Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(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).

Capcom & iam8bit – Resident Evil Escape Experience, New York [Review]

In its defense, it was about as good as most of the past decade’s Resident Evil games.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: February 23, 2017

Team size: 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $41 per ticket

Story & setting

Themed around the popular video game (and movie) series, the Resident Evil Escape Experience was a popup escape game touring the United States, making stops in Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, Portland, and San Francisco.

The room escape itself was a fairly standard, slightly creepy escape room design in an office/lab/home space. We were entering a simulation created by the villainous Umbrella Corporation, thus explaining the rapid set hopping.

The Umbrella Corporation’s presence notwithstanding, the experience was not deeply rooted in Resident Evil lore. It did, however, have a variety of props that referenced the game series.

Resident Evil Escape Experience 2017 Nationwide Tour: New York Advertisement shows an old television, typewriter, a pair of disembodied hands and a broken vial.

Puzzles

The puzzling was weak. We encountered red herrings, significant prop breakage, and puzzles with frustrating construction.

There were a few puzzles that were well clued, but the Resident Evil Escape Experience was not a satisfying puzzle game.

Standouts

Aesthetically, the set looked pretty good, especially for a temporary traveling game.

There was an innovative use of space, which could have been excellent had it been clued.

Shortcomings

The casual references to Resident Evil were nowhere near enough to justify the game’s title. The name “Resident Evil Escape Experience dramatically oversold the escape room by implying that it would be a high-end survival horror escape room. It never even came close.

The puzzling was frustrating and frequently tedious.

There were many broken lock hasps that had been crazy glued in place. The brittle crazy glue had snapped, leaving much of the game unlocked. On the other extreme, we encountered a lock that had been jammed. Our gamemaster knew it was busted and was standing next to us, ready to hand us duplicate copies of the locked content as soon as we had the solution to the lock.

There were quite a few red herrings. Some seemed like they were puzzles that had been broken and dropped from the experience, but not removed from the space.

The gamespace was cramped with 6 players, but due to the popularity of the escape room, a 6-player team was inevitable.

The ticket price was too damn high.

Should I play Capcom & iam8bit’s Resident Evil Escape Experience?

While your mileage may vary from city to city, I cannot recommend the Resident Evil Escape Experience based on what I saw in New York City.

It wasn’t a satisfying experience for escape room fans because the puzzling was weak.

It wasn’t the experience that Resident Evil fans were looking for because the connections to the series and horror elements were barely present.

Additionally, Resident Evil Escape Experience was incompetently maintained and seemed poorly constructed to begin with. Why was all of the hardware glued together? And why not take a bolt cutter to the broken lock and replace it?

Resident Evil Escape Experience was decidedly low-tech, which I was expecting of a temporary game. While we don’t judge escape rooms based on the presence of technology, the low-tech design made the breakage that much more frustrating.

It seemed to me like this might have been a good escape room when it initially set out on its journey, but it felt like there simply wasn’t enough professional oversight for Resident Evil Escape Experience to survive its trip around the continent.

I expect better at $41 per ticket.

And I expect far better from Capcom & iam8bit. I know that they are trying to promote Resident Evil 7, but in choosing the escape room format to deliver that message, they inevitably attract new people to real life puzzle gaming and this was a sad display of the medium’s potential.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

Escape Games at Sony Square NYC – The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat [Review]

Humbled by advertisements.

Location: New York, New York

Date played: October 29, 2016

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 3

Duration: 10 minutes per game

Price: Free; available through December 2, 2016

Story & setting

These two 10-minute games were sitting on the floor of Sony Square NYC, which is Sony’s open showroom to feature its products to the public.

The first game promoted the new show Timeless, a time travel series. We played a puzzle-based rendition of Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego… which was awesome. It was staged in the show’s time machine, the Lifeboat, which looked cooler than its name sounded.

Image of the Timeless Lifeboat time machine play area.

The second game promoted The Blacklist, now in its fourth season. In this game we found ourselves in a TV-style hacking, decoding-type game of tracking down the bad guy. Everything was set within a fancy looking cube, which was clearly from the show; it meant a great deal to one of the other people in attendance.

Image of the Blacklist Box red cube play area.

I haven’t watched either show, so any references were completely lost on me. I cannot report on how well it captured the essence of either fiction. I can say that both games featured recordings from characters in the show, an excellent and unexpected touch.

Puzzles

These games were created by New York City-based Escape Entertainment. Escape Entertainment has historically been one of the region’s most puzzle-centric companies; oh boy did they deliver puzzle-centric games.

Both games had three puzzling stations and each station offered up its own set of challenges. They were tough puzzles, made even tougher by the short 10-minute timers.

Lisa and I played the games as a couple. We approached Timeless Lifeboat calmly because in our past experiences, corporate promotional games haven’t presented a formidable challenge. We lost Timeless Lifeboat by about five seconds. Had we done any number of things slightly differently, we would have won.

Since we screwed up on the Timeless Lifeboat, we attacked the The Blacklist Box… where we lost even worse. We needed at least another two minutes, or more realistically, another teammate. The Blacklist Box beat us.

Both games included serious logic and reasoning puzzles with more layering than we were mentally prepared for. They should not be approached lightly, especially The Blacklist Box.

Standouts

The staging area for each game was awesome. I found the Timeless Lifeboat particularly compelling.

Each game was cleverly engineered for rapid reset. Additionally, their solid construction should also help prevent breakage.

We’ve come to expect high production value from corporate promotional games, and these games were no exception.

Furthermore, these were serious escape games with interesting and fun puzzles. They delivered the challenge we don’t often see in promotional games.

These games were completely free and unlike most of the free corporate games we’ve seen, they will run for over a month.

The Sony Showroom was far cooler than expected. They had free demos of the Playstation VR as well as a gallery of incredible photos captured on Sony gear. They offered some great things out of that space; especially for aspiring photographers.

Shortcomings

Sony’s gear was laced throughout both games and used to drive most of the interaction. In particular, the games relied on Sony’s internet of things adapters, MESH. There were some interesting gadgets in use, but I cannot help but feel like an escape game with a 10-minute timer was the wrong venue for demonstrating MESH’s capabilities. It had a tiny bit of latency, something in the realm of three seconds… but in the context of a rushed game, that time felt like an eternity. That was a shame because the tech was pretty cool.

Both games got pretty wordy, which is ironic coming from a guy who’s writing ~900 words on 20 minutes of combined gameplay. Again, the short game length amplified every moment of the game. Short passages suddenly felt a lot longer.

There was a ton of ambient noise coming from the game and the surrounding area. This made it difficult to hear key in-game audio.

There was no margin for error. We breezed through some puzzles and died on others. Sometimes this was a factor of having the wrong person start in on a puzzle, but in such a short game, there wasn’t time to switch the teammates’ focuses nor any opportunity to recover.

Should I play Escape Games at Sony Square NYC – The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat?

I’m shocked to say this, but these are some of the more interesting and challenging puzzle-centric games that I’ve seen.

The 10-minute game timer added challenge and intrigue while also adding new complications and flaws, but these were more than forgivable.

If you’re a room escaper with a love of games that lean heavy on puzzles, then these games are an absolute must. They are free. They are quick. They are in a great neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and easy subway access.

If you’re a fan of either show and you’ve given these games a playthrough, please let us know what you thought in the comments below!

Bring three people and explore the show floor before playing. Be sure to have someone show you how MESH works in the context of the game. It will help. Make every second count; each game only lasts 600.

Both games will run through December 2, 2016.

Book your sessions with Escape Games at Sony Square NYC‘s The Blacklist Box & Timeless Lifeboat, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Ford Escape NYC [Review]

It was a giant advertisement, but it was a fun, well-executed giant advertisement.

Location: New York City, New York

Date played: June 26, 2016

Team size: 2-5; we recommend 3-4

Price: Free – Limited Run Promotion

Story & setting

We were broke New York millennials doing broke New York millennial stuff in a simulation of the New York City boroughs in a Ford Escape SUV.

A giant Ford Escape billboard welcoming new players.

The game was set in a massive indoor space one avenue west of Penn Station. We worked our way through a number of different sets, including an apartment, office, coffee shop, and Bushwick art show, among other locations. We traveled between these locations by driving a 2017 Ford Escape.

At each set, actors facilitated the experience, and led us through the story of our day with the vehicle.

Puzzles

At each point of the game, we interacted with a feature of the car in order to accomplish a critical task or solve a puzzle. The staff made this clear upfront, and cleverly leveraged this game dynamic so that everyone had to pay close attention to the car’s sales pitch.

The game allowed us 6 minutes to complete the few puzzles within each set.

Given the limited time, the puzzles were all very basic, and didn’t allow for any form of progressive exploration. Important clues were obvious. In some cases they were pointed out by the staff; in others, they were literally labeled “IMPORTANT.”

Standouts

It was pretty damn cool driving a car through an escape experience. My favorite parts of the game were in the car. I could have actually used a bit more of the car.

The scale of this game was staggering, as was the pace at which we were pushed through it. We covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time.

The game gave a good overview of both escape rooms and the Ford Escape. (Honestly, the standout feature for me was the vehicle’s Sony sound system.)

Shortcomings

As an experienced player, the puzzles weren’t particularly satisfying. However, the new players were clearly blown away by them.

A Ford Escape with a green screen in the background. The car is surrounded by cinematic lighting.
We shot some video in front of a green screen. Turns out Lisa and I aren’t great at forced enthusiasm.

I’m completely baffled by the location. It seems an insurmountably steep challenge to sell millennials in New York City on the virtues of owning a car, let alone an SUV.

For those unfamiliar with NYC, you pretty much have to be independently wealthy to own a car in this city. If you live in the outer boroughs or New Jersey it’s absolutely an option (or a necessity), but I do not know anyone in Manhattan with a car. This experience feels like it would have been a lot more appropriate in Los Angeles… or damn near any other city in the United States.

The event’s website, registration, and promotional material were a mess. The website was clunky, difficult, and deeply unappealing. When we shared the link, a lot of our readers questioned whether this was even an escape game. We were skeptical going in, and pleasantly surprised that the event greatly exceeded our expectations.

Should I play Escape the Room NYC’s Ford Escape NYC?

This was a limited run experience. It was a lot of fun and it was free. If it, or a variant of it, shows up in your city, it’s a good time.

A small fleet of Ford Escapes is in the foreground, the coffee shop stage is in the background.
The coffee shop is off in the distance.

I wouldn’t recommend going far out of your way explicitly to play it, but if it’s convenient, and you can pair it with something else nearby, it’s more than worth the time.

It included heavy sales pitch aspects, but they were well woven into the gameplay.

The size of the event, the massive staff, the actors, and the fact that the game made so much use of the car was excellent.

If it’s ever an option for you, book your session with Escape the Room NYC’s Ford Escape NYC, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Mission Escape Games: Special Mission – Penguins of Madagascar [Review]

A few things to know

This is an escape game designed for children 8 to 17 or so. It is a limited engagement, and will only be around for a few more weeks.

Full disclosure: The folks at Mission Escape Games let us play this one for free.

We tried to commandeer some of our friend’s children to play this with us, but schedules didn’t quite work. We still wanted to try the game so that we could get a sense of what a room escape for kids could be like. This was for science.

Mission Escape Games Logo

Plot

This game is a promotional event produced in conjunction with DreamWorks to support the movie “Penguins of Madagascar.” It’s a great idea for both room escapes and movies. I hope to see more of this.

“The Penguins need your help to make their escape.

Help Skipper, Rico, Private and Kowalski to solve puzzles and complete their Mission!!

Kids Game

This really is a room escape game for kids. It’s brightly lit. The room is pretty beautiful and completely unintimidating.

Special Mission penguins of madagascar

The game is deliberately linear, and each step along the way introduces you to a new character from the movie.

It’s an escape game with training wheels, and it works really well.

Challenge

While this game is designed for the under 18 crowd, there is still some noteworthy challenge.

Our four person team of experienced room escapees breezed through 95% of this game in very little time… Then we spent FOREVER trying to solve the final puzzle.

The big TV in the room displays clues provided by the game master (who is always watching via camera). He kept giving us vague hints:

  • “Think like a kid”
  • “Think more like a kid”
  • “You’re still thinking like adults”
  • “Stop thinking like you’ve done a room escape before”
  • “You’re on the right track”
  • “Keep playing with the method you’re trying”

We eventually figured the thing out, but only after a mortifying amount of time elapsed.

Our the game master told us afterwards that the trend with the final puzzle is that adults can’t figure it out, and kids have a whole lot less trouble with it.

No hyperbole, I don’t think I’ve ever had this much trouble with a door puzzle in a room escape. It was hilarious.

Should I play this game?

Bearing in mind that this game will only exist for a few more weeks…

There aren’t many room escape games for kids. If you have kids who would enjoy a bit of brainy adventure, go do it. It’s a unique; physically interactive; and fun.

We never expected to recommend this game for a team of adults, and we aren’t going to. However you can have fun with this as an adult in the same way that you’ll enjoy watching a good animated movie with a kid, even if it’s not a movie you would pick if you didn’t have children with you.

After this room closes, the Mission Escape Games team has plans to transform the room into something a bit more serious. I’d say wait for that if you don’t have any offspring to bring along.

Book an hour with Mission Escape Games, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.