Sherlock: The Game is Now [Review]

“You look but you do not see.”

Location:  London, England

Date Played: May 5, 2019

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

Duration: 100 minutes

Price: £54 per player

Ticketing: Private or Public

Emergency Exit Rating: meets amusement park code

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Sherlock: The Game is Now carried a lot of hype:

  • It was made in partnership with Steven Moffat, Sue Vertue, and Mark Gatiss, the writers and producers of the BBC’s Sherlock.
  • Sherlock: The Game is Now featured audio and video performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Mark Gatiss, and Andrew Scott, the show’s Sherlock, Watson, Mycroft, and Moriarty.
  • The entire experience was “Presented by Time Run,” one of the most impressive escape room companies that we’ve had the fortune of visiting.
  • There are 5 copies of Sherlock: The Game is Now built within a 17,000-square-foot facility.
  • At £54 per ticket (approximately $71 US when we played), Sherlock: The Game is Now is almost certainly the most expensive escape room on earth as of publication.

With all of that in mind, Sherlock: The Game is Now is a fantastic experience if – and only if – you are a fan of Sherlock.

You have to be excited to spend a couple of minutes hanging out in 221B Baker Street. You must look forward to having Sherlock and Mycroft condescend to you for 75 minutes. To enjoy The Game is Now, you have to be eager to step into the world of the show.

Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty.
Andrew Scott as Jim Moriarty

Sherlock: The Game is Now stood out for us because of 3 key factors:

  • the amount of worldbuilding
  • the Sherlock-esque deduction
  • Andrew Scott’s performance as Moriarty, which stole the show

All of this boiled down to an appreciation of the world of Sherlock.

If you’re just a fan of escape rooms or you saw the show a few years ago and kind of enjoyed it… or kind of remember it… The Game is Now is just a very fancy, very expensive escape game. The stuff that made it special will fall flat for you.

Similarly, if you were a diehard fan of Time Run and you’re eager to play the third Time Run game, this won’t be it. This was something different. It was not necessarily worse, but it served a different purpose for a different audience.

Go play Sherlock: The Game is Now if you love the show or you want to see big-budget immersive fan service done well. Make sure you leave plenty of time to hang out in the bar after the game.

Brush up on Sherlock season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3 before you visit this game. You’ll want to have a strong grasp of the story and characters.

The living room of Sherlock's cluttered London flat. The wall is graffitied, "THE GAME IS NOW."

Who is this for?

  • Fans of the BBC’s Sherlock
  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Great performances from the show’s original cast
  • To hang out in 221B Baker Street
  • Detailed sets in a physically massive game
  • The deduction puzzle
  • Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty

Story

As new recruits in the clandestine service known at The Network, our new boss Mycroft Holmes had brought us in to assist in an investigation. His dear brother Sherlock was out of the country and we were the best he could find on short notice.

The Doyle's Opticians faux storefront. .

Setting

Sherlock The Game is Now was a pretty game.

We began in a “front.” We entered an optometrist’s office in a London mall. It was fairly convincing.

From there we explored a number of familiar locations from Sherlock. Each set was detailed with show accuracy in mind. (We encountered the exact phone from Mycroft’s desk in the show.)

We exited Sherlock The Game is Now into the experience’s bar, The Mind Palace. Like the game, the bar was beautiful. It was also fairly well stocked.

A skull and preserved bugs in 221B Baker Street.

Gameplay

Sherlock The Game is Now was an atypical escape room with a high level of difficulty.

The experience progressed through a series of sets, each presenting a unique collection of challenges. We had only a certain amount of time in each set before we were moved on to the next scene.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, deducing, and puzzling. The deduction component was an intriguing addition to the game.

A smiley face spray painted and shot into the wall of 221B Baker Street.

Analysis

➕ From the moment we entered the optometrist’s store, we were in the game world. Our gamemaster’s introduction was entertaining.

➕ Before the game started, our gamemaster led us through a deduction exercise to get us thinking as detectives. It was a humorous in-world onboarding.

❓ The onboarding was long. If you don’t want to engage with the actor – or aren’t sure how to – it will likely drag on. For escape room players who understand the idea of deduction and aren’t fans of the show, it will likely feel tedious. That said, it was worth playing from both a narrative and a gameplay perspective.

Sherlock The Game is Now was at its best when it asked us to deduce, (almost) as Sherlock did in the show. For us, this scene was the strongest in the game because it zeroed in on what made Sherlock Holmes special.

➖ Although we enjoyed the lab’s deduction puzzle, that scene lacked some cluing, which was especially evident in the presence of a lockout safe.

➕ Mycroft’s office had some nifty input mechanisms. They were fun to manipulate and worked well. They also felt believable in this spy-esque office, but were hidden enough that the office felt like a set pulled directly from the show.

A silhouette of Sherlock Holmes flanked by profiles of John Watson & Mycroft Holmes. A yellow spray painted overlays the image.

Sherlock The Game is Now included audio and video from the original cast. It was exciting to meet the characters again and solve mysteries along side them. Andrew Scott’s killer performance as Jim Moriarty was exceptional.

➕ 221B Baker Street was true to the show. We enjoyed poking around in this familiar space. The women playing before us were huge fans of the show, but not escape room players. This was their favorite part of the experience. Additionally, the transition out of this space and into the gameplay worked well.

➖ If you don’t know the show, you’ll feel a lot of dead time in this game. 221B was purely experiential, with no action you could take to further the game. The actors perform information, which could easily be more accessible in other medias and through other interfaces.

➕ The hint system was a part of the gameworld. We enjoyed Sherlock’s jabs at our intelligence, or lack thereof. The hint system was designed for players who need a lot of hinting. If they are dragged through the puzzles, they’ll enjoy that process because it was another tie-in with the show. (That said, for escape room players, the hint system might feel overly pushy, especially in the first act.)

❓ The premise of the crime felt a little haphazard and impersonal for a Sherlock mystery.

❓ The memorable moments were delivered as an extension of the show, to the fans. They were the moments spent in Sherlock’s world, touching his things, hearing from to his friends and enemies, and experiencing that charming condescension first hand. The gameplay worked, but the moments were largely forgettable. Your mileage will vary.

➕ Post-game, our gamemaster presented a personalized analysis of our team’s performance at each stage of the game. It was funny and felt pretty accurate.

The Game is Now let us out into their own bar, The Mind Palace. The bar was beautiful and well stocked.

The Mind Palace's wooden bar.

Tips For Visiting

  • Sherlock The Game is Now takes place in a mall.
  • There are 5 copies of this game. Most bookings are private, but there is 1 copy always reserved for public bookings.
  • Watch the following episodes of Sherlock before your visit: season 1, episodes 1 & 3 and season 2, episodes 1 & 3.
  • Leave time to visit the bar after your game experience.

Book your hour with Sherlock The Game is Now, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Time Run comped our tickets for this game.

NEScape! on the Nintendo Entertainment System [Review]

Going Retro

Location:  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Date Played: June 9, 2019

Team size: we recommend 1-2

Duration: 60 minute time loops

Price: $10 (ROM), $60 (cartridge & ROM)

Publisher: KHAN Games

REA Reaction

NEScape! is a new escape room video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or downloadable ROM).

This game captured old-school escape room gameplay on old-school video game hardware… and did a generally good job.

Translucent blue NEScape! cartridge.

There are 4 days left to back this Kickstarter and it is fully funded. The decision to back should be simple:

  • Do you like the idea of old-school, puzzle-forward gameplay?
  • Does playing an escape game on NES hardware sound fun?
  • Do you have access to a NES?

If you’ve answered yes to all of these questions, then give them your money.

Lisa's hands on an NES controller.

NEScape! isn’t flawless. There are more than a few things that I think could improve it.

NEScape! isn’t revolutionary. It can’t be. It runs on 8-bit hardware in 2019.

For me, that was fine. Now that I’ve completed playing it, just looking at the cartridge makes me smile.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Retro gamers
  • Point & click fans
  • People who really just want to own the game cartridge
  • Players with at least some puzzle experience

Why play?

  • Classic escape room puzzle play on the NES
  • It’s different

Story

We were in an escape room and needed to puzzle our way out. Like I said, old school.

Setup

We received NEScape! in cartridge form. That meant that the first puzzle was finding a working Nintendo Entertainment System or a high quality NES clone like the RetroUSB AVS. The Retron5 and RetroDuo (which I love) unfortunately didn’t do the job.

So… we went out to a local retro video game arcade called Yestercades to play with their toys.

NEScape! in a NES.

Puzzle two was mounting the cartridge so that it, ya know, worked. It was as tough as I remembered. A friendly reminder: Blowing on Nintendo cartridges doesn’t help and can cause corrosion.

Once we were up and running, NEScape! was a point & click puzzle game on an 8-bit platform. The controls were simple. We had to find objects and use them to solve the puzzles that lined the game world’s 4 walls.

Gameplay

KHAN Game’s NEScape! was a point & click escape game with puzzles of varying levels of difficulty and a non-negotiable 60-minute game clock that terminated the run at 0.

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

In-game animation: a cursor selecting books with zodiac symbols on them.
Via KHAN Games

Analysis

➕ Opening the mail and finding a translucent blue NES cartridge was utterly delightful.

➕ The colors were vibrant and made good use of the limited graphics capacity of the NES.

➕ The controls were easy. Lisa was never a console gamer and had no problems picking them up quickly. There wasn’t any action, so my decades of muscle memory weren’t particularly useful.

➕ The opening sequence was an unusual intro that taught the basics, provided a puzzle and allowed us to bypass it.

➕ There was solid point & click escape game-style play that captured the feeling of escape room puzzles from 4-5 years ago.

➕ There was a structured, self-service online hint system, should you get stuck (or, like us, be playing in a loud space, which inhibited us from solving auditory puzzles).

❓ There were a number of auditory puzzles that we had to bypass with hints. The clanging of pinball, the beeping of arcade cabinets, and the crashing of Skee-Ball at Yestercades meant that we couldn’t hear audio puzzles. It seemed like NEScape! was doing some interesting things with sound, but I genuinely have no idea how anything sounded. When I eventually replay in a quiet location, I’ll update this.

➖ At the start of each chapter, we began with the “lights off” and had to find the switch. This was hard the first time and easy, but annoying, in subsequent chapters.

❓/➕ We aren’t good at slide puzzles. We’d like to get better at them when we have a little time. We ended up sinking a little more than half of our time in our first play loop into a slide puzzle. In our second hour, we just used the hint system to power through the slide pattern. (We so appreciated that the hints included the solution pattern.)

➖ There were times where puzzle solves had no visual indication of completion. There may have been auditory feedback, but we don’t know. It made certain aspects of the game feel clunky. Sure we were playing under sub-optimal circumstances, but visual feedback of success would have been a significant improvement, even if it was just for accessibility purposes.

➖ The ball maze puzzle was visually jittery and difficult to look at.

In-game animation: A ball navigating through a maze.
Via KHAN Games

➕ There were some really great destructible puzzles… the kind that you wouldn’t typically see in a real life escape room.

NEScape! would have benefited from more puzzles that could only work in a digital environment. There were a few too many puzzles that were straight translations from the real world.

❓ We felt pretty conflicted on the rigid timer that terminated the game at 0 forcing us to start over:

  • On one hand, it was annoying. It felt like there was an opportunity to do something more creative at 0 or offer more outcome options.
  • On the other hand, unforgiving fail-states is pretty much tradition on the NES. It wasn’t a big deal because we were able to navigate through the game pretty quickly on our second playthrough to pick up where we’d left off.

➕ It’s a Kickstarter… but the full product exists. For those of us who have been burned before, knowing that a crowdfunding project is more than notional ain’t nothing.

Tips For Playing

  • Time Requirements: I would plan on playing at least 2 or 3 hours (unless you’re good at slide puzzles or plan to bypass it with the hint system).
  • Required Gear: You’ll need a Nintendo Entertainment System or a high-quality clone. We also used pen and paper to track our solutions. This was especially helpful on our second play-though.

Back KHAN Game’s NEScape! on Kickstarter, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

There are only 4 days left to back this.

Disclosure: KHAN Games provided a sample for review. 

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

Escaparium – The Blind Tiger [Review]

Puzzles on tap

Location:  Laval, Quebec, Canada

Date Played: April 6, 2019

Team size: 3-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Blind Tiger was the most traditional escape room that we played at Escaparium. It looked good, played cleanly, included great swing music, and had at least one memorable moment.

In-game: An array of provocative pinup girls.

From our perspective, a hallmark of Escaparium’s game design is their willingness to take risks in their gameplay and sets… to make things that we haven’t seen anywhere else. Sometimes this delivers a big payoff and sometimes it’s a little bumpy, but it’s always interesting.

The Blind Tiger doesn’t have that risky intrigue that we saw in the other 5 Escaparium games that we played on our recent trip to Montreal. There’s nothing wrong with that (especially from a company with so many games); it might even be a good thing for them.

We absolutely recommend The Blind Tiger if you’re in Montreal and looking for a solid speakeasy experience that plays really well. If you’re looking for something out of the box, however, Escaparium has plenty of other games that might not play as smoothly, but offer something unique.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Great music
  • Strong speakeasy touches
  • Some good puzzling

Story

The Blind Tiger was the most popular speakeasy in Chicago. Our boss, the leader of a rival crime family, had sent us to sneak into the Blind Tiger to steal its owner’s ledger. There would be something juicy contained within it.

In-game: A roulette table.

Setting

The Blind Tiger was a speakeasy. It looked like a compelling underground drinking and gambling establishment.

While it wasn’t the fanciest set, little details made it feel real. These included liquor labels, pinup art, and cigarette displays.

In-game: A sales display for LUCKY Cigarettes on an old wooden bar.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s The Blind Tiger was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A view behind the bar at a wall of liquor.

Analysis

The Blind Tiger had a lively soundtrack of swing music and a beautiful, polished set. We enjoyed the vibe of the gamespace.

➖ Although the gamespace was spacious, one area lacked adequate room to maneuver. It was easy to scrape oneself on doors, once opened, and hard to work together in this area.

➖ We encountered a ghost puzzle within the set decor.

➕ The voice-overs were clear and well acted. They added character to the game.

➕ The puzzles were thematic and largely tangible. They flowed well.

➕/➖ One substantial puzzle was well integrated into the gamespace. The cluing was varied and included physical props, which made this puzzle more engaging than this style tends to be. That said, it was a long process puzzle for a timed escape game.

In-game: closeup of some liquor bottles. one reads, "Red's Pure Old Panther Piss."

➕/ ➖ We enjoyed assembling… what would then become another puzzle. It was a nifty prop, but a bit too finicky. It also needed a touch more cluing.

➖ Although the puzzles worked well, they generally weren’t novel or exceptionally memorable.

➕ A thematic meta puzzle helped us gauge our progress instead of having to rely on a gameclock.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).

Book your hour with Escaparium’s The Blind Tiger, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Sauve Qui Peut – The Underground Bar [Review]

Putain and other French wordplay.

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

Date Played: April 8, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Underground Bar was all about sex, drugs, and booze… and let’s just say… it didn’t beat around the bush.

What opened as a fairly traditional puzzle-focused escape room in a bar transitioned into something considerably more outlandish. It was a great time… until the final minutes.

In-game: a back-alley behind a bar.

The quality of the closing set and puzzle were well beneath the rest of the game, causing an otherwise wild ride to fizzle.

Did it ruin the game? Not at all.

Would it have been way better if the closing of this game were on the level of everything else that we played at Sauve Qui Peut? Absolutely.

If you’re over 18, near Montreal, into playing an adult game, and you’re with a group of people whom you’re open to playing this kind of game with… then you absolutely should.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Strip club goers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Beautiful and detailed set
  • Unexpected reveal
  • It’s 18+ for alcohol, drug, and sexual content

Story

Our department had suspected this Manhattan bar of being an epicenter for crime. We were dispatched to investigate it and learn what kind of criminal was calling this bar home.

In-game: an electrical box in a back-alley.

Setting

We began The Underground Bar outside of the bar before progressing inside. It was a good-looking space that made use of wall-sized murals that actually added depth and character to the environment.

From there, things got a bit seedy… which was how it was supposed to get.

In-game: a grafitti's dead face.

Gameplay

Sauve Qui Peut’s The Underground Bar was a standard escape room with a section that had 18+ theming. It had a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕ The opening scene of The Underground Bar set the tone for a clandestine operation. The puzzle flow worked elegantly.

➕ The wall art in The Underground Bar was phenomenal. It was beautiful and gave the set some depth without ever creating red herrings. We’re not usually big on murals, but this one worked.

➕ The puzzles were well themed for the setting.

➖ The final act was a letdown. The gamespace was crowded and uninteresting. The gameplay felt dry, especially considering the previous act. Our momentum ground to a halt.

➖ While most of the clue structure was built into the set, one complex, layered puzzle relied almost entirely on a journal. While not exactly a runbook, it had a lot of the same problems. It was too compact to engage the entire team in the only available puzzle. The game bottlenecked at this point.

➕ One puzzle initially posed a stiff challenge, but after trying a few different angles we quickly came to a satisfying conclusion.

➕ Sauve Qui Peut hid its secrets well. The Underground Bar included some phenomenal opens.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is metered street parking.
  • You can most of this game in English. You will need French (or hints) for 2 puzzles.
  • You must be 18 years old to play this game. The theming is sexual. Choose your teammates wisely.

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

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

St. Louis Escape – Curse of the Mummy [Review]

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.” -Anakin Skywalker

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 21, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

St. Louis Escape makes great sets and Curse of the Mummy was no exception. That said, this escape game had some seriously annoying gameplay.

If things had been clued properly and the tech wasn’t finicky, it could have played pretty smoothly, but it didn’t do any of that. Instead, we were left with a needlessly difficult, albeit pretty, game… I can only recommend this if you want to see a really good Egyptian tomb set and you haven’t yet played Tomb of Anubis… which was on a whole different level.

In-game: A pyramid with glowing symbols in the middle of a tomb excavation site.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Strong Egyptian tomb set

Story

While exploring an ancient Egyptian tomb, we’d happened upon a burial chamber and the obligatory curse.

In-game: A statue of a woman in an Egyptian tomb.

Setting

Curse of the Mummy had a strong Egyptian tomb set. It included a sand-covered floor, a cobwebbed ceiling, statues, ropes, and sandstone blocks. It had a strong, deliberate aesthetic contained within a relatively compact footprint.

In-game: A lantern and scale on a sandstone block that is tied with rope for hoisting.

Gameplay

St. Louis Escape’s Curse of the Mummy was a standard escape room with a high level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A treasure chest, and small locked wooden box sitting on top of sand with hieroglyphs adorning the wall behind them.

Analysis

➕ St. Louis Escape built an impressive Egyptian tomb set for Curse of the Mummy. From floor to ceiling, it was designed, detailed, and delightful.

In-game: Cobwebs hanging from the ceiling.

➖ Our introduction to Curse of the Mummy included how many rooms we’d traverse over the course of the game and information for how to solve some of the puzzles. It was a strange way to introduce the experience.

➖ Many of the puzzles in Curse of the Mummy lacked adequate clue structure. This is the reason we listed this escape room with a high level of difficulty and we recommend it for players with some experience.

➖ Curse of the Mummy relied heavily on a runbook. This was frustrating to use and detracted from our experience exploring the gorgeous set.

In-game: Footprints in the sand.

➖ There were a number of exceedingly frustrating puzzles. One search puzzle burned a lot of time and wasn’t fun to do. There was another riddle that was laughably clunky to resolve into a solution that would fit its corresponding lock.

➖The tolerances on some tech were unforgiving. We had to be incredibly precise to get opens to trigger. We burned a silly amount of time solving puzzles correctly… but not quite perfectly enough.

In-game: A glowing green scarab image in darkness.

➕ Our favorite puzzles were worked into some of the more impressive set pieces… again, spanning the breadth of the space from floor to ceiling. These were really fun, interactive solves.

➖ All of the games at St. Louis Escape were built into a warehouse space with open ceilings. While the ceilings were well designed as a part of the sets, we could hear the groups screaming in the neighboring horror game, Cellar Escape, while we played Curse of the Mummy It was difficult to buy into our Egyptian adventure when we could clearly hear a neighboring team.

In-game: A statue of a cobra's head protruding from the sandstone wall of a tomb.

Tips For Visiting

  • You can park for free on the street directly in front of the building or on the side of the building.
  • There are stairs up to the escape room lobby and the escape rooms.
  • Beware that St. Louis Escape has a habit for putting 4-digit solutions into 5-digit locks.
  • The floor of this game is covered in sand. Wear appropriate footwear.

Book your hour with St. Louis Escape’s Curse of the Mummy, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: St. Louis Escape provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escaparium – Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat [Review]

Down the rabbit hole.

Location:  Montreal, Canada

Date Played: April 7, 2019

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

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Entering Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat felt like entering a cartoon. The world was vibrant and largely constructed from foam, giving it a chunky, playful feel.

In-game: The Cheshire Cat hanging out in a tree.

Escaparium’s imagining of Alice in Wonderland was at its best when it had us playing with this otherworldly environment and interacting with its unusual props. The more tangible and funky the interactions were, the more fantastical the experience became.

That said, this escape room started off too slowly. Some of the more cerebral puzzles felt rough or logic leap-y, which juxtaposed harshly against the playful setup and set.

In the end, we walked away from Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat loving it for its quirky design and forgiving a lot of its frustrations because of its novelty. If you’re the kind of player who’s seeking new things, and you find yourself near Montreal, check it out. It might drive you a little mad, but it’s worth it.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Fans of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  • Best for players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • To go down the rabbit hole
  • The Wonderland aesthetic

Story

Every once in a while we have to pull the story directly from the escape room company’s website. This is one of those times:

“The Hatter’s hat’s hat is needed so that the hat of the hatter can control the hatter when wearing his hat but the hat of the hatter’s hat is where the power of the hatter’s hat is at. Without his hat, the hatter’s hat is powerless and the hatter with or without his hat will be himself if the hatter’s hat’s hat is taken away. You are needed to help Alice find the hatter’s hat’s hat so that the hatter can be himself again…”

In-game: The Cheshire Cat hanging in a big tree branch over a pool of water.

Setting

Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat felt like a cartoon world. It was bright and vibrant with a slightly grim twist… it felt like Alice in Wonderland. It was overflowing with both subtle and overt references to Lewis Carroll’s timeless stories.

In-game: A pool of water in the woods.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Brightly colored flowers and mushrooms.

Analysis

➕ Escaparium’s ode to Wonderland looked wonderful. It was fantastical, life-sized, and cartoonishly detailed. From ceiling to floor, no detail was overlooked.

➕ Some of the set details that made Wonderland so intriguing also rolled into the puzzle play. This was Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat at its best.

➖ Some aspects of the set and props were showing too much wear.

In-game: The White Rabbit in the woods.

➖ Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat got off to a slow start. Some of the puzzles lacked concise cluing. In one instance we had to wait repeatedly for the a clue to loop on a timer.

➕ There were a number of fantastically physical moments.

➖ A few of the later puzzles asked us to make some logic leaps. The cluing felt incomplete.

➕ We loved the manner in which we transitioned between 2 scenes.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • You will remove your shoes before entering the game.
  • You will need to climb down (or step outside the game to walk down stairs) to play this game.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).
  • If you book both Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat and The Wizard Four and the Rise of Lord Thulsa, book “Alice” first and “Wizard” second.

Book your hour with Escaparium’s Alice and the Mad Hatter’s Mad Hat’s Hat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Escaparium – Tyranno Industries [Review]

🦖🦕

Location:  Montreal, Canada

Date Played: April 7, 2019

Team size: 4-12; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Dinosaurs make me happy. They captured my imagination as a child. To this day I love that these incredible beasts actually existed on our planet. I can’t seriously think about dinosaurs without smiling… and if you can, I suspect that you’re dead inside.

In-game: a triceratops next to a white and blue medical scanning device.

So… that’s to say that I really enjoyed Tyranno Industries. It wasn’t a perfect game. A dinosaur park escape game was a massive undertaking and Escaparium put forth a strong effort. There were animatronics and some badass moments. It all flowed pretty well when the wear and tear or some of the less developed puzzles weren’t getting in the way.

There were some areas in which Escaparium could significantly improve this game with minimal effort.

All that said, Tyranno Industries was a delight to play. My inner 8-year-old is thankful to Escaparium for the experience.

If the idea of a dinosaur adventure brings a smile to your face and you’re near Montreal, just buy yourself a ticket. I’m glad that I went.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • Dinosaurs!
  • Surprising moments

Story

Our team of mercenaries had been hired to break into the dinosaur cloning lab of Tyranno Industries in the Philippines and extract 3 different embryos.

In-game: The Tryanno Industries logo on a concrete building in a tropical setting.

Setting

Tyranno Industries strongly evoked Jurassic Park. The set had a tropical Dinosaur-zoo-meets-laboratory vibe, complete with dinosaur animatronics.

Basically, this was the set that 8-year-old me would have wanted to live in.

It didn’t look “real” but it looked really good.

Gameplay

Escaparium’s Tyranno Industries was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

Analysis

➕Escaparium built multiple diverse but connected environments into a relatively small footprint.

➕ Anything life-sized for a dinosaur couldn’t possibly be shitty.

➖ Tyranno Industries was well worn. We encountered three different puzzles that suffered due to damage or wear.

➖ Some of the cluing was a shade or two off.

➕ The lab work section had solid puzzles that flowed well. Even Lisa agreed, and she’s rarely happy to play in a lab setting.

➕ This was a family-friendly dinosaur adventure. It had exciting and intense moments, but it wasn’t scary. Escaparium made dinosaurs about as approachable as possible.

❓ Many of the early puzzles were mounted pretty high up. We imagine that children will struggle to participate fully with some of these puzzles.

➖ At the height of Tyranno Industries’ intensity, it ground to a halt over a puzzle that hinged on a poor user interface on a small device. There was nothing else to solve at this juncture and no way for everyone to fully engage.

Tyranno Industries had a few surprises hiding in the wings. It delivered memorable moments for the entire group to experience together.

➕/➖ The animatronic dinosaur was really neat, but we spent entirely too much time near it. Animatronics are at their best when your exposure to them is limited and you can’t get used to their presence or patterns.

➕ Somehow Escaparium found the self-restraint to avoid the most obvious and inexpensive Jurassic Park puzzle reference… and for that, I salute them.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • You will remove your shoes before entering the game.
  • This game is entirely bilingual (French and English).

Book your hour with Escaparium’s Tyranno Industries, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escaparium comped our tickets for this game.

Codex – Spaceship Graveyard [Review]

All of the pop culture references in the galaxy.

Location:  Laval, Canada

Date Played: April 6, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28.99 CAD per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Spaceship Graveyard was a love letter to a few decades worth of space-based science fiction and fantasy.

Codex structured this escape game as a largely split-team experience and did so in a way that we hadn’t seen before. This was an exciting twist on both the spaceship and split-team genres.

In-game: a spaceship's bridge.

Spaceship Graveyard was massive, but it felt a little too empty. On the one hand, that added a bit of spookiness. On the other hand, it just felt like it needed more going on. That went for the gameplay as well. There was a lot of narrative, but the line between story and gameplay was blurry.

There’s plenty to love in Spaceship Graveyard and lots of room for iteration and improvement as well. We absolutely recommend Spaceship Graveyard for its interesting gameplay twists. In its current state, however, if you only have time for one game at Codex, it should be The Night of the Wolf and the Serpent.

We love what Codex is doing. It’s exciting to see a new company put out two games that push boundaries. We cannot wait to see where they go from here.

Who is this for?

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

Why play?

  • An interesting take on split-team gameplay
  • So many nerd references. So many.
  • The doors. You’ll know them when you see them.

Story

We had teleported into a universe where Earth had made contact with extraterrestrials centuries ago. This alien influence had sped up development of technology and altered all facets of life.

The China America Alliance had dispatched ships to find new habitable planets. One SPC-2202 had signaled the discovery of such a place… then nothing was heard from it again.

We were dispatched across time and space to investigate SPC-2202, determine what the crew had discovered, and decide the best course of action for humanity.

In-game: a spaceship's sleeping pod.

Setting

Split into two groups, we boarded the spaceship from two different sides, each group puzzling through different compartments on the way to the bridge.

The ship was huge and spartan. It had a Star Trek-like cleanness to it.

Spaceship Graveyard was loaded with references to a wide variety of classic space-based science fiction.

It also had some really amazing doors.

In-game: an opening iris door.
If this door is ever stolen… it’s probably in my house.

Gameplay

Codex’s Spaceship Graveyard was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

About 2/3 of the game was played as a split-team experience. The entire team was together for the last 1/3.

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

Analysis

➕ There were two separate teleporters to take us to Spaceship Graveyard. This made sense from a gameplay standpoint because it was a split-team game. Codex justified this from a narrative perspective as well: as their first teleporters, they were under powered and couldn’t transport the entire group together. This was elegant storytelling.

➕ An early interaction ramped up the narrative drama of Spaceship Graveyard.

➕/ ➖ In one set of Spaceship Graveyard we had open and easy communication. In another area of the starship, we couldn’t see each other and relied on shouting. There was an opportunity to improve the ship’s internal communication channels.

➕ Many of the puzzles in Spaceship Graveyard required teamwork and forced communication.

➖ For one especially challenging puzzle, however, there was nothing the other group could do to help and nothing new they could do to advance the game. This created an awkward bottleneck with downtime for some and added pressure for others.

➖ The set was uneven. The spaceship was spacious, but the props and set pieces were sparse. It felt oddly empty. Additionally, half the group explored a more compelling space than the other half did.

➖ We were really excited about one set piece, which was fun to explore, but turned out to be largely irrelevant to our experience. It felt like a missed opportunity.

➕ Outer space looked great. The projections were impressive. The set was at its best when we could see beyond the spaceship’s interior.

➖ Codex attempted to deepen our connection to this world through an understanding of the crew of SPC-2202. Instead of working this into the gameplay, however, it felt bolted on as reading. We had trouble parsing its relevance. In this instance, the extra world texture was distracting.

➕ Codex delivered narrative through a surprising reveal. It was a great moment.

➖ We didn’t realize when we’d won. We made a choice, but it wasn’t an informed choice. We had a inkling that we were choosing to be good guys or bad guys, but we didn’t understand the consequences of either action. It left us confused about how – or even whether – we’d completed our mission.

➕That door. Did I remember to mention the door? I’m a fan of that door. I hope that I’m not over-hyping the door.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is parking in the back on the building near the entrance to the escape rooms.

Book your hour with Codex’s Spaceship Graveyard, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Codex provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Escape From St. Louis – Murder at Denbrough Mansion [Review]

Clue did it?

Location:  St. Louis, MO

Date Played: March 22, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 3v3 or 4v4 (They have 2 copies are you can play competitively.)

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $34 per player for team of 2 to $24 per player for team of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Murder at Denbrough Mansion was an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery. We had a dead man, a series of suspects, and a lot of personal effects from those suspects. We had to analyze the information and conclude who had committed the murder, why, and with what weapon.

The stakes were raised by the fact that Escape From St. Louis had two copies of this escape game and we were racing against the other team. (My team beat David’s in this game; our competitive record is once again even.)

In-game: Denbrough dining room table, and breakfront.

While the story and mystery were loaded with details, the set wasn’t inspiring and the input mechanism for solving the crime was as out of place as it was clunky to operate.

We enjoyed Murder at Denbrough Mansion for its unusual take on the murder mystery deduction genre of escape games. It was different and had some good gameplay moments. If that’s something that appeals to you and you’re in St. Louis, then you should take a stab at solving this crime.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Detectives
  • Any experience level
  • Competitive groups

Why play?

  • You can play competitively against your friends
  • Challenging but fair deduction puzzle

Story

Philip K. Denbrough had been brutally murdered in his mansion after hosting a dinner party with all of his friends and family. We had to gather evidence, analyze it, and solve his murder.

In-game: Denbrough's dining room.

Setting

Murder at Denbrough Mansion was staged within a dining room-like environment. It wasn’t fancy or particularly exciting, but it conveyed the setting.

The set was fine, but it wasn’t the reason to visit Escape From St. Louis.

In-game: the breakfront in Denbrough's dining room.

Gameplay

Escape From St. Louis’ Murder at Denbrough Mansion was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Escape From St. Louis has two identical copies of this escape room. They offer the option to book both copies and play competitively.

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

In-game: a system for organizing suspects, weapons, and motives.

Analysis

Murder at Denbrough Mansion culminated in a giant deduction puzzle. The deduction elements made sense and the puzzles generally flowed well.

➕ Escape From St. Louis provided the tools (different types of charts) to solve the murder. We had our choice of different ways to keep track of the information and reason out a solution.

➕ As we solved the puzzles, we learned about the characters and their relationships and motives. While these were surface level revelations, it gave the playthrough added depth.

➕/ ➖ Escape From St. Louis built a solution input mechanism into the game. They designed it such that we couldn’t brute force our way to the solution of this murder. It was, however, an odd contraption to have on the wall in the dining room.

Murder at Denbrough Mansion took place in a dining room… with a murder-solving input mechanism. It was a serviceable, but uninspired set. The set was simply a container for the deduction gameplay.

➕ Escape From St. Louis had put a lot of thought in the nuances of the items within the game. We “brought” some of the evidence into the room with us because in the narrative it had been gathered at the homes of some of the other suspects. This was a level of nuance often forgotten by game designers.

In-game: A pile of evidence found elsewhere and brought to the crime scene for analysis.

➖ Some of the later puzzles could have used a bit tighter cluing. A few of the logical connections we needed to make seemed a step off.

➖ The triumphal moment of solving the murder fell flat. It wasn’t entirely clear how to register that solution. As the winning team, we were confused whether we’d won, as we could still hear the audio of the other team playing.

➕/➖ We enjoyed playing this room competitively against our friends. For those keeping track at home, we are now tied again at 3 wins each in competitive escape games against each other. That said, it would have been more interesting if there had been opportunities for the two groups to impact one another or even be aware of each other’s progress.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking is available on the street in front of the location, as well as in a private lot behind the building.
  • Stay organized while playing this escape room.

Book your hour with Escape From St. Louis’ Murder at Denbrough Mansion, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape From St. Louis provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Ubisoft Escape Games – Beyond Medusa’s Gate [VR Review]

A VR Odyssey

Location:  at Up the Game in Amsterdam, The Netherlands & at Trap’t in Stamford, CT

Date Played: May 7, 2019 & May 17, 2019

Team size: 2 or 4; we recommend 4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $40 per player at Trap’t (consumer pricing varies by licensee)

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a gigantic, dramatic, and intense journey through the worlds of Greek mythology and the Assassin’s Creed video game series.

Ubisoft Escape Games published a worthy sequel to their first VR escape game by refining and expanding upon the concepts introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A gigantic statue of Atlas wrapped in a snake holding up the ceiling of a cave.

Beyond Medusa’s Gate wasn’t the most puzzley game. However, it accomplished what I believe is the key to a great virtual escape game: the gameplay provided experiences that cannot be created in real life escape games.

I wholeheartedly recommend playing Beyond Medusa’s Gate. (We took my parents to play it.) I’d encourage you to play Escape The Lost Pyramid first so that you’re comfortable with the controls and mechanisms that Ubisoft expanded upon in this sequel.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level (with VR, escape rooms, or Assassin’s Creed)

Why play?

  • Fantastic collaborative puzzles
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Massive set pieces
  • Puzzles that aren’t possible in a real-life escape room
  • A cool boss battle

Story

Set in the fantastical ancient Greek world of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we were off in search of a powerful lost artifact.

The Poster for Beyond Medusa's Gate featuring a stone door with a sculpture of Medusa.

Setting

We boarded the Argo, the legendary ship of the Argonauts, and sailed through a magnificently rendered Mediterranean cavern filled with huge structures and mythological beasts.

In-game: a burning cauldron in a temple.

Gameplay

Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate was a VR escape game with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around teamwork, puzzling, shooting, climbing, observing, and making connections.

In-game: The Argo in the Mediterranean.

Analysis

➕ Ubisoft included some additional character customization options allowing us to change the color of our avatar’s clothing.

In-game: a team of avatar's getting suited up.

 Assassin’s Creed factors in minimally. On the one hand, if you’re familiar with the series, there are some lovely nods both in the gameplay and in the introduction. On the other hand, you can enjoy the game almost fully without knowing anything about the Animus.

➖ If you’re completely unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed, then the introductory exposition will sound something like, “Blah blah blah Ancient Greece. Blah blah blah powerful artifact. Blah blah blah genetic memory.”

➕ The opening puzzle sequence was really clever, both as a standalone puzzle and as an introduction to manipulating the game world.

➕ Beyond Medusa’s Gate had a greater diversity in puzzles and challenges than did Ubisoft’s first escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid.

In-game: A statue of Athena in a cavern.

➕ As with Escape The Lost Pyramid, Beyond Medusa’s Gate did a wonderful job of providing experiences that could not be created in a physical escape room.

❓ While the puzzles within Beyond Medusa’s Gate were enjoyable, the emphasis was on adventure. If you’re seeking serious puzzle-play, there might not be enough of it for you.

➕ Ubisoft ramped up the opportunities for teamwork and collaboration. There were lots of moments were we solving as either a duo or quartet.

➕ The world of Beyond Medusa’s Gate was gorgeous. There were points where I stopped playing and found myself getting lost in the beauty of the world and all of its detail.

➕ The use of a boat to facilitate movement through the game world was an improvement over the floating blocks from Escape The Lost Pyramid. Not only did it make more sense within the fiction, it also made the game more friendly and approachable for players with vertigo or a fear of heights.

➕ While Beyond Medusa’s Gate incorporated the climbing as well as the archery introduced in Escape The Lost Pyramid, it limited its reliance on them and put some interesting twists on both as the game progressed.

❓ There’s a learning curve to staying within the play area. If you’re comfortable playing video games and VR, you could acclimate almost immediately. If you aren’t comfortable with the technology, it could be a game-long process .

➖ When one player struggles to execute, the game can grind to a halt and provide little for idle players to do… aside from break pots and look at the beautiful world. (I have a high capacity for breaking pots from years of Zelda.)

➖ If you are the struggling player and you’re holding your team back, you’ll quickly feel a lot of additional pressure.

❓ We played this game twice, once with a wire (at Up The Game), and once wireless (at Trap’t in Stamford, CT). It was a substantially better experience playing wirelessly.

In-game: a massive ballista mounted to the side of a ship.

➕ The boss battle was a strong conclusion.

➕ Ubisoft added a delightful post-game photo system.

Tips For Visiting

  • I would strongly encourage you to play Ubisoft’s first VR escape game, Escape The Lost Pyramid, prior to playing this sequel.
  • Yes, you can wear glasses with the VR headset.
  • If you have a fear of heights or are prone to vertigo, there will be one section that you might want to skip, but you should be fine playing most of this game.

Book your hour with Ubisoft Escape Games’ Beyond Medusa’s Gate, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

If you’re interested in licensing this game, you can learn more from Ubisoft Escape Games:

Disclosure: Ubisoft Escape Games offered free play-throughs of this game on the show floor at Up the Game.

Disclosure: Trap’t comped our tickets for this game.