Exit: The Game – The Mysterious Museum (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $14.99

Night at the Museum

Theme:

From the Thames and Kosmos website:

You are on a trip to the Florence Natural History Museum, intent on visiting the sunken treasure of the Santa Maria. Your relaxing day at the museum is quickly derailed by an incredible adventure! Can you solve the mysteries of the museum and find a way out?

First Impressions:

Leading off from where The Sunken Treasure left off, it’s time to visit the museum to have a look at the treasures we recovered! In pure Exit The Game fashion, however, a shady figure has arrived to make sure our adventures in Florence are much more interesting. As the Exit The Game series continues to innovate, it’s great to see that the stories are starting to intertwine, even slightly, so though this was the box I was the least interested in, it turns out that the game inside is easily a favorite.

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It’s always pleasantly surprising how much puzzling Exit: The Game contains in such a small box!

High Points:

Like The Sunken Treasure, The Mysterious Museum is a story based, linear experience. While linearity can be a problem in escape rooms, I find that the more intimate experience of an at home game really lends itself to telling the story this way. It also allows for the most surprising and crazily themed twist of any Exit game to pop off early and take us on a much wilder ride that we initially expected! Though completely linear, the puzzles require teamwork, as well as a variety of solving styles, as the interactions are quite varied. This is one of the easier games on offer from Exit, but it’s still a fun challenge, and several puzzles are simple on their face, but throw a curve ball to players in order to keep things from being too easy.

The game flow is excellent, as always, and the blend of mental challenges with the tactile and ever mysterious props brings a sense of immersion to the game as well. Our favorite puzzles were perfectly integrated into the game materials, with a couple hiding in plain sight from the start, and one a continuation of Exit’s supremely excellent inclusion of clues where you’d least expect them. The storyline is rather enjoyable, and it’s great to see the designers are willing to include a great twist early on that expands the game so much! It was definitely not what I expected from this theme and game, and the pay off works extremely well. The climax is enormously satisfying, and adds a wink and a nod that I think serves as a fun send off.

Low Points:

One puzzle in particular relies on somewhat colloquial outside knowledge, which is more forgivable in a game like this where the timer doesn’t really matter all that much, but it could still be a frustration for some. For others, it’ll be a fairly juvenile puzzle in a game usually directed towards teens and adults. There’s another puzzle which I loved, but had some background in, which, looking back, may present some difficulty due to a small lack of cluing on how to ensure the item itself activates.

Verdict:

The Mysterious Museum is supremely entertaining, and I highly recommend this one as a starting point for new players. As one of the most approachable Exit games available, it really teaches players how to solve its mysteries intuitively. Exit experts will still enjoy the lighter, but still engaging challenge and story presented by this game, as there are still some original conundrums to solve herein. Buy your copy from your friendly local game store today! We recommend checking out Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Lockbusters – Chopper Down (Review)

Location: Orlando, FL

Players:  2-7 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $32 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Blackhawk Down

Theme:

Your team of military operatives has crash landed behind enemy lines, and have been subsequently captured by the enemy. Determined to complete your mission, you must first break out of your cell, gather what equipment you can from the wreckage of your helicopter, and infiltrate the enemy fortress. Once inside, you’ll need to find their missile and use it against them!

First Impressions:

After a rollicking good time during Pirate Adventure, we were ready to take on Lockbuster’s most difficult game, Chopper Down! Well, not quite ready. Before our previous game, we met a couple of enthusiasts and stuck up a conversation before they headed into Lockbuster’s version of Cannibal Collector, a game that we had played previously and loved. Knowing we might need a couple more experienced hands for this one, we were happy to hear they were down to escape another room! (And we absolutely needed their help!)

High Points:

Lockbusters does an excellent job with their sets, and Chopper Down is absolutely no exception. The sound design and lighting really enhanced the mood, and one giant set piece was a wonder to behold. (Though I am a bit disappointed we didn’t get to root around in it.) Great care has been made to ensure the wreckage feels immersive and authentic during the adventure, and it shows. The story is fairly simple, but original, and once the room starts, it’s very clear what your mission is, you just have to figure out how to complete it. This room absolutely lives up to it’s reputation as a challenging room, and for the most part, it isn’t obtuse or difficult for the sake of difficulty. With a good group of enthusiasts, this one feels like an appropriate challenge.

The game flow was almost completely non-linear, which kept the four of us completely engaged, as there was something to do one hundred percent of the time. Bouncing back and forth between the rooms, the game naturally presented us with clues that allowed us to make intuitive connections between props, as well as separate what was important from what wasn’t. The puzzles presented throughout the room are highly original, and many rely on interacting with the set in entertaining and tactile ways. One of the final few puzzles helped culminate a large seek and find game we had played throughout, and though we usually are underwhelmed by item hunts, this one was satisfying and had an entertaining conclusion. The final sequence was awesome, and the climax was appropriate, ending the adventure on a high note.

Low Points:

For all the fun of Chopper Down, it did have a few hiccups that derailed our experience now and again. A couple puzzles were rather banal compared to the rest, one feeling a bit too simplistic, and the other being… somewhat weird with the answer given. The non-linear nature of the game caused a little havoc from time to time when something solved in one area opened something in a vastly different area, creating some confusion on what had opened. Luckily, the feedback was such that we knew we were correct, it was just the matter of finding what opened. Usually, there were bells connected to the item, but if everyone was farther away, this would go unnoticed. Several puzzles would benefit from just a smidge more cluing, as either it was entirely unclear what the rules of the interaction were, or there was no indication where a certain answer would fit. The weak cluing in a couple instances were the only points in which the room felt obtuse, or difficult to be difficult, and I think just a tiny bit more direction could improve the puzzles while still remaining a challenging experience.

Verdict:

Chopper Down is a doozy, no question about it! But with a determined group of enthusiasts, I’m sure the mission can be completed. Newbies may want to try out a different room or two before tackling this one, but overall, it’s a really entertaining romp. I definitely recommend getting a group of at least four seasoned teammates together for this one, and when you do, you can book here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full Disclosure: Lockbusters provided our team with comped tickets.

Doldrick’s Escape Room – Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-8, Always Private (We recommend 3-5)

Price: $33.99 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Press start to play!

Theme:

From the Doldrick’s Escape Room website:

As part of an elite group of commandos, The Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome are on a mission to find and deactivate a newly developed weapon of mass destruction, capable of obliterating the entire planet! Only the Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome have what it takes to break into the evil corporation and deactivate the explosive!

First Impressions:

Doldrick’s came highly recommended by… pretty much everybody. The word of mouth was overwhelmingly positive, and after taking a look at the themes on their website, Doldrick’s was easily the top, must-see escape room to visit during our stay in Orlando. It didn’t hurt that they have bought fully into the humorous trope of extremely ridiculous and long-winded titles that I love so much. I had, to quote the local radio’s apparent favorite song, high high hopes.

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And they have a *pool table*! We didn’t play, but it was an *option*! Which is *awesome*! Kind of like *asterisks*! And running *jokes* into the *ground*!

High Points:

Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome is a trek into the world of a Super Nintendo game. Full of nostalgic ’80s theming (without being a strictly ’80s experience,) slick set design, and a bombastic story and cast of characters, this room remained an absolute blast from start to finish. Let’s start with the story. You’re sent on an elite commando mission to take down a doomsday device, and you’ll be accompanied, via intermittent cut-scenes, by support from your pixelated pals back at the Super Bomb Squad base. It’s over the top and even more exciting than it seems. And this room absolutely nails the humor, making it one of those rare rooms in which the experience is actually funny rather than playing at being funny or making references. It really is a rollicking good time.

Starting off in the room, things are mostly linear, but with enough non-linearity and a lot of teamwork based interactions that I’m sure even larger groups will find plenty to keep engaged. Every puzzle was excellently themed towards the room’s storyline, wonderfully clever and inventive, and challenging without becoming frustrating. Most steps along the journey provided us with brilliant feedback and enormously satisfying moments of revelation, and nothing seemed out of place or run of the mill. It’s difficult to choose a favorite puzzle, as even the simplest of them provided the thrill of solving, but I have to say that some of the enormous and layered room spanning interactions we came across were fantastic. Many of them had bits and pieces sprinkled throughout the rooms, and by gradually uncovering new clues and props, we could naturally come up with the highly intuitive solutions as we came to them.

The climax of the room was slick, as was the rest of the set, and the doomsday device itself was absolutely beautiful; sticking with the theme and just being a cool set piece to mess around with. The room had very few physical locks, relying on really awesome and tactile tech to bring the experience to brilliantly colored life! The effects and soundtrack kept the adrenaline pumping throughout the escape, and when we finally shut the doomsday device down, we felt really accomplished and satisfied with the whole experience.

Low Points:

The Power Glove we used in the after room picture didn’t actually work anymore? I dunno, I got nothin’ for this.

Verdict:

If you are in the Orlando/Kissimmee area, you have to play Super Bomb Squad: Commandos Awesome. Full stop. Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars, go straight to Doldrick’s. This place is a jewel in the crown of Florida area escape rooms and I cannot recommend it to you enough, and I can’t wait to go back for their newest room. Book your time as one of the illustrious Commandos Awesome here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Doldrick’s provided our team with discounted tickets.

Unlock! Exotic Adventures – The Night of the Boogeymen (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-3

Price: $14.99

1, 2, Boogey’s coming for you

Theme:

Little William has been plagued with nightmares; visions of terrible boogeymen haunt his dreams every night, keeping him awake! It’s your job to help William get a good night’s sleep by exorcising these hideous monsters from his bedroom. But be quick, because the monsters are keen on devouring his dreams and replacing them with horrific nightmares! Beat the boogeymen and don’t wake William!

First Impressions:

The easiest of the newest set of Unlock! adventures tends to be the cutest, and is many times one of the stand out games every time a new set of three releases. Night of the Boogeymen was certainly a very interesting theme, and the box cover seemed appropriately equal parts cute and spooky, so I was definitely interested to see how the game play held up.

High Points:

The art style throughout the game is really fantastic, the designs for the boogeymen are mildly threatening while keeping up a spooky vibe without veering off into family unfriendliness. Which is good, as this set is definitely the most family focused entry since the return of Dr. NoSide. The puzzles and game set up do a great job of instilling a sense of derealization to the game, causing the familiar feeling of the bedroom to become surreal and somewhat eerie. The puzzles line up well with this theme, using a dreamlike logic to tie everything together. The boogeyman mechanic is interesting, presenting a series of mini-boss like stages to the game, and while an attached mechanic is somewhat ill advised, (more on that below,) the splitting up of the game into stages of boogeyman battles is a fun one. Rather than presenting multiple rooms, the game takes you through parts of the room that each boogeyman inhabits, and it’s fun to see how they affect each area. The game is mostly non-linear to a point, however, so it still can keep a larger group puzzling, though I wouldn’t approach with any more than four players, per usual for this type of game.

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The boogiest of men!

Low Points:

Puzzles sometimes become entirely too dreamlike in places, requiring logical leaps that don’t quite make full sense, but work anyway. Several moments of old school adventure game logic carried a couple of the interactions, leading us to need to smush whatever we could together until we finally arrived at a correct conclusion. Though the puzzles were mostly good and present a serviceable game, they aren’t amazingly memorable. None really stood out to me as excellently creative or beyond the usual for Unlock! games. Overall, they were just fine. There are a couple of gotcha moments as well, which present reasonable answers just to pop you with a negative penalty just because. Generally, negative feedback shouldn’t come from doing something reasonable, or something that the game urges you to do, but Night of the Boogeymen absolutely does. Worse, one of the results is a card that outright tells you they’re wasting your time. None of this really drove the experience forward, and once we’d dealt with the issue, nothing was added to the adventure or storyline, it was just a speedbump for speedbump’s sake.

On that note, a new mechanic for this box is called “Constraints.” Negative effects that come into play when a boogeyman is revealed. These are mostly arbitrary conditions that I recommend completely ignoring, as they don’t really add anything to the game. There is a small story related reason for their inclusion, (thus their categorization as mostly arbitrary,) but they certainly didn’t add any fun to the game, so we quickly cast them aside in favor of just playing normally. Obviously, if you get to them and find them interesting, go ahead and use them, but this is one of those times when throwing out a rule made the game much more fun for us, which I generally encourage, having a background in Tabletop RPGs.

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Highly recommend completely ignoring these cards unless you think they’ll be fun. 

Verdict:

Night of the Boogeymen is a serviceable Unlock! adventure, and certainly one of the most family friendly, but looking back on it, the game is just OK. Good enough for an hour’s fun, but ultimately not very memorable, with some mechanics that serve to frustrate rather than entertain. I’d give it a shot if you’ve already played the other Unlock! boxes, but until then, there are much better adventures to be had. We bought ours at the ever excellent Atomic Empire in Durham, NC, check out their online store here!

6/10 (Alright)

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.

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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)