No Da Escapes – Dracula’s Lair (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-3)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

I’m being strong, and not going for the low hanging fruit on this one.

Theme:

From the No Da Escapes website:

The long history of Dracula has burdened a small town in Romania for centuries. Time and time again, people have tried to slay him and have been unsuccessful. You and your team of vampire hunters have been given a slim chance of success by none other than Van Helsing himself. Can you help the small town in Romania finally finish the long blood feud or shall you perish like the ones before you?

First Impressions:

No Da Escapes has a couple of interesting concepts on their website, including a room that takes place underground, so we were definitely interested to see how well they executed these grand ideas! Dracula’s Lair was also set to be my fiancée’s 100th room, so I was hoping it’d be a great one to celebrate this milestone!

High Points:

The room has an interesting idea for the climax, which ultimately falls flat, but if it were iterated on, I think it would be a cool ending. The fact that I have to jump immediately to the end in order to think of a high point is definitely telling. I suppose one prop we used at the start was interesting, from a design standpoint, but that was the first and last clever puzzle we encountered here.

Low Points:

Everything about the experience felt like an alpha test. So much of the room gave the impression that it was unfinished; very much in the early stages of the design. To start, we were in a dark room, with the maximum six players, and were given one flashlight total. The set was incredibly sparse, and there was even a large leak in the ceiling that apparently had been there for a while. The room was dirty, (and not in a set design “dirty” way,) and cobbled together with several random props which all, save for one, were pretty low rent. The immersion factor was severely absent via the room’s décor. Puzzles and game flow were also scant, with only a few highly linear puzzles mostly presented via paper clues. There was also one clue hidden within a mostly blank journal, which seemed a huge waste of a prop.

A couple of the puzzles were half baked, with built in logical leaps that made little sense, and clues that just vaguely hinted at the answer. One such puzzle even presented several numbers that had to be input randomly until they clicked; there was no in game way to figure out the order properly. Not helping matters was a random jump scare that didn’t even feel like it belonged, triggering for the sake of being there. Instead of causing us to jump, it was just a loud annoyance that added little to the experience. The ending was an interesting idea, but the way the idea was delivered fell completely flat, wrapping up the experience completely anticlimactically. All in all, the set, and gameplay, are much too minimal to entertain a group of three, much less a full complement of six players.

Verdict:

Dracula’s Lair just isn’t worthy of the legendary vampire. There is one or two interesting ideas, but the room is already in disrepair, and there really isn’t much here to salvage. It would take a large overhaul to become recommendable, and at that point, it’d be a whole new room. Not the worst in the area, but it ventures pretty close. I would advise skipping it, but if you want to satisfy your curiosity, you can do so here.

2/10 (Bad)

Full Disclosure: No Da Escapes provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

The Box – Predestined (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Seize your destiny!

Theme:

Several artifacts have been taken from important moments in history, throwing off the time stream, and causing a ripple effect that could cause massive damage to our existence! Even worse, the perpetrator is most likely a traitor within your organization, a secret group that is sworn to protect the time stream! You only have a short amount of time to get everything back to where it needs to be and unmask the traitor before the damage becomes irreversible!

First Impressions:

It’s been a while since we visited The Box, but we’ve definitely been anticipating our return for quite some time! Predestined is one of our most highly anticipated rooms, especially after the amazing time we had in Cold Case Killer, which remains one of our top rooms ever. When I received the email that Predestined had gone live, I knew it was time, once again, to make our way down to Charlotte, NC for another marathon!

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The Box knocks it out of the park with their excellent movie posters again!

High Points:

Our experience started off fantastically, as the always amazing Andy greeted us in character and explained the story as he led us towards the temporal paradox we were meant to resolve. He always does a great job bouncing between his host persona and the characters who lead us towards our missions, and this trip was no exception. The room itself was themed excellently, and the sense of immersion was bolstered immediately by the lighting effects. The story is also superb; as we have come to expect from The Box, small details were hidden around the room that tied into the overarching story, cluing us in to what has been going on, while still leaving a fair amount of mystery to keep us intrigued. The storyline and room also ties into Cold Case Killer and The Ventriloquist amazingly, setting up an interconnected Box universe that teases something grander.

The game flow itself is great as well, tying incredibly created and hand crafted puzzles into the theme seamlessly. Nothing feels out of place, and everything is important to the game. There was plenty to keep our group, who had maxed out the room, engaged and puzzling for the full experience. One particular favorite puzzle spanned the entire room and encouraged us to use props in interactive and satisfying ways. Perception really is key to this room, but nothing is unfair or unduly difficult to find, ensuring that the interactions are the star of the show, rather than becoming a glorified scavenger hunt. The whole experiences culminates in a rather exciting climax, and once we had completed the room, we were jazzed and ready for more!

Low Points:

The room felt a little smaller than the other experiences, and while the story feels as though it takes place on a grander scale, the area itself feels more confined. The room itself is comfortable for the maximum of six, however.

Verdict:

After completing Predestined, my only disappointment is that there wasn’t yet another room at The Box to escape from! This business remains one of our top favorites, and we cannot wait to see what they come up with next. I recommend trying this room, but strongly urge you to complete Cold Case Killer and The Ventriloquist first! Though you can still enjoy Predestined without doing so, you’ll get the full experience if you complete those rooms prior. Book your trek(s) through The Box’s amazing adventures here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: The Box provided our group with Media Discounted tickets.

Codescape – The Residents (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Do come in… we’ve been expecting you!

Theme:

From the Codescape website:

The house at the end of Winding Hollow Road dates back to 1881. Despite its longstanding presence, the home has rarely been occupied. Families would move in, and quickly be driven away… Five past residents ended up in a nearby psychiatric institution, all curiously alluding to the old home’s attic as the sole source of their derangement… You’ve been sent to investigate the ominous Winding Hollow Estate. Will you discover what’s lurking within the shadows?

First Impressions:

Codescape is well known in Charlotte for having great sets and immersive games, which is exemplified by their Shipwrecked room, which we really loved. We all have our faults, however, so we were definitely hoping for a more Shipwrecked-like experience and less of an Experiment one. I had high hopes going in, as The Residents comes highly recommended from many local enthusiasts, and is a spooky haunted attic, one of my favorite themes!

High Points:

The Residents is a great introductory game, presenting a fairly straightforward game flow while sprinkling the puzzles throughout a non-linear path. This kept most of our group engaged during our time in the room. The puzzles themselves are very original, and used many of the props within the room in outside the box ways that demanded keen perception and teamwork to conquer. The room incorporates several well hidden technological items to keep players on their toes with scares and interesting interactions. The set design is great, and really immerses players in the creepy old attic, adding several weathered touches to the game to drive home the history of this haunted home. Story touches are interesting, and while they are somewhat secondary to the puzzles, they don’t feel haphazardly thrown in.

Low Points:

For enthusiasts, this one might fly by a little quickly. We escaped in ~27 minutes, and were just behind the record, so I could definitely see other experienced groups breaking out really quickly, and at $28 a person, that’s a steep price for how long we actually spent within the room. The maximum of eight is also much too high. For this trip, we had seven players at times, much more than our usual cap of 4-5, and it was very tight in The Residents. The rooms could hold that many people, but we were right on top of each other at several points, and the game flow, while non-linear, still did not support that many players. The attic’s set design is very nice, and did provide an immersive experience for the most part, but the climax of the room left much to be desired, as the room just sort of ended without much in the way of fanfare or revelations.

Verdict:

The Residents in a great game for beginners to start their escaping career with, or for enthusiasts to bring new players along to, as the straightforward and somewhat simpler game is a perfect introductory room. Enthusiasts might want to check out a more challenging room instead, or try to keep their group size small, (this may be difficult or overly expensive, as Codescape employs a public ticketing model,) though there is still a lot of excitement to be found inside if one is a fan of the theme. You can book your time investigating the haunted attic here!

7/10 (Good)