitimately dangerous, movable props in this escape room. I don’t want to put too fine a point on it, but Esscape Room should strongly consider further dulling down these items. This was a horror experience and people will be jumpy.
➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare had a cool transition.
➖ While Esscape Rooms set up a story, they didn’t deliver it through play. There was opportunity to make the story resonate as we solved the puzzles within the main sets of this experience.
➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare built up in intensity. Horror escape rooms typically struggle with players becoming comfortable as they get to know the space. Esscape Room didn’t fall into this trap. They were able to keep us on edge.
➕ The Real Kitchen Nightmare delivered quite the mind%&*#. Cheers to Esscape Room for pulling this off.
Tips For Visiting
Esscape Rooms is located in Long Island City, just off the Queensboro Plaza Stop – N,W & 7 train – and a few blocks from Queens Plaza & 21st Street Stops – E & F train.
The folks behind Esscape Room also own the The Huntress, a restaurant and bar on the same block. We recommend stopping by after your game.
Book your hour with Esscape Room’s The Real Kitchen Nightmare, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
Disclosure: Esscape Room comped our tickets for this game.