Escaparium – The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen [Review]

I’m on a ship!

Location:  Laval, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 2, 2020

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 75 minutes

Price: 37.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was an ambitious game.

Escaparium built a massive nautical escape with a beautiful, sprawling set, and strong interaction design.

In-game: A view through a long, old, wood ship. A treasure chest sits on the floor.

From a puzzle and gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love in The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, especially in the second and third acts. The opening had great ideas, but some rocky execution muddied the waters.

If you are plugged into the broader escape room world, then you’re likely wondering how it compares to 13th Gate’s famed Cutthroat Cavern. Comparing things to a beloved game like Cutthroat Cavern is pretty dangerous when it comes to expectation setting. It’s been so long since I personally played at Cutthroat Cavern that I don’t know that I can truly make a fair comparison. The passage of time does funny things to memory, accentuating the things that you love and hate about a game, while the middle kind of evaporates. But what I’ll say is this:

If you love big budget, blockbuster escape rooms, then The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen should be on your list. I can’t tell you whether you should like it more or less than any other game. I can say that Escaparium crammed a lot of love, technology, and detailing into this ambitious game… and it’s absolutely worth going out of your way to play it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It’s massive, gorgeous, and so impressive
  • Surprising and delightful moments

Story

The Admiral had ordered us to find the Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen. Once we found it, we needed to do whatever it took to learn the secrets that the Voodoo Queen had to offer.

In-game: A desk with a lantern, compass, and skull resting on it.

Setting

The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was gorgeous. We boarded a ship to begin our adventure. When I say, “we boarded a ship,” I don’t mean that “it looked like the interior of a ship,” I mean it was basically a ship. I saw the exterior. It was kind of crazy… and that was just the first act.

Escaparium built an ambitious, sprawling world for The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, and it was loaded with wonderful set-driven moments.

In-game: Shelves inside of a ship containing lanterns and pots.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A caged area inside of an old ship.

Analysis

➕ The set of The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was breathtaking. It was gigantic and detailed. It induced a child-like urge to explore and discover. From the opening moments through multiple set changes, it delivered on adventure.

➖ With an enormous and inviting gamespace, but linear gameplay, Escaparium needed stronger cluing in the opening moments to route our attention toward the gameplay. We struggled to pick up momentum early on because almost every other aspect of our new environment was more captivating than the opening puzzle sequence.

➕ The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen included a variety of tactile puzzles. In the second and third act, these were especially well integrated into the set and props, which made them that much more engaging and satisfying to solve.

➖ A few of the puzzles needed stronger feedback. In one instance, we believed that we had completed two puzzles simultaneously and when the game reacted, we couldn’t tell which puzzle was correctly completed and which one needed another look.

➖ There was opportunity to more thoroughly connect the solves with the story. While the puzzles felt thematically connected, they didn’t feel integrated into the narrative.

➕/➖ We adored one layered sequence that required coordinated teamwork in the face of adverse conditions. It was challenging, but exciting. It was also needlessly frustrating because of a lack of feedback and some ambiguous cluing. With a few adjustments, this would be a smoother ride, and likely become the most memorable solve of the game.

In-game: A book with an embossed face.

➖ In this detailed world, any breakage easily becomes a red herring. It wasn’t always clear when an object moved freely whether we were meant to interact with it, or whether it had become detached.

➕ Escaparium used practical effects to enhance the staging and the story.

➕ Each scene change was dramatic, right up through the finale, which felt like a worthy culmination of our efforts. From start to finish, The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen was quite the ride.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • Note that Escaparium has multiple venues around Montreal. The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen is in Laval at the Boul. Rossignols location.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • There is some motion in this game. At any point a player may request for this motion to stop.

Book your hour with Escaparium’s The Lost Island of the Voodoo Queen, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Sauve Qui Peut – Vortex Past [Review]

Big, ancient puzzle box.

Location:  Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: February 3, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: 30 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Vortex Past was a unique escape room that felt like solving a giant puzzle box. There were no words because we had traveled to a pre-writing time. Each puzzle required us to play with it, interpret the feedback that we received, and determine what to do from there. This was progressive discovery in its purest form.

I love solving puzzling boxes. I mean, I proposed to Lisa with a one-of-a-kind puzzle box that I helped design… so I’m stating my stylistic bias up front.

In-game: an effervescent blue and yellow rock structure with water running through it.

Additionally, the beautiful set of Vortex Past rivaled its gameplay in uniqueness. At times, I completely stopped playing just so that I could take in the beauty of my surroundings.

I can also easily imagine some disliking Vortex Past. The small set didn’t have tons of puzzles. If everything clicks, you could find yourself winning quite quickly. If the puzzling style isn’t one that works for you and your team, then you might be in for a bumpy ride.

The magic of Sauve Qui Peut is that none of their games feel even slightly similar in style, design, or gameplay. From a gameplay standpoint, Sauve Qui Peut easily ranks among the most innovative escape room companies that we’ve ever encountered. Part of what comes with that incredible diversity is that not everyone will feel the same way about the individual, wonderful games at this company. My recommendation is to play a few games at Sauve Qui Peut and try to embrace each for what it’s striving to achieve.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • We’ve never played a game like it
  • Compact, yet stunning set
  • Vortex Past was one massive progressive discovery puzzle. It felt like a giant puzzle box.

Story

An unknown element unlike anything found elsewhere on Earth had been identified inside of an equatorial cave. The planet had endured a series of natural disasters that seemed to stem from this mysterious element.

We were sent back in time to attempt to neutralize the element when it first arrived to prevent future calamities.

In-game: a stone sundial beside a firepit in a cave.

Setting

Vortex Past was a gorgeous cavern filled with stalactites, iridescent stone, and running water. This was the definition of a small, yet mighty set.

Additionally, the puzzles were completely baked into the environment, so we weren’t just looking at the set, we were engaging with it throughout the experience.

In-game: stalactites hanging from a red walled of a cave.

Gameplay

Sauve Qui Peut’s Vortex Past was an unusual escape room because the gameplay was more reminiscent of a puzzle box than a classic escape room. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing and making connections.

In-game: closeup of an effervescent blue and yellow rock structure with water running through it.

Analysis

➕ The gorgeous set had the water glistening against the rocks. We felt transported back to an ancient cave.

➕ The gameplay was progressive discovery. As we explored our surroundings, triggering responses from the set, we felt as though we were solving our way out of a life-sized puzzle box. Vortex Past required us to reframe our thinking, the result of which was immensely satisfying discoveries.

Vortex Past gave feedback when we interacted with its puzzles. Interpreting the feedback was a natural part of solving the puzzle.

➖ Although Vortex Past gave immediate feedback to our actions, it didn’t provide enough by way of light and sound cues for its own responses, which were at times delayed, and not always exactly where our attention had been focused.

➕ In the ancient land of Vortex Past, we encountered symbols, but no written words. The puzzle style felt natural within the gamespace and the story world. The puzzles were also well themed.

➖ The handwritten symbols were sometimes faded, and in one instance, a bit messy.

➕ We especially enjoyed divining a solution.

➖ One sequencing issue stalled our momentum as we completed the final interaction in the game.

➕ The finale was wholly unexpected and unexpectedly joyous.

➕ I want to call out the chlorinated water feature in Vortex Past. Almost no escape rooms chlorinate, but they absolutely should. Water features can become breeding grounds for bacteria and I am pleased to see that Sauve Qui Peut recognized this and handled it appropriately.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • Players must be able to duck through a very low doorway for the full experience.

Book your hour with Sauve Qui Peut’s Vortex Past, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Sauve Qui Peut comped our tickets for this game.

Great Scott Mystery Rooms at The Storyteller’s Cottage – The Dame Disappears [Review]

Where in the world is Agatha Christie?

Location:  Simsbury, Connecticut

Date Played: January 20, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

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.

In-game: closeup of a nightstand with a book, a lamp, a tea pot and a tea cup.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Solid, beginner-friendly puzzling
  • The Storyteller’s Cottage is a wonderful place to visit
  • The Victorian charm of the set and setting

Story

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?

In-game: Wide view of a bed room with large dressers and a makeup vanity.

Setting

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.

In-game: an open trunk with a dress hanging inside beside a fireplace.

Gameplay

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.

In-game: Wide view of an old bedroom centered on the bed.

Analysis

➕ 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.

Breaking Point Escape Rooms – The Secret at Whitmore Estate [Review]

Now Whitmore Puzzles

Location:  Rancho Cucamonga, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: Public booking $32-35 per player; private booking $35-$65 each depending on team size

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was a well-rounded, well-designed escape room that immersed us in the story of the Whitmore family. Along with the beautiful set and decor, the memorable interactions and reveals scratched our exploratory itch.

The Whitmore family story weaved through the escape room via puzzles and narration and led us to a satisfying resolution. Despite a couple of slow moments, The Secret at Whitmore Estate flowed well and offered enough gameplay to keep several players busy.

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was spooky, but never truly scary. Though the story involved dark themes, the tone was more Haunted Mansion than horror movie.

If you’re in the area and you’ve ever dreamed of investigating a mansion for hidden secrets, check out The Secret at Whitmore Estate. If you’ve exhausted the Los Angeles escape room market and are looking for more worthy games, Breaking Point Escape Rooms is worth a visit.

A portrait of a stern-looking bespectacled man in a suit, lit by sconces.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • A beautiful set
  • Story-driven gameplay
  • Dramatic reveals

Story

The Whitmore Estate’s one remaining resident had gone missing and neighbors had reported strange occurrences in the mansion. We were tasked with investigating what fate had befallen the last member of the Whitmore family.

Setting

The Secret at Whitmore Estate deposited us in a lush parlor with ornate props and decor that evoked an opulent mansion. Audio voiceover unveiled new elements of the story. Lighting and sound effects contributed to the spooky atmosphere.

Close-up of a lit candelabra with books and a globe visible in the background.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

Gameplay

The Secret at Whitmore Estate was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, communication, puzzling, and making connections.

Analysis

➕ Breaking Point’s story intro videos were among the best we’ve seen. They were well produced and entertaining. The introduction for The Secret at Whitmore Estate gave us retro mystery vibes. It kept our attention and psyched us up to get in the manor and uncover its secrets.

➕ The beautiful set and decor drew us into the story world and heightened our sense of mystery and excitement.

Close-up of a trunk on the floor, padlocked shut.
Image via Breaking Point Escape Rooms

➕ The nonlinear gameplay flowed naturally and kept our large group mostly busy. At times several puzzle elements were available at once, but we didn’t get sidetracked with combining items fruitlessly. It generally felt clear what we needed to do.

➕ We enjoyed interacting with the more complex puzzle mechanisms. All the tech components were concealed so the effects of our actions felt natural. Whether tech-driven or not, the puzzles were tactile and enjoyable.

➖ One key puzzle involved trial and error, and seemed designed to slow us down. We wished we’d had a way of determining the solution without resorting to guessing.

➕ Solving the central mystery proved a fun and intriguing goal. The narrative arc threaded through the experience, and its conclusion felt satisfying. However…

➖ The last puzzle was somewhat ambiguous and slowed our momentum, especially because it only required a couple people to solve. This bottleneck made the finale feel a bit lackluster compared to the rest of the game.

➕ Multiple moments in The Secret at Whitmore Estate delighted us with exciting reveals. Breaking Point allowed us to live out our childhood dreams of exploring a fancy mansion filled with hidden secrets.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Breaking Point Escape Rooms’ The Secret at Whitmore Estate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Wigwam Escape [Review]

A different kind of puzzle hunt.

Location:  Washington, Connecticut

Date Played: January 20, 2020

Team size: 3-7; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player ($20 per student); ticket price includes half off museum admission ticket

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Wigwam Escape was a hidden gem.

In-game: A beautiful authentic wigwam in the middle of the escape room.

Located within a Native American history museum in the wilds of Connecticut, this was probably the most remote game that we’ve ever played. (Put your directions into your GPS in advance; there’s no cell service near the venue.)

There are a lot of things to love at Wigwam Escape. Most notably, the game’s creators put an emphasis on learning through play. Everything in this game had a purpose and intent behind it… and that intent was not always “to have fun” (although we had plenty of it). There were some tedious moments in this game, but they served a larger purpose.

Additionally, there were many novel interactions in Wigwam Escape. We get excited when a game has one thing that we’ve never seen done before. Wigwam Escape had so many creative interactions.

It was not a perfect game. We wished for more variety in puzzle types, and for more audio/ visual feedback from some of the game’s more unusual interactions to coax us along. That said, overall, we smile just thinking about this experience.

If you’re in the region, do yourself a favor and drive back to 1518. Escape rooms were totally different back then.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • History buffs
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Wigwam Escape was unique
  • The experience was driven by history and narrative
  • Tangible challenges that reflected the narrative
  • A beautiful setting

Story

It was 1518 in the woodlands of Connecticut. Our Native American tribe had received a request for medical assistance from the fishing village of Metachiwon. We had to hunt, gather, and prepare for the 7-mile journey.

In-game: A view through the entry way of a wigwam. There is a fire burning inside of it.

Setting

Wigwam Escape had a beautiful, authentic set. The centerpiece was the wigwam. The rest of the gamespace represented different areas of its surroundings: village, garden, stream, etc.

The walls were murals that were painstakingly detailed.

Our favorite set detail was the “game clock” as a day/ night cycle. We had a single day in which to get ready for our journey. We woke up before sunrise and went about our preparations.

In-game: A guarden with corn, sunflowers, and other veggies growing.

Gameplay

Wigwam Escape was an unusual, educational escape room.

In order to solve the puzzles, we needed to think about how people lived off the land that is now Connecticut back in 1518.

Approached with situational thinking, it had a moderate level of difficulty. It can’t be approached as a classic puzzle game.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, thinking practically, and solving puzzles.

In-game: A stream running through the woods.

Analysis

➕ At Wigwam Escape we learned about how people lived in 1518 through play. It was fun with educational material peppered in.

➕ The situation puzzling was well defined. We had to complete 3 clear objectives in order to help the fishing village. These were contextualized for us. We were already learning. It was up to us to use our surroundings to accomplish the set objectives. This was fair, attainable, interesting, and exciting.

In-game: closeup of corn growing with beside a sunflower.

➕ The set was great, with the centerpiece being an actual wigwam. The walls were beautiful, detailed murals. The set pieces looked fantastic. As the light changed, we appreciated it even more.

➖ Some triggers were difficult to notice. There was opportunity for Wigwam Escape to add sound effects that triggered with our actions – in addition to the ambient soundtrack – to make the space come alive that much more.

➕/❓ With the sun as our gameclock, we could feel the passing of time in a genuine way. It added a layer of complexity to the gameplay too, since certain solves would be easier at different times of day. That said, it’s not an exact timekeeping system. While the imprecise system made sense, we can see how this would frustrate some players.

In-game: A view of the sunrise beyond a corn garden.

➕ There weren’t overt anachronisms such as padlocks or written language. It was a search-heavy game, which made sense given that we were a hunter-gatherer society.

➖ We had to complete two instances of what was essentially the same puzzle. If nobody on your team is good at this type of puzzle – and it’s the type of thing that comes more naturally to some – it could sink your game entirely. Take hints if you need them.

In one instance, this puzzle type felt like a logical puzzle-interpretation of the task at hand. It could also be solved in a way that allowed for teamwork.

In the second instance, however, we couldn’t see how it made sense. Given how it was set up this time, only one person could work on it at a time. Additionally, we encountered some misleading cluing.

➕ We could tell that Wigwam Escape went to great lengths to avoid red herrings. When we encountered an item we needed, there was no ambiguity.

➖ One puzzle needed additional feedback. It was necessarily frustrating (yes, you read that correctly)… and we rolled with that because it really did make sense. However, Wigwam Escape could have sparked our excitement as we worked to complete it.

➕ In an early sequence, Wigwam Escape reimagined and reinvigorated a tired escape room trope to force us to appreciate the challenges of 1518. It was brilliant. It was also fun and rewarding.

➕ We encountered at least three significant design elements that we had never seen before in an escape room. There was a ton of innovation crammed into Wigwam Escape.

In-game: a wooden backpack with slots for the objective items.

Tips For Visiting

  • Wigwam Escape is located at The Institute for American Indian Studies.
  • Put the address in your GPS before you start driving. You’ll be winding through small roads to get to the museum and there is no cell service in the area.
  • There is a bit of kneeling and crawling required in some sections of the game. At least 2 teammates should be comfortable with this.

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

Disclosure: Wigwam Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Unlock! Heroic Adventures [Review]

Insert Coin, Sherlock Holmes, & White Rabbit

Location:  at home

Date Played: Q4 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60, 60, & 90 minutes each

Price: about $25

REA Reaction

The Unlock! series has shifted from releasing 3 different one-off games to releasing all 3 games in one bundle. Instead of looking at each game in depth, I am going to explore all 3 at a higher level.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box art.

Insert Coin

This first installment was rooted in classic side-scrolling video gameplay. It did a lot of really clever things with level structure, which were super cool when we got them.

This was an unusual game that derived its charm from merging more traditional Unlock! puzzle play with classic video game tropes.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Unlock!’s take on Sherlock Holmes was a Victorian detective story that felt a lot like Unlock! had adapted Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective into a narrower, card- and art-driven game.

This was essentially gamified detective fiction, not a puzzle game.

If you’re into Sherlock Holmes fiction, there’s plenty to love. If you’re an escape room player who’s fatigued of the famed consulting detective, this is still executed better than most.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

Pursuit of the White Rabbit was Unlock!’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. Like Unlock!’s Adventures in Oz, this was a narrative-driven game that didn’t require knowledge of the original story… but it sure did help a whole lot.

The game focused on exploring Through the Looking Glass logic, which was a fun mindset to settle into. It was plenty puzzley, but the logic was warped by the subject matter.

Overall Impression

I liked the Unlock! Heroic Adventures collection, but I didn’t love it. All of the games played about the same for me, solidly without being amazing. Each had some fantastic moments born out of the subject matter. Each had some intense logic leaps that felt under-clued.

These games kept some of the biggest problems with the Unlock! app under control by keeping the number of cards we had access to a little more limited, but the hint system needed more work. Also, the hidden number system has become so incredibly tired.

If you’re into tabletop escape rooms, there’s plenty to enjoy about this collection. If you’re an Unlock! fan, then you’re going to love this collection. The gameplay was solid, the stories were diverse, and the challenges reflected the narratives. I just wish that the creators of this series would address some of the shortcomings of their app and boost the cluing when they heavily deviate from the structure that they’ve establish in the instruction manual and tutorial game.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Tabletop gamers
  • Unlock! fans

Why play?

  • Unlock! pushed different gameplay boundaries with each game in this series
  • The unique art direction of each game was fantastic
  • Each game had strong moments that adapted the core concept of the inspirational subject matter into gameplay

Story

Insert Coin

Sucked into an arcade cabinet, we needed to defeat the final boss before we triggered a game over.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

Sherlock Holmes was on another unusual case. While it was child’s play for the master detective, he figured we could learn something by solving it on our own.

Sherlock Holmes suspect map.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

We followed Alice’s adventures through Wonderland, encountering many of the story’s most famous characters and solving the problems they threw in our path.

Setup

All Unlock! games dating back to the originals from 2017 have followed the same card-based gameplay supplemented by a mobile app. I explained this structure in detail in my original Unlock! review.

The key difference in the case of Heroic Adventures is that Space Cowboys decided to sell all three games from this release in a single bundle instead of à la carte.

Unlock Heroic Adventures box opened

Gameplay

Unlock!’s Heroic Adventures was a collection of card-based, play-at-home escape games with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

Insert Coin

➕ Unlock! finally tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, which made us happy that the app was a part of this game.

➖ Early on, we struggled with some gating issues. We weren’t entirely sure what was in play. This improved later in the game, but it made for a bumpy start.

Insert coin initial setup.

➖ We found the font choice to be confusing for solving puzzles.

➕/➖ The structure of gameplay hearkened back to the source material… and stayed true to one classic reveal with an aha that video gamers will embrace. As nifty a reveal as it was, the setup led to some frustration, and will be especially confounding for those not familiar with the callback.

Sherlock Holmes – The Scarlet Thread of Murder

➕ Unlock! used their card-based structure to send us on an exploratory adventure, in the vein of Sherlock Holmes. We met characters to observe and interrogate, just as the famous consulting detective would. We enjoyed this twist in gameplay.

➖ We lost the thread of gameplay in a few instances by misinterpreting the suspects. It wasn’t always clear what we should know and what we shouldn’t.

Sherlock Holmes deck stacks.

➕ More than any other Unlock! game we’ve played to date, this one asked us to observe keenly. Observation became more interesting when it was extended beyond looking for hidden numbers. It was contextual, which led to satisfying solves.

➖ As with many of the Sherlock-themed games we’ve played, to succeed solving cases like the famous detective, we needed to make connections that felt tenuous, from a gameplay standpoint.

Pursuit of the White Rabbit

➕ Unlock! again tapped the app’s potential with an augmented reality component, born of the subject matter, that worked beautifully in this application.

➕ Unlock! used their typical game items more creatively in this scenario. They also introduced additional physical components that gave us more tangible solving opportunities, which we enjoyed.

Alice falling

➕ We enjoyed how Unlock! took classic moments from the source material and shrunk them into puzzles.

➖ With these enhancements, Unlock! broke some of their own rules… and hoped we could follow along. For the most part, we did, but additional cluing would help when they change things up.

➖ In the final scene, we started solving puzzles out of order. Additional cluing would help this segment play more smoothly and make more sense.

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: a small table 
  • Required Gear: a smartphone with the Unlock! app

Buy your copy of Unlock! Heroic Adventures, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Asmodee provided a sample for review.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Upside Down Escape Games – The Theater [Review]

Master of Puppets

Location:  Taunton, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 3-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $26 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Upside Down Escape Games caught us off guard with The Theater because it packed some technology that you don’t expect to see in a small-town escape room.

In-game: a boxoffice stand with an owl dressed in fancy clothes sitting within.

When we played, The Theater it felt like it was brimming with potential… but also unfinished. This was confirmed for us after we played. Nevertheless, there was a lot to enjoy here. The things that worked well worked really well and looked great.

The aspects that felt like they needed more work came in 2 varieties: those in need of fairly minor tweaks, and tech that just needs more time and iteration.

The Theater has the potential to put on a hell of a show, and we have a lot of confidence in Upside Down Escape Games’ ability to get it there. Either way, we think this one is well worth seeing, and we’re glad that we did. We hope to revisit this game down the line.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Technophiles
  • Fright fans
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Surprising technology that you really wouldn’t expect from a small-town escape room company
  • The puppet theater did some really unexpected stuff

Story

Once more, our friend Darryl had dragged us to a strange place for his birthday – and disappeared. This time we entered a horrifying puppet theater with a countdown clock. What was with this guy?

In-game: ominous masks of comedy and tragedy painted in red on a box office.

Setting

Upside Down Escape Games split us into 2 groups. 1 person was brought into the theater; the rest were let in through the box office.

The small theater had all of the right components (but not quite enough seating to feel completely right).

The box office was small, and again, had most of the right components, but this space felt a little unfinished.

The coolest parts of this game weren’t immediately evident. I’ll leave it at that.

In-game: a theater conscession stand.

Gameplay

Upside Down Escape Games’ The Theater was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

It has a split-team start, with 1 person separated from the rest of the group.

You can choose to play this game on scary mode, which adds jump scares. (They are worth it.)

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

In-game: an "Admit One Ticket" sign flanked by freaky baby doll parts pained black and red.

Analysis

➕ Upside Down Escape Games leaned in to the creepy puppet vibe with this unusual escape room concept and it worked.

➕ We played on scary mode. The jump scares were well timed and delivered great moments. Play it on scary mode. You know you want to.

➕/➖ The construction of this game was uneven. It was a case of extremes, and it was kind of understandable. Some aspects of this game received an incredible amount of creative attention… and other parts were painted black. Upside Down Escape Games made good choices about where to focus their resources, but the disparity was noticeable.

➕Upside Down Escape Games dealt with a malfunction so well that we weren’t confident that something was ever wrong.

➕/➖ We loved an unusual and silly puzzle, with clean execution, but the sticking point was a lack of cluing that yes, we should interact in a way that felt unnatural.

➖ The Theater included some incredibly delicate props that seemed out of place and will surely break. They were more eye-catching than they were relevant.

➖ In one instance, The Theater suffered from a common upside down trap: when a clue is reversed or flipped, do you also reverse the solution?

➕ The hint system was more than a hint system. It was a part of this creepy theater.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games built an extraordinary set piece that eyed the game space from the opening moments, building up dramatic intensity. Then it delivered.

➖ The end fizzled. The show needed a finale.

➕ Upside Down Escape Games truly surprised us with the unique tech that they built into The Theater.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Upside Down Escape Games’ The Theater, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Upside Down Escape Games comped our tickets for this game.

Clue Chase – Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle [Review]

Bermuda Triangulation

Location:  New York, NY

Date Played: January 27, 2020

Team size: 2-10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We had a great time in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle. The set looked great, the puzzles were satisfying, and there were some really amusing interactions.

Clue Chase now inhabits the space previously occupied by Escape Entertainment. Clue Chase’s older games were set in larger spaces. We really loved how they transformed the smaller space in this new venue.

It’s so good to see quality new games finding their way into New York City. If you’re in the Boroughs, put Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle on your playlist.

In-game: View of the pirate ship with a partial map in the foreground and art in the background.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A strong set – and Clue Chase’s strongest to date
  • Solid puzzle play
  • Multiple tangible interactions
  • A fantastic scene transition

Story

The time travel agency had dispatched us on a mission to acquire another artifact. This time we found ourselves aboard a pirate ship in 1715.

The ship’s crew had mutinied and locked the captain in his quarters, taking all of the valuables. Thankfully they hadn’t understood the power of the artifact and had left it behind.

In-game: A painting of a sea battle.

Setting

We stepped inside of a well-detailed pirate ship. The ceiling was draped in cargo nets and the walls were wood. The builders clearly put a lot of effort into obscuring their anachronisms, filing off paint and brand names from locks.

Clue Chase did a lot with this smaller space to make it feel exciting.

In-game: Wide view of the pirate ship set with cargo netting along the ceiling.

Gameplay

Clue Chase’s Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: closeup of a barrel labeled "xxx"

Analysis

➕ The set looked strong. From floor to ceiling its wooden walls and overhead netting conveyed sense of place. The props felt like they belonged.

➕ The sound effects in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle added energy to the gameplay. They created ambiance and added excitement to interactions.

➕ We solved the puzzles by interacting with the items on the ship – touching, turning, tossing, and the like. The interactions were varied.

➖ There were multiple opportunities to brute-force the last bit of a solve in Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle. It would even by possible to brute-force the final solve of the game, which would be a shame, because it was a pretty cool puzzle.

➕ The puzzle flow was non-linear, but then brought us together for the most exciting moments of the game, without bottlenecking.

➖/➕ Although we found one group solve to be a bit too process-oriented, we found it entertaining to work through together from across the vessel.

In-game: closeup of two black pumps.

➖ Before we entered Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle our gamemaster gave us specific instructions that pertained to the win condition. We listened well, and when the time came, we knew what to do. That said, it would have been more engaging to uncover what to do with this sequence through gameplay. This was a missed opportunity to integrate the gameplay with the gamespace.

➖ The ending fizzled. We wanted more excitement from the acquisition of another artifact.

➕ In Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle Clue Chase created a scene transition that blew their previous games out of the water.

Tips For Visiting

  • Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle is located at Clue Chase’s Herald Square location. They have a different location at Bryant Park.
  • Clue Chase’s Herald Square location is located in Koreatown. On this block, we recommend Mandoo Bar for dumplings and Spot Dessert Bar for crazy and incredible desserts.
  • Take public transit; Clue Chase is half a block from many subway lines.
  • As with all Midtown Manhattan escape rooms, if you’re driving a car, prepare to pay dearly for parking.

Book your hour with Clue Chase’s Pirates of the Bermuda Triangle, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Chase comped our tickets for this game.

Mass Escape – 44 Winterwood Lane [Review]

A broken seal

Location:  New Bedford, Massachusetts

Date Played: December 12, 2019

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

44 Winterwood Lane had strong worldbuilding. A great introduction, a beautiful candle-lit representation of the game clock, and a brilliant scene helped pull it all together.

In-game:

Mass Escape packed quite a few challenging puzzles into this bewitching experience. 44 Winterwood Lane could be improved by pulling those late-game challenges deeper into the story, and using them to tie off the narrative as thoroughly as the beginning opened it up.

Overall, Mass Escape is a fantastic company making unique and flavorful escape games. They have a style unlike anything else we’ve encountered and it’s a style that we truly enjoyed. 44 Winterwood Lane was our least favorite of the 3 games that we played at Mass Escape… and we still liked it a lot.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Ghost hunters
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • A few great set pieces
  • An illuminating game timer
  • Memorable, haunting moments

Story

Our estranged aunt had recently passed away. We didn’t know much about her beyond the fact that her daughter had mysteriously died many years ago. Nevertheless, we had an appointment with her estate’s caretaker to claim our inheritance.

In-game:

Setting

We stepped through the doors of an old rundown estate, a shadow of its former glory. It had a high ceiling and imposing antique furniture. An assortment of candles lined the ceiling; every few minutes one would extinguish.

The set looked good and well weathered. However, some portions of the set looked considerably more lived-in and finished than others.

In-game:

Gameplay

Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ Mass Escape set the tone of the experience from the opening moments of the escape room. They minded the details, sealing our fate as we tried to claim our inheritance.

➕/➖ Although we’d come for the money, as the story of this place unfolded, that turned out to be a side quest. Predictable as it was, the twist added intrigue to 44 Winterwood Lane. However, the plot got a bit murky.

➕ Mass Escape integrated an unorthodox gameclock into the set. It felt native to the world. This was set dressing, ambiance, and time keeping all in one.

➖ The scale felt off in one room. Some of the set pieces lacked the estate’s majestic allure. Portions of the game felt empty, but at the same time full of potential red herrings.

➖ We encountered extremely well camouflaged, unclued searching in 44 Winterwood Lane. Granted, this was for a bonus puzzle. In a game where searching was generally well clued, however, this seemed challenging for the wrong reasons.

44 Winterwood Lane hid its mysteries well… and revealed them in turn. We especially enjoyed when an object magically appeared.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • Mass Escape’s escape rooms all have a main quest and bonus quests. You can choose whether or not to spend your time on the bonus quests; they are clearly delineated as such.

Book your hour with Mass Escape’s 44 Winterwood Lane, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Virtuality – Runaway Subway Train [Review]

Fare?

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: December 18, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $39 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Runaway Subway Train felt like a scavenger hunt with locks that didn’t work… in a moving train-like space.

This wasn’t a good escape room, but at the onset, it seemed like it had potential.

In-game: Red bench seating in a train car. You can see a gold hinge running along the back of the seat.

The sad reality was that Escape Virtuality just had us identifying codes and putting them into locks. There was almost nothing to solve and half of the challenge that we encountered was struggling against the worn out locks.

We badly want new and amazing escape rooms in New York City. We wanted to be able to tell you that the Runaway Subway Train is worth your time and money… but we can’t. The only people to whom we can recommend this game are potential owners who want a $39 lesson in how to waste potential.

Who is this for?

  • Scavenger hunters

Why play?

  • The game has unrealized potential

Story

Our subway was out of control and about to crash – in an hour!

In-game: A subway map along the back wall of the train car.

Setting

Our team was split up into two adjacent subway cars. We entered through train-like pocket doors. Each car had roughly the same subway car structure of bench seating with advertisements above.

While everything had the right structure, the details weren’t there. It looked like a subway, but only if you haven’t been inside of one with any level of recency, which is unlikely in Midtown Manhattan.

In-game: Double doors between train cars.

Gameplay

Escape Virtuality’s Runaway Subway Train was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a split-team beginning.

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

In-game: An ad for a plumbing company who's slogan is, "We're #1 in the #2 business"

Analysis

➕ The first few puzzles taught us how this escape room wanted us to play it, for better or for worse.

➖ There were few puzzles in this escape room. The gameplay was almost entirely of the “observe and input” variety. We spent most of our time searching or waiting on our teammates to struggle with an input.

➖ Because this game required us to observe and input, we spent a lot of time trying anything we’d observed in every lock. There was no way to know what would be important. Guess all the things!

➕ There was one challenging, layered puzzle in Runaway Subway Train. This solved well with teamwork. It was the highlight of the gameplay.

➖ We encountered some misleading cluing, which might have been the result of ghost puzzles. These included a switch that triggered nothing and cluing a code to a digital lock when the input went into an analog one. We also encountered puzzles that weren’t clued at all.

➖ The one reveal was a missed opportunity. Instead of adding intrigue, it was hard to see, and looked worse than what had been there before.

➖ The locks in this game were in rough shape. We open locks more often than most players and we struggled repeatedly to open multiple combination locks.

➖/➕ The set design was subway-like. Escape Virtuality built in all the key elements of a subway car, but for New Yorkers who ride the subway everyday – and probably rode the subway to get to Escape Virtuality – they didn’t sell the concept with their build. They did, however, make it feel like our subway cars were moving. This was the best part of the set design.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking is a challenge in Manhattan. Take the subway (1 to 28th Street or the R/W to 28th Street.)
  • There are tons of restaurants in this neighborhood. We enjoy Hill Country Barbecue and Market.

Disclosure: Escape Virtuality comped our tickets for this game.