Escape-topia – Carnival Macabre (Review)

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Price: $29 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Want a balloon, sonny?

Theme:

From the Escape-topia website:

What child doesn’t love a carnival with rides, cotton candy, games, balloons, and clowns?

Well…maybe not all clowns. You see, there’s a murderous clown on the loose in our carnival and his favorite victims are children.

The local authorities suspect Giggles the Clown but are having a hard time proving it because he only leaves his lair for an hour, maybe less.

They already lost 2 good men in their attempt to stop him, so they’ve asked for your assistance, as FBI profilers, to solve the crime before another child falls victim to this madman – if, in fact, he really is human.

 

First Impressions:

Carnival Macabre was our final room of the day at Escape-topia, and I have to say, I was a little sad there weren’t more creepy escapes for us to puzzle through here, as we were having an amazing time! I have a soft spot for spooky carnivals, so I was excited that we had saved this particular favorite theme for last!

High Points:

Escape-topia are masters of crafting an entertainingly creepy set design, and from lobby to room, this immersion remains unbroken throughout the experience. In terms of creep factor, I think this particular room takes the cake for me, especially during the latter half of the adventure. From a mysteriously large locked box we came across to a group of very… special… children, this room kept us on our toes from start to finish! The props within the room do a great job of world building and characterization, ensuring that the ever looming threat of Giggle’s return remained at the forefront of our minds. Adding in the spooky sound design that permeates the carnival, immersion remained high throughout. I also especially loved the subtle bits here and there that gave us further insight into Giggle’s alleged crime spree. I’m still not 100% sure he did the crimes he’s accused of however… I mean, look at him, he’s so darn friendly!

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The art at Escape-topia is wildly creative… and terrifying!

The game flow is fantastic, with a few different paths and a wide variety of puzzle types available to keep larger groups entertained. Though we personally struggled a bit at the beginning, (due, I think, to us having a case of what we like to call, “the dumb,”) the difficulty curve seemed very smooth once we were able to get going. I especially enjoyed some of the more tactile interactions, and really loved a late game meta puzzle that brought together many of the mysterious items we’d collected during our quest! A few had multiple layers to them, though we had to sort through some subtly clever clues in order to discover them. This subtle cluing was produced some excellently satisfying moments of revelation, and I have to say, this room was definitely one of my favorites during our Fort Lauderdale trip, in terms of puzzles. Overall, this was an extremely well designed experience, and it was great fun to work through Giggle’s twisted games!

Low Points:

One particular interaction was really cool, but it was somewhat difficult to reach, and of the two of us, I was the only one who had the wingspan in order to complete the task. Had I been a little shorter, we might have run into some trouble, though I’m sure Mother’s attendants would’ve been happy to assist. One puzzle we came across needed some slightly tighter cluing in order to prevent a logical leap that was required to fully solve it. Finally, though we had no issues with it, I know some players are averse to math appearing within a room. The problems were not overly difficult, but be aware there is some should you dislike this sort of interaction.

Verdict:

Carnival Macabre is a fantastic experience, and one of the best creepy carnival themed rooms we’ve come across! I had an excellent time facing off with Giggles, and cannot wait to return to Escape-topia for future horror adventures. This room would be a great intro to escape rooms for new players, and still presented a good challenge for enthusiasts, so I highly recommend anyone in the area give it a shot. Book your time in the big top here! Give our regards to Mother!

8.5/10 (Great)

Full disclosure: Escape-topia provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Escape-topia – Enter the Nether (Review)

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Price: $29 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The 80s, Lovecraftian horror, what’s not to love?

Theme:

From the Escape-topia website:

The year is 1986 and young Billy Royce has disappeared.

His parents called the local authorities, but after learning that Billy heard things in the walls and planned to go on a quest into a life-draining dimension to save a creature called a Planetar from a monster known as an Illithid, they concluded that he was merely on this “pretend” quest and would return in a day or two.

That was over a week ago and his parents are desperate, so they hired your team of paranormal investigators to find him – and if there is any truth to what he said – then to do whatever it takes to bring their son home before he disappears into the Nether forever.

First Impressions:

The moment you step into Escape-topia, you’re transported into (your game host) Mother’s twisted domain, modeled after a spooky hotel. The staff stayed in character during our rooms, and I can definitely say that Mother and her Head of Housekeeping are incredibly hospitable and would love for you to stay as their guests forever. Which is fine with us, that means free escape games for life, right? They also have a pet Illithid you can have a picture taken with, which is a great bonus!

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So friendly!

High Points:

Aside from the immediate immersion, there are some great hidden easter eggs throughout Mother’s dimension, referencing other spooky entertainment, and one easter egg in particular is more than worth tracking down! I won’t spoil what they are here, but if you are able to give Escape-topia a visit, make sure to have a look around the lobby for some hidden clues! The set of Escape the Nether is just as well designed as the lobby, and being in the room really feels like stepping back into the 80s. With some awesome nostalgia sprinkled in, as well as a cool Stranger Things vibe that stays a small homage, rather than a rip-off, this room is awesome from the word go. As we delved further into the Nether, we found that there was an amazing dichotomy between each level of the game, and the sets and puzzles showed this off beautifully. Props within the room are highly tactile, and one particular puzzle I was immediately enamored with, then slightly frustrated by, but ultimately loved, is an awesome little puzzle that requires making some great connections, and receiving enormous amounts of satisfaction as it slowly begins to slide into the correct places. Tying all these excellent touches together is a wonderful soundtrack and a couple cool lighting and practical effects that elevate the experience from an escape room to a full blown adventure!

The game flow within the room is fantastic as well, and we never felt completely stuck on any one thing. Connections between clues and puzzles were well implemented, and every puzzle we came across felt as though it belonged within the universe of the room. There are a good mix of interactions within, and different types of puzzlers will all find something to love during their adventure. My wife and I took on this room as a two person team, and our differing skill sets worked well as this room is very challenging and requires excellent teamwork throughout! The challenge is very fair, but will put even the most experienced groups to the test. Strangely enough, though I’m fairly certain there is a timer within the room, (somehow I forgot to notate this, but I’m pretty sure,) I didn’t feel myself checking the clock like usual due to the enrapturing nature of the puzzles! Most of the interactions require some form of teamwork, and when there are ones that can be solved solo, the game takes a somewhat non-linear branch to ensure everyone remains engaged. I cannot wait to see where Escape-topia takes their story line next, as the narrative within this room evolved excellently, and seemed to end on a cliffhanger, leaving us wanting more in the best way possible!

Low Points:

There were a few unclued hidden objects, and we got into the groove of looking high and low for them, but it’s always more fun when hidden objects are clued by an enigma in the room. The ultimate puzzle was really cool, but we had some mechanical issues that made it harder to keep in place and unlock what we needed. The set piece for this puzzle was also really beautiful, but it did feel fairly finicky on the dials we needed to set, and there was a bit of fiddling we had to do once we had everything otherwise in place.

Verdict:

Enter the Nether is a fantastic game, and we enjoyed every second of this challenging experience. The immersion here is second to none, and I can tell that the staff really loves what they do, from the performances of Mother and her staff, to the beautifully designed rooms and lobby, everything is absolutely wonderful. Their most challenging game is great for escape veterans, and though I’d recommend getting a room or two under your belt before taking this one on, I believe that new players will still love the experience, especially if they aren’t too proud to take a clue here and there. I highly recommend making a trip out to Escape-topia, where you can Enter the Nether yourself here! Give our regards to Mother!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full disclosure: Escape-topia provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Think! Escape Games – Shady Tavern (Review)

Location: Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Price: $36 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 3-5)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

How about a game of pool? Care to make it interesting?

Theme:

From the Think! Escape Games website:

You are hiding out at The Shady Tavern when you get the call. Your cover has been blown. Someone snitched on you. You’ve lost that game of pool and now you have to pay! Sharky and his gang are waiting for you right outside the front door. You will need all your life skills and wit to bail out before things turn nasty…

First Impressions:

Sharky’s Tavern is pretty convincing! When we first made our way in, I instantly felt the vibe of “somewhat shady pub.” There were loads of bar games scattered about as well, and we couldn’t wait to get to solving!

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Ooooh! I (usually) love mazes! Little did I know…

High Points:

The Shady Tavern was a unique room, to say the least. While some of the usual trappings of an escape room were included, a large amount of dexterity based puzzling helped this one stand out from the crowd. We enjoyed, for the most part, these unusual puzzles, and found that most of them really added to the experience. Several of these tied into the theme well by being great pub arcade games or pub tricks that had straightforward, but challenging objectives. I really enjoyed a certain puzzle we’ve seen on a large scale at a couple of our favorite rooms reduced in size and given a hidden hint to find, making things somewhat simpler. In the previous times we’ve run up against this type of puzzle, we were given no in room hints on the solving, and this inclusion really made it more of a fun, “wow” moment rather than an exercise in “do you know how this works or do you need to burn a hint?” The sense of progression is well implemented, and as players progress, they will definitely feel a great sense of satisfaction as they make their way to the ultimate goal. The set was, as previously mentioned, rather cool, and from the word go, we were immediately immersed. There are a few non-linear points, and these help alleviate the possibility of standing around syndrome, but there are several linear points that do a good job of gate keeping, though it does sacrifice the ability to keep a larger group entertained fully. We took this room on as a couple, so it was enough to keep us puzzling, but had our full 4-6 person group been here, I know some would feel left out. On the whole, this is a really well themed room with some original puzzles we’ve not seen elsewhere, though at times this could be a double edged sword.

Low Points:

We’ll start with the giant elephant, er, set piece in the room. While I usually love this type of interaction, one part of the game that I’d been looking forward to is set up in such a way as to seem to encourage teamwork, but works better with fewer players. We were urged by our GM after a long time flailing about to just take it on solo, which I feel defeats the whole purpose of an escape room. There was nothing else to work on at this point, so this became a huge choke point full of frustration, and sullied an otherwise great room. I’m not joking when I say that it took us a full 20 minutes just to finish this puzzle, and our suspicions that that is normal were confirmed when we spoke to our Game Master afterwards. While I enjoyed some of the dexterity puzzling, this could be frustrating for players looking for a more cerebral experience, so be forewarned if these sorts of puzzles aren’t in your wheelhouse. Overall, the room didn’t feel overly dense with puzzles, and I think this is due to a lot of the dexterity based puzzling taking a good bit of time to work through.

Verdict:

Shady Tavern, despite it’s flaws, and there is one big on in particular, is still a good time. For the most part, we had a lot of fun working through the conundrums housed inside, and one bad puzzle does not sink the experience. In order to make the game truly great, though, I’d suggest tweaking some of the long term choke points to take less time, and adding in a few more mental challenges to even things up a bit. Overall, though we did enjoy ourselves. Players should be forewarned, however, that this is certainly a different experience to your usual escape room, and a fair amount of dexterity is required. Folks who enjoy that type of puzzle will have a good bit of fun here, but those frustrated by this sort of thing should choose a different room. Book your time escaping Sharky’s Tavern here!

7/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Think! Escape Games provided media discounted tickets for our group.