Mystery Mansion Regina – DTF: Drag Task Force (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

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

Price: $20 CAD per person (About $15.11 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Work it!

Theme:

From the Mystery Mansion Regina website:

The devious Ruby Hymen has betrayed the Drag Task Force and has stolen all of their powers. The leader of the DTF, Flo Mingo, has selected you and your team to help the DTF infiltrate Ruby’s secret lair. You must find a way to stop Ruby and help the members of the DTF get their powers back!

A portion of each ticket will be donated to the Regina non-profit organization, Lulu’s Lodge.

*All content of this room has been reviewed and approved by the Drag Community and is not intended to offend any parties*

First Impressions:

DTF: Drag Task Force might be the most creative theme I’ve ever seen. Drag Queen superheroes, a robot avatar, and a puzzle that involves making a mixed drink for your avatar to choke down all come together to create what can only be described as one of the wildest online escape rooms we’ve ever had the pleasure of playing!

High Points:

DTF is a hilarious game, and if players relax and let themselves joke around with the avatar, they’re in for a fantastic time! Our game master was, as always with Mystery Mansion Regina, brilliantly quick on their feet, dishing out jokes and responses at lightening speed. Everything was incorporated with the awesome story, and I loved how much humor was injected into the experience. It is rare to see an escape room that truly excels at being funny, and the folks at Mystery Mansion Regina really know how to develop a fun puzzling flow while bringing the laughs. Just like their Night Terrors room, DTF is built from the ground up to be an online only experience, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation. A favorite mechanic of this room is made possible by its online only nature, as one of the main goals of the game is to upgrade our robotic avatar using items that give the Drag Task Force their powers. Though it is as simple as finding a prop and asking to activate a power, it really lends a satisfying sense of progression to the experience, and adds a little extra something that we wouldn’t see in an in person room.

The puzzles themselves are very clever, and one in particular was an astoundingly fun interaction that had us laughing even after the game was over. At several points in the game, telescape was incorporated, allowing our team to solve in room puzzles concurrently with online puzzles, shaking up the usual linear nature of online, avatar based games and allowing for more non-linear progress to be made. This is great for bigger teams or players who like to break off to solve on their own, as it ensures that everyone can remain engaged without trying to lead an avatar to look at something across the room while others are attempting to solve something else entirely. Though the puzzles themselves were, for us, on the easier side of things, they were no less fun, and the room is absolutely packed with interactions, so we didn’t blow through the experience either. Overall, DTF is all about having a great time, and it definitely succeeds in its mission!

Low Points:

During our play, the decor was still in development, so the room didn’t quite have as much personality as it could’ve, however, it should be even more decked out now, so no worries here! The puzzling can sometimes ride on the easier, more basic side, so enthusiasts looking for an intense challenge may be disappointed, but we had more than enough fun running through the flow of the game and just enjoying the great story and banter with our game master/avatar!

Verdict:

DTF: Drag Task Force is easily one of the most creative, fun filled online escape rooms available. I whole heartedly recommend trying it out, as the entertaining puzzling flow and laugh a minute interactions with our game master delivered one of our favorite experiences of the pandemic. Book your time helping the Drag Task Force regain their fabulous powers here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Mystery Mansion Regina provided our team with a complementary game.

The Box (France) – The Diamond Heist (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 2-6 Players (We recommend 2-5 players)

Price: €110 per room (About $129.97 USD at the time of writing)

Time to Escape: 75 minutes

Never work again? That sounds great!

Theme:

From the The Box website:

They say that diamond merchants safe boxes are tamper proof. In this escape game, we challenge you to grab the biggest treasure ever. Outmaneuver the Diamond Center security and become richer than ever!

First Impressions:

We’ve been doing a lot of virtual globe trotting with our virtual escape experiences recently, and we have added France to our Escape Room passport with The Box! A tried an true escape room theme, heist rooms are generally reliable and exciting, so we couldn’t wait to try this one out.

High Points:

The set for Diamond Heist was pretty great, with a sleek, streamlined design aesthetic that really hammered home the “ultra-modern bank vault/offices” vibe. A few really cool surprises kept us feeling immersed within the theme, and our doofy avatar Bob did a great job of following our instructions and getting generally freaked out by the alarms. We enjoyed interacting with him and having some improvisationally silly fun while solving the puzzles. The room effects were great, using sound and lighting to set the mood, and there were very few basic locks in the room, which relied on hidden tech to give the vault a believably high tech flair. Puzzles themselves consisted of a lot of research puzzles and making connections between props within the room, and also included a fun vault hacking mini-game that we enjoyed for the most part. The whole experience culminated in a fast paced, intense finale that had us frantically searching for our main goal within the vault itself, as well as trying to steal as much treasure as possible before the police arrived on the scene. The early game had some intense moments as well, however, and certain areas were secured in different ways, ensuring that we always felt as though this was a high stakes mission in which failure was not an option! Though the experience moved through different game stages linearly, there was enough to work on at each stage that our whole group could remain engaged with each step, dividing and conquering to tackle different puzzles together.

Low Points:

A lot of virtual escape rooms cast the avatar as “lovable doofus,” and while that is funny to start and allows for a reason why they can’t do whatever tasks are presented on their own, in the long run, it is a lot more fun, in our experience, when the avatar acts more as a teammate. It is especially frustrating when the avatar is “unable” to search on their own. Virtual games do not lend themselves well to hidden objects, and it generally needs to be streamlined as players cannot see the whole room or anticipate hiding spots well in this medium, so when, in this room, there were objects that were very well hidden, it took entirely too long for us to find while adding nothing to the experience itself. The inventory method for the game was via google docs, and access was given as we went. This slowed down the game substantially, and left us with loads of useless information near the later stages of the game. Telescape is the gold standard for inventory systems, and comparatively, google docs did not do near as well a job during this game. There is a large mix of digital and in room puzzling to do during the game, but they did not mix overly well, leading one or the other to be neglected while puzzles were being worked on. The final puzzle was good, but was repeated over and over several times, leading to burnout while trying to finish up the heist. There was also an element of randomness that could frustrate players on their last few minutes.

Verdict:

Overall, The Diamond Heist wasn’t a bad room, but didn’t quite go above and beyond compared to other virtual escape offerings available. A lot of streamlining would help bolster the game itself, but it is still good for an hour’s entertainment. Enthusiasts will get their fix from this room, but newcomers might find the presentation a bit overwhelming. On the whole, our adventure with Bob was fun, but not particularly mind-blowing. Book your time pulling off the heist of the century here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: The Box provided our team with a complementary game.

The Panic Room – CSI: Stranglehold (Review)

Location: Your home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 (from the same or different locations) – we suggest 2-3

Price: £20 ($26.73 at the time of this writing.)

Gripping

Theme:

From the Panic Room website:

Blood has been spilled across the streets of London, ‘The Eastside Strangler’ has yet to be caught, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. You must follow in the footsteps of the previous detective on the case and finally get some justice. Find out his identity and location before he strikes again! The power is in your hands detectives.

CSI: Stranglehold is a web-based escape game you can play at home, solo, or with a group. Includes audio, video, and visual files that are gradually unlocked as you solve your way through the exciting and fiendish puzzles to find the identity of the ‘Eastside Strangler’ before he chooses another victim.

First Impressions:

After finishing up The Panic Room’s Sherlock Holmes game, I was more than ready to jump forward a bit in time, and take on a new mystery! CSI: Stronghold’s somewhat flashier presentation, and inclusion of video and a grittier story line appealed to me immediately, and I couldn’t wait to see how the adventure would unfold!

High Points:

CSI: Stranglehold is a more complex mystery than Sherlock Holmes, ramping up the difficulty and the deductions needed to solve the puzzles, which appeals to the puzzling enthusiast in me. I also enjoyed the whole production of this game, with it’s snazzy videos and slick presentation. The videos themselves did a great job of upping the interactive feel of the game, and definitely helped pull us into the world of the mystery, for the most part. I also noticed that many of the locks and files we needed to interact with were shown from the start, giving this game more of an escape room feel overall. Inputs are clear, and the challenge remains in solving the puzzle, rather than figuring out what goes where, with clues subtly hidden in order to signpost what is important for progression. There are ongoing clues that come from a particular item, and it is always satisfying when a puzzle presents itself, and a connection is made, revealing the importance of something we previously thought to be innocuous. The game flowed very well from place to place, and while the experience is linear on the whole, this works in the game’s favor by ensuring that the story can progress smoothly. While some of the puzzles were real thinkers, we never came across a point where the logic became obtuse, so the adventure continued to move at a nice clip.

All interactions within the game are intuitive, and though some are particularly challenging, a good amount of brain power and some team work always ensured we’d be able to suss out the answers in due time. One early game favorite hid its solution well, and as we slowly determined what was important and how to apply these pieces, the ah ha moment slowly came into view. We continued to solve, working through this fast paced mystery; eventually making our way to the fantastic ending. We really liked the overall deduction of the who dunnit, (or the “who has done this,” for fans of Captain Raymond Holt,) as it comes together in an engagingly fun way. The climax was excellent as well, presenting us with a congratulations and denouement via another well produced video.

Low Points:

Some of the puzzles in this game are a bit “escape-roomy” in that they don’t quite tie into the theme overly well, taking us out of the immersion somewhat. The puzzles were interesting however, so it is entirely forgivable, but those looking for complete immersion throughout will find these moments a little jarring. We liked the audio soundtrack included as an optional immersion aid, but unfortunately, due to the amount of videos, it didn’t play nicely with hearing the actors as well, so it was paused and unfortunately forgotten about. Some of the portrayals within the game were somewhat hit or miss, but get the point across as needed.

Final Verdict:

CSI: Stranglehold is a great hour or two of mystery solving fun, and I definitely recommend checking it out. Though the difficulty is somewhat higher than that of Sherlock Holmes, it is a great next step for beginners who have completed that game or enthusiasts looking for a bigger challenge! The mystery presented was engaging, and I had a brilliant time working to uncover the identity of The Eastside Strangler! Book your time going toe to toe with a vicious killer here!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Panic Room provided our team with a complementary game.

The Panic Room – Sherlock Holmes (Review)

Location: Your home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players: 1-6 (from the same or different locations) – we suggest 2-3

Price: £15 ($19.77 at the time of this writing.)

Elementary!

Theme:

From the Panic Room website:

The year is 1912, the location: London town.

You and your group think yourself to be a top-notch group of detectives and are raring to take on your first big case. What better than a case that Sherlock himself has been trying to solve?

You’ll need your wits about you, a keen eye for detail and don’t forget to take notes!

During your investigation, you will come across quite a few individuals who will hopefully help connect the dots and lead you on the right path. Perhaps you will even be able to catch up with Sherlock and solve the case yourself?

Think fast, look closely, and of course just remember…Don’t Panic!

First Impressions:

It’s been so long since I’ve done a Sherlock-themed puzzle/escape anything! (Or has it? 2020 has been a long decade so far – what is even time?) Not that I haven’t enjoyed the various horror-themed rooms we’ve been playing recently, but I found the return to a classic a breath of relief and was excited to see what the Panic Room had to offer.

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Yay Points:

Sherlock Holmes is a great beginner-friendly introduction to the world of puzzling. The style, I think, was very apropos for a Sherlock-themed game. The puzzles were woven well into the storyline, and I really enjoyed how the case unfolded with each step of the way, with each win unlocking the next destination and a new piece of the mystery. I particularly enjoyed that we were able to use different pieces of evidence via embedded materials in the webpages. The interaction with these materials were thankfully smooth to both use and navigate (always appreciate the zoom-in feature and links to images!), and they seemed to have some nice, thoughtful details to them.

Additionally, the overall mechanics of the game play were intuitive and well set-up. It was easy to navigate back and forth between the pages, and we were happy to find that the site saves your progress so that we didn’t have to enter passwords to order to check back with previous pages. We were also pleasantly surprised when we happened upon a secondary way to get you to where you needed to go. A thoughtful use of materials! Optional audio narratives were also available for each story element, which (as it has been documented) we definitely appreciated.

The flow of puzzles we navigated contained a nice progression. Starting off with an easy win, your deductive skills are increasingly called upon as you strive to catch up to Sherlock and solve the case. The game makes it very clear what questions you need to answer and, for the most part, it’s straightforward as to what you need to use and do to solve each conundrum that appears. There were a couple of a-ha moments on my part when I realized what I may have been overthinking though, but then it was smooth sailing from there.

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Pondering Points:

Now that I know the answer for the climactic puzzle, I understand how we were supposed to arrive at the correct solution. However, we seemed to get tripped up by a clue that pointed us to different resources and thus a different conclusion than what was intended. I’m not sure if the evidence we focused on was unintentional or a red herring, but it seemed to be a more noticeable signal (to us at least) than what we were supposed to latch onto. Thus, the correct solve ended up being slightly anticlimactic for us, perhaps in large part due to our previous efforts on the erroneous rabbit trail.

While the passwords themselves were typically clear, they were on the longer side, so it might have been nice to be able to have the option to ‘reveal’ what answer you were typing to confirm you were entering it correctly.

Final Verdict:

I would definitely recommend Sherlock Holmes for beginners or enthusiasts who wanted to introduce their friends/family to the puzzling experience. For enthusiasts alone, it’ll definitely be on the easier side, but it’d still likely be a leisurely fun time. I think this was a great starter game before players try one of the Panic Room’s other virtual experiences, CSI: Stranglehold (review coming!) Try your hand at assisting the great Sherlock Holmes here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: The Panic Room provided our team with a complementary game.

Pebble Escape Rooms – Gothic Horror Escape Bundle (Review)

Location: Your Home via the Magic of the Internet!

Players:  We recommend 1-2 players

Price: £25.00 (About $32.75 USD at the time of writing.)

Classic Monsters Return!

Theme:

From the Pebble Escape Rooms website:

Enjoy our classic Gothic Horror Escape Bundle as you Escape from Castle Dracula, Defeat Mr Hyde and create your own monster with Dr Frankenstein. Puzzles and brainteasers await you in this triple game bundle.

This Gothic online escape room bundle is available now! You can play at home, solo or with a group of friends over video chats such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This game works best on a laptop or tablet but it can also be played on a mobile phone.

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First Impressions:

I always enjoy a good point and click adventure, as the genre has been a favorite since I was a kid in the 90s. Pebble Escape’s Gothic Horror bundle seemed to be right up my alley, with adventures inspired by Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula! We tried all three out one weekend, and were impressed by the 90s adventure game aesthetic!

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High Points:

Pebble Escape has created these games to appeal to families and puzzlers looking for an introductory experience, and I think they are perfect for this target audience. The puzzles are simpler, introducing young puzzlers to some basic code breaking and solving, while serving up some puzzle hunt style meta puzzles that are accessible to novice solvers. The presentation is intuitive, and reminds me of late 90s early 00s adventure games, like Dark Fall or The Crystal Key, which brought back some nostalgic feelings. Interactive areas are responsive, and some of the more intricate puzzles have intuitive machines to play around with. The sense of place exuded by the artfully constructed backgrounds is excellent, and we enjoyed spotting the buried clues integrated into these scenes. In scenes that are dependent on searching for hidden objects, an optional magnifying glass is included, which is greatly appreciated. The games are strictly linear, but do have important clues woven through each scene, and players will need to carefully search each area for items they’ll need to ultimately overcome the final puzzles. The difficulty curve is gentle, but does ramp nicely towards more complex solves as players work through each scene, and the finales presented some interesting mechanics to ensure they remain engaging. Puzzles within each game are varied in order to ensure there’s several different puzzling concepts to explore, and I think families will have a great time working through them together!

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Low Points:

One thing that would really help bolster the experience would be the addition of a soundtrack and perhaps sound effects when interacting with items. The immersion falls strangely flat when the game remains silent at all times. Even the addition of a suggested Spotify playlist could help players get more immersed within the world of the games. Enthusiasts aren’t quite the target audience, though if they’re looking for a game to play with their kids or family that is new to puzzling, this one will serve as a great introduction. Between the games, there are a few puzzles that repeat, which is alright overall, but the bundle does feel somewhat repetitive at times if played back to back.

Verdict:

Pebble Escape Games has created a fantastic little bundle of escape adventures for families with their Gothic Horror Bundle, which will introduce basic puzzling concepts and villains from classic literature in an accessible, spooky but not scary way! I definitely recommend this to enthusiasts who want to share their puzzling obsession with their children, as well as less experienced folks who are looking for a family focused adventure. Work through the puzzles and escape the monsters here!

8/10 (Great)

Full Disclosure: Pebble Escape Rooms provided our team with a complementary game.