Exit Strategy South – Side Effects (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2 (no more, no less. Players must also be 18+.)

Price: $26 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

They’re not coffins, they’re pods!

Theme:

From the Exit Strategy website:

CTRL Pharmaceuticals is looking for pairs of people to participate in a clinical trial. The drug being tested has shown great promise and might increase brain function by 1000%!

First Impressions:

Exit Strategy had teased their new room as being a one of a kind experience in Charlotte and Side Effects, the area’s only two person only room, is absolutely a novel idea! Beginning your experience in two separate “isolation pods” is a great, and somewhat unnerving (in a good way!) idea. In fact, after completing so many rooms, this is the first one in a long time in which I had no idea what to expect. Either way, we were excited to see what awaited us at CTRL Pharmaceuticals as we were led to the testing facility.

No better feeling than dropping a chip in the win column!

High Points:

Side Effects was certainly a novel, and experimental concept! To begin the game, we were led to a small, spa like room in which we were given a short briefing in character from a research assistant, and were then blindfolded. After this, we were led separately behind the curtain and laid down in our personal sensory deprivation pods. After a short briefing about the “drug” that would be administered, were directed to take off our blindfolds and begin the experience. The effects inside the pod were immersive, and the seemingly hallucinatory effects were a cool touch. The pods themselves were minimalist, with a spartan, yet effective design. You won’t be experiencing a set along the lines of Exit Strategy North’s Hollywood style rooms, but this does not mean the room isn’t fun. In fact, this adventure reminded me a lot of the design style utilized by Twisted, which employed a very similar design aesthetic, but remains one of my favorite experiences at this location. Be forewarned, however, that if your top priority is a flashy set, you won’t get that here.

However, there are loads of intuitive and engaging teamwork puzzles throughout the experience. One of the most difficult things to do when splitting up teams, or just a couple escapists, is ensuring that the puzzles engage both sides of the room, and that each room is properly interesting. All too often, I feel as though I’ve been struck with the “Curse of the Less Interesting Room” when escaping a room that splits teammates, and I’m happy to report that both pods for this game are equally entertaining, keeping both members of the party engaged throughout. The puzzles themselves all felt of a similar style, as they initially seem esoteric, but by communicating what we both had in our separate areas, we were able to piece things together naturally and come to an intuitive, and satisfying conclusion. Even the puzzle we needed a separate hint on, we thought was incredibly clever and would have been able to solve if we had just thought to check a certain item again. The game flow was smooth, and most puzzles could be solved in any order from the start, you just needed a perceptive eye and the ability to think outside the box while inside the boxes. Communication was one hundred percent the key to this room, as every puzzle required some form of teamwork every step of the way.

20190616_1744337044490860722225143.jpg

Yay monthly record!

Low Points:

The experience ended on a rather anticlimactic note, due to a couple issues. Firstly, the final puzzle was somewhat banal. It was carried out interestingly enough, but didn’t quite have the cool factor we have become accustomed to from the ultimate puzzle in an Exit Strategy room. Secondly, we were definitely not expecting the experience to end at this point. At this stage of the story, we very much thought that there would be more to discover, and perhaps we’d end up learning what had happened to cause our need to escape, but unfortunately, the game just ended. The experience also felt somewhat lighter on puzzles, but that may have just been because a lot of the game flow just clicked for us overall.

Verdict:

Side Effects was an incredibly fresh new idea from Exit Strategy, and while it isn’t without some small faults, we very much enjoyed the experience. I absolutely recommend giving it a go, but make sure that you’re not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark. The pods were roomy enough for us, but there is definitely not enough room to stand or move very far within. Absolutely be sure that your chosen teammate is someone you communicate well with also. Your success lives and dies with your ability to puzzle things out together!  Sign up for CTRL Pharmaceutical’s new drug trials here!

8/10 (Great)

Wake Escape – Tornado Alley (Review)

Location: Wake Forest, NC

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 2-8)

Price: $24 Mon-Thurs $26 Fri-Sun per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

This is an Alert from the National Weather Service

Theme:

From the Wake Escape website:

You and your friends are enjoying a quiet evening when suddenly, the skies grow dark and thunder begins to rumble. The weather broadcast predicts a tornado is heading for your area. Heading down to the basement, you find yourselves trapped! Luckily for you, the basement is rumored to house a hidden speakeasy with a secret exit built in by the owner, Sonny Schnapps. Is it all just a rumor or is there really a second exit?

First Impressions:

Our return to Wake Escape was triggered by my bachelor party. I needed a local place to travel with my groomsmen, friends, and Best Lady, and an escape room was definitely one of the spots we had to visit. I had enjoyed my last visit, but wasn’t able to make it back yet for their newest disaster themed room, so what better excuse to check it out? I was definitely not disappointed.

High Points:

Tornado Alley is one of those rare rooms where, due to this being my bachelor party, we brought the maximum number of players for the room. I had some reservations regarding this, but Tornado Alley’s non-linear gameplay and dense amount of puzzles rose to the challenge of keeping us all entertained. At no point during our game was anyone bored or casting about for something to do, which is quite the feat! There was also an excellent mix of puzzle types, with something to cater to every skill set and experience level of our group. 3 newer players and 5 enthusiasts banded together to take this one on, and every one of us left satisfied with the experience, all having contributed to our ultimate success!

The theme itself is highly original, mixing a disaster theme with a hidden speakeasy excellently. The transition from one part of the game to the next was convincing and thematically appropriate, and the room twisted around on itself in unexpected and entertaining ways. Props were thematically appropriate for both stages of the game, with the basement level containing the tchotchkes and storage containers you’d expect to see, while also promoting an air of mystery about the hidden speakeasy that awaited us. The speakeasy itself was a lot of fun as well, and props also shifted to establish the new theme. The game flow was extremely smooth, with very few lulls in the action, and branching puzzle paths that led to fantastic reveals and an ultimately engaging escape.

Low Points:

One puzzle malfunctioned, leaving us wondering what had happened after it was solved. Unfortunately, this puzzle would’ve had a really cool payoff, but it was a technical issue that cropped up while we were playing, so it was just bad luck that I’m sure has been cleared up since. There were a couple basic tier puzzles that do little to excite, but were a small part of the rather packed puzzling experience, so it’s a minor nitpick. The set design is minimalist, but gets the job done and fits the theme well enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a bare room.

Verdict:

Our previous visit to this business was fun, but Tornado Alley ups the game with even better puzzles and a fantastic game flow. Thank you to Wake Escape for getting my bachelor party started with a bang! I definitely recommend checking this room out for players of all experience levels, and can also recommend any group size for the first time! You can book your search for the speakeasy here!

8/10 (Great)

Timed Out – West (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

For a Few Clues More

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

We’re going back to the days of the Wild Wild West partner! There’s valuable family land at stake and your posse will have to race against the clock to prove you’re the rightful heir! But don’t be dadgum fool and blow yourself up with dynamite while you’re at it! Keep a lookout for five special gold nuggets in this adventure that’ll have you scratchin’ your noggin at the local sheriff’s office, sittin’ around a poker table for a spell, and maybe even tickling the ivories of a mysterious old piano at the town saloon. Cowboy boots, chaps and spurs optional.

First Impressions:

Having already wowed us on multiple levels with Illusion, we were excited to travel back in time with Timed Out’s Wild West themed room! After an exciting introduction, we were set loose on the old town intent on finding our family’s gold!

High Points:

Special shout out to our Game Master, Carlos! Timed Out has some great GMs, and he was no exception, giving great hints and customer service throughout our experience. The set was spectacular, with several different areas to explore in the old West town. Each segment of the game contained several awesome set pieces that contained a puzzle or two that were well integrated into the theme of the room. The majority of the props within the room gave great feedback whenever we had solved a conundrum, and there was even a particular prop that we enjoyed triggering incorrectly due to the amusing feedback it provided as well. The story itself it light, but develops naturally throughout the course of the game, giving a believable impetus for our adventure. The game flow is non-linear, allowing our larger team to split off and still have plenty to interact with during the course of our escape. All these puzzling threads wove together throughout the room to culminate into an exciting and climactic conclusion that ended the room with a bang!

Low Points:

One particular puzzle was iffy on some of the cluing, presenting an otherwise interesting riddle that needs a bit of a logical jump to fully arrive at the solution. Some labels and laminated papers take a bit a way from the immersion, though the inclusion is understandable. The doors to each room are somewhat narrow, resulting in several near collisions between teammates, perhaps a way to keep them open might help alleviate the issue. One puzzle is interesting, and culminates into a nice reveal, but the searching and process of putting everything into order drags a bit. Without a larger group, this one puzzle could become overly tedious.

Verdict:

West is a fun, beginner friendly room that is an excellent adventure for players of any experience level. While the room may be somewhat easier than Timed Out’s other offerings, there is no shortage of surprises and clever puzzling to be found within this Wild West romp! I recommend giving it a shot, especially for families that are seeking an escape room that’s perfect for all ages. You can book your search for the gold here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.

No-Da Escapes – Jurassic Bone (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Boned.

Theme:

From the No Da Escapes website:

A team of modern archaeologists have found the remains of a Giganotosaurus inside an old gem mine. The Giganotosaurus is one of the rarest types of dinosaurs and is related to the T-Rex. A mole has worked their way into your group and has stolen a piece of the skeleton for personal profit. The stolen bone is believed to still be hidden in the cave where the dinosaur’s skeleton was found. Your mission is to retrieve the stolen bone and return it to the head archaeologist. The problem is, you only have 60 minutes before the cave collapses and you are sealed inside forever.

First Impressions:

After the terrible Dracula’s Lair, it was time to take on No-Da’s more recent creation, Jurassic Bone. We didn’t exactly have high hopes after what we’d just experienced, but perhaps some lessons had been learned along the way to make Jurassic Bone more palatable? The theme certainly was original!

High Points:

Jurassic Bone is rather large, so a bigger group won’t feel smushed into the room, though there wasn’t as many activities as there was room for. There are a few interesting ideas around, with a water based puzzle that we enjoyed working through, as well as a couple out of the box items we hadn’t seen used in quite the way they were here. The room did a good job of connecting puzzles to locks on the whole, though there were a few repeats, but on the whole didn’t overlap during the game flow. The theme itself is a great idea, though it isn’t fully capitalized on.

Low Points:

Jurassic Bone is a really large escape room, but at many points during the game, it just feels empty. “Big to be big” was the general sentiment of our group. For a game that has a maximum of ten players, it just doesn’t have all that much to do, and a mostly linear game flow does not help matters any. The experience itself also feels rather static, as the puzzles and interactions are generally mildly interesting, but don’t really feel like they add to the room or theme in a dynamic way. Solving them allowed us to move forward, but didn’t really trigger much excitement, or carry a greater impetus for why these actions were important. One particular puzzle had a creative and out of the box idea behind it, but it’s inclusion felt random, and it was extremely finicky to boot. Though I had performed the correct action, it didn’t trigger, causing me to leave it behind before someone else tried it in a slightly different way, popping the obstinate lock.

One of the major selling points listed for this room is that it takes place underground. Technically it does, but it is like a half basement in that it still opens up to the outside and never really feels truly underground, nor does this partial underground-ness really add anything. Parts of the room also feel unnecessary, as we were able to trigger a late game puzzle’s solution without properly placing certain bits, leading to a weird anti-climax that wouldn’t really have benefitted much from us placing those bits anyway. The big reveal at the end it laughable, with one of the poorest looking props we’ve ever seen in the giant foam bone. Unfortunately, this was also the only part of the room that really stuck to the Jurassic theme we were hoping for as well.

Verdict:

While a marked improvement from Dracula’s Lair, Jurassic Bone just doesn’t quite measure up to the other rooms available in the Charlotte area. On the whole, it’s just an average experience and I would recommend checking out one of the many other rooms in the area long before this one. If you’d like to try your hand at retrieving the big foam bone, however, you can do so here.

5/10 (Mediocre)

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

Timed Out – Illusion (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

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

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Now you see me…

Theme:

From the Timed Out website:

For years the world has been wowed by the unique and unexplainable magic of “Angelica Steele”. She started just like any other magician, obscure and unknown, until one day, her act changed. From that day forward she was the best of the best. Her rise to fame and years of domination in the magic industry did not gain her friends, but did give her a lot of enemies. You and your team received an anonymous tip that the magician is in fact a fraud! With the promise of good fortune, your team has been tasked to uncover the truth by gathering information and learning the secrets behind her magic.

First Impressions:

Timed Out was one of those escape rooms I stumbled on while planning one of our usual escape marathons. It’s always exciting to see a new business pop up, but even more so when the website has all the hallmarks of a good spot, and this one even had a really awesome blog to boot! We’d been bamboozled before but still, Timed Out definitely seemed as though it would be awesome.

High Points:

Timed Out has some great Game Masters, so I want to start by thanking our GM Chris for his excellent work giving us great hints and feedback during our game! The room itself is one of the most tightly integrated to the theme I have seen in recent memory, with so many excellent illusions and magical interactions peppered generously throughout. There are rooms that are themed as magical, and then there are rooms like Illusion, where the experience actually is magical, and it’s really quite amazing. The items found throughout the room continually deliver surprising reveals, and rather than just being random magic trick props, they are key parts of the puzzles themselves and bolster ah ha moments into moments of awe. The set design is great, and is at the same time a magician’s lounge, a storeroom of tricks, and an elegant parlor for an intimate magic show. Truly this room is a creative marvel, and it doesn’t end with the props and set design!

The puzzles within Illusion are very intuitive, even when many involve some sort of magic trick. Care has been taken by the designers to ensure that no outside knowledge is needed to manipulate these props, and many times, it feels as though they perform their own slight of hand as they are being examined. The room is very non-linear, and though we had a larger group of six, there was always something to do during our game. The story is engaging, and though the focus is on the magical puzzles and interactions, the enigmatic Angelica Steele remains a figure we were very interested to learn more about.

Low Points:

Many lock types repeat during the room, ensuring that there will be a fairly large amount of guess and check to be done after solving puzzles, which could be remedied with clearer connections between the puzzles themselves and the locks they are meant to open. This lack of connection made the game flow a bit more choppy in parts, as several puzzles also tended be fairly stand-alone; their threads terminating at the moment the lock was opened.

Verdict:

Illusion is absolutely one of the most well themed games in Charlotte, with an emphasis on ensuring that each puzzle is magical rather than just magic themed and a bevy of tricks up its sleeve, it is an engaging adventure for escapists of any skill level! Book your time investigating the illusions of Angelica Steele here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Timed Out provided comped tickets for our group.