Total Escape – Temple of Tikal (Review)

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

Price: $30 per person

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

It (still!) belongs in a museum!

Theme:

The Temple of Tikal is a legendary Mayan temple, rumored to house an ancient and incredibly valuable treasure, hidden away by the Jaguar King behind a series of traps and puzzles designed to only give way to those who are worthy of possessing his most prized treasure. You and your friends have found a way into the temple, and have one hour before the temple’s mechanisms seal again, leaving you trapped inside! Work quickly, and become the true heir to the Jaguar King’s riches!

First Impressions:

Prison Break was Total Escape’s first escape room, and it was a great experience, taking a fairly common trope and executing it better than most other escape rooms have. Before our venture into the Temple of Tikal, we spoke with one of Total Escape’s owners, and she gave us a sneak peak of the then upcoming Yacht Heist, which was a huge, and incredibly sleek looking room. All of this had us jazzed to see what the designers had cooked up for the Temple!

We were also impressed that Total Escape added in subtitles to their intro video, which is a small touch, but very much appreciated.

High Points:

Temple of Tikal began with our fantastic game master giving us our back story and challenging us to begin our game by opening us the Temple itself with somewhat of a pre game challenge. I always enjoy when escapes begin “outside” the room itself, and this was an unexpectedly cool way to start off our game. Once we’d pieced together this appetizer puzzle, the Temple was ours to explore! The experience remains highly non-linear almost throughout, with capstone puzzles measuring progress splendidly, and providing intuitive solves to ensure that all players remain involved with solves and there aren’t many choke points to stymie progress. The game flow works extremely well, and many solves provide great moments of revelation and satisfying pay offs. This may be one of the most hands on rooms we’ve done lately as the set is absolutely littered with large scale puzzles and interactions, displaying some amazing and tactile set pieces to puzzle around with your team. This focus on large scale, teamwork based puzzling is a constant theme throughout the adventure, and there was something for everyone to work on for almost the entire game.

Technology in the game is incredibly responsive, and players always know when a solution has been accepted, as many times when a correct answer has been input, there’s instant feedback. This feedback takes inspiration from great adventure games, and we were wowed many times by the exciting moments our actions triggered. This was one of the few games in which I felt as though I was in the middle of one of the great puzzle moments during a Tomb Raider game. The intuitive nature of the game ensured that even during the more challenging parts of the room, we were never left to cast about wondering what came next, and the high energy journey through the Temple remained engaging through it’s appropriately exciting climax. Like Prison Break, the absence of a game timer really elevated the experience, ensuring that we remained focused on the game and immersed within the story. I lost all track of time in the best possible way, and this small exclusion helped keep outside distractions from encroaching on the game.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle is an interesting interaction to begin, but is somewhat arduous to complete, due to it’s nature. It boiled down to a guess and check interaction at its core, and until we’d found the right way to manipulate things, it felt like busy work. An additional puzzle or clue could easily skip a lot of the aimlessness of this one, preventing the novelty of the interaction from wearing off. Though the room is non-linear and provides a lot for larger groups to do, there is one particular choke point we arrived at that leads to some standing around as only two players could comfortably work on it before becoming a case of too many cooks. Overall, though, both of these instances were minor points during a run of great adventuring.

Verdict:

Temple of Tikal is an awesome leap forward from the already great Prison Break, and if our sneak peek of Yacht Heist is any indication, the sky is the limit for Total Escape! Boasting some excellent set design, cool interactions, and large scale teamwork based puzzling, Temple of Tikal is a must play for any enthusiast in the area, and new players will be astounded by the highly approachable, yet challenging gameplay as well. Uncover the buried secrets of the Jaguar King’s treasure here!

9/10 (Excellent)

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

Breakout Greensboro – Runaway Train (Review)

Location: Greensboro, NC (There are locations nationwide, however.)

Price: See website, varies per person depending on size of group. All games are now private!

Players: 2-7 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

All aboard!

Theme:

From the Breakout Greensboro website:

As the train winds through beautiful countryside, news spreads of an uproar in the locomotive car. Radicals have taken control of the conductor’s cabin, planted explosives, and set the train for a non-stop destination in the heart of the city. Gain entry to the conductor’s cabin, stop the train, and free the passengers before time runs out.

First Impressions:

Runaway Train is Breakout’s newest experience, and after the fun, if slightly flawed, step forward that was Do Not Disturb, we were excited to see what Breakout had cooked up next! We definitely got the more high tech feel Breakout’s newer rooms seem to have from the opening cinematic and screens showing our ill-fated train’s breakneck speed, and couldn’t wait to begin our adventure!

High Points:

Runaway Train’s tech and set design is definitely well done, presenting a convincing train car to puzzle within. The whole experience starts off pretty quickly, and gives us a great impetus to begin working on getting the train’s brakes back online! Some flashy tech and engaging hidden spaces are a lot of fun to interact with, and the set did surprise us from time to time, especially during the climax, which takes a note from Do Not Disturb’s playbook. This final interaction is well implemented, and instills a real sense of urgency in players, but unlike Do Not Disturb, the puzzle presented to close out the room is signposted in a much more intuitive manner, allowing for less frantic frustration. It also encourages more teamwork, keeping everyone engaged with the game’s ending. The latter half of the game also plays host to some of the best puzzles in the game, and though they are the most challenging, they generally aren’t frustrating to work with, unless there is a technical glitch, as noted below. One point of the game becomes non-linear, and the experience really shines during these moments as we were able to divide and conquer, playing to our strengths and working together to progress to the next level of the game.

Low Points:

A puzzle type that worked pretty well in Mystery Mansion, due to it’s ability to engage our whole team and present the problem in an interesting way, falls completely flat during Runaway Train due to the arduousness of the solve, coupled with some vague cluing that further exacerbates the issues we have with this sort of puzzle. The game is almost completely linear, and there were several moments in which only two or three players could work on a problem while the rest of us toodled about until the next item was opened and we could move forward. This is most noticeable during the late game when several puzzles take place in an area that can fit maybe one and a half people at max. The game flow is very choppy, and the connective tissue between each step of the process tends to be very thin, leading to a lot of time just wondering what in the world is going on. One particular puzzle is very hard to see, and is a dreaded process puzzle, but luckily, the solution is extremely easy to hack, if players look at the problem holistically, but I’m sure the game designers did not intend this side method of solving, due to our game master’s shock at our having solved this one so quickly. We also experienced a fair bit of frustration when one tech based puzzle failed to trigger on multiple occasions, leading to the need for our GM to override the problem.

Verdict:

Breakout’s newest games have been great for introducing new ideas and tech, but have been generally fairly uneven in execution. However, Runaway Train isn’t a bad experience, just an uneven one. I like the steps forward Breakout has taken with this and Do Not Disturb, but a little more iteration is needed to make these games truly shine. Still, this one isn’t a bad time, just not the best room currently on offer. If you like Breakout and have played the other rooms, you’ll like this one well enough, but if not, this game won’t convince you otherwise. Stop the Runaway Train at your local Breakout here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full disclosure: Breakout Greensboro provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Total Escape – Prison Break (Review)

Location: Winston-Salem, NC

Price: $30 per person

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Theme:

You and your partners in crime, for one reason or another, have found yourselves convicted and thrown into jail. But worry not! Your pal Donny knows a guy, (who knows a guy,) who busted out of this place before. Apparently, he left clues around about how to escape, and Donny previously followed them to obtain his freedom before you. Just stick to the clues, and you’ll be outta here in no time! But do it within an hour, because the diversion Donny set up for the guards is only going to hold for so long!

First Impressions:

Our game master, whose name I unfortunately did not get, was phenomenal! Delivering a light hearted introduction to our cells, and playing along with our pre-escape shenanigans, she really helped set a fun tone for our experience. I could tell from her interactions with us that not only would the room be a great experience, but the staff at Total Escape were having a good time as well. All of which boded well for our adventure!

High Points:

Prison Break initially split our team between two different cells, and most times, the execution of this sort of game mechanic leaves much to be desired. Total Escape, however, ensured there was no “Curse of the Less Interesting Cell” by making sure that both teams had plenty to do, and peppered this whole stage of the game with great teamwork puzzles that ensured that all of us were able to remain engaged with the game every step of the way. Even when there was one interaction that was reserved for one team, the rest of us felt involved with what was going on, and were never left to twiddle our thumbs waiting to be rescued from our cell. The game flow for the entire experience was incredibly smooth, climbing a steady difficulty curve and weaving clues, solutions, and inputs together well, leaving no room for uncertainty once we had solved any of the game’s myriad challenges. The puzzles were also very original for the most part, and were presented in a mostly non-linear fashion, keeping us immersed in the experience from lock-up to jail break!

Technology implemented within the room was fantastic, and really elevated the experience beyond many other prison themed rooms we’ve done before. Interacting with the set was a thrill, and in many cases, provided a clever clue to keep us on the right track. There are several excellently tactile puzzles scattered throughout the game, and one in particular was a great addition. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it was a small thing I think all of us have wanted to do in an escape room from time to time. This tiny addition to the game really adds to the experience, and it’s a willingness to do things like this that can make a good game really great and engaging. Progress is well measured, and it was always clear where we stood during the game, even without a timer present. In fact, the removal of a game timer added to the immersion greatly, and had us worrying less about how much time remained, allowing us to truly lose ourselves in the experience. Though we could ask for a time check at any time, we never thought to ask for one, the game was so immediately gripping.

Low Points:

The set and story are fairly simple, and the experience remains a standard prison break from start to finish, so escape veterans who’ve tired of the theme may not be as impressed. There’s some searching to be done, and while we didn’t have too much of a problem with it, another puzzle or two to find these rather small items would be generally more engaging overall. Enthusiasts might run through this game fairly quickly, (ours clocked in at around 26 minutes in room total,) and though it felt like a full experience to us, players looking for a longer challenge might want to try Temple of Tikal instead.

Verdict:

Prison Break was a great game, boasting an excellent game flow and some truly original puzzles. Though we were in and out fairly quickly, it certainly felt like a much longer experience in the best way possible, and for Total Escape’s first room, Prison Break is a lot of fun! Beginners will really love the intuitive adventure, and enthusiasts looking for an entertaining and engaging run of puzzles will not be disappointed. Book your time in the slammer here!

8/10 (Great)

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

Breakout Greensboro – Mystery Mansion (Review)

Location: Greensboro, NC (There are locations nationwide, however.)

Price: See website, varies per person depending on size of group. All games are now private!

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

The Haunting of Puzzle House.

Theme:

From the Breakout Greensboro website:

This spine-chilling adventure starts in the ruins of an old mansion – abandoned decades ago by a reclusive and eccentric family. Since then, rumors swirl of a presence looming over the old house. Work as a team to race the clock and uncover the mansion’s secrets in this all-ages mystery adventure.

First Impressions:

We’ve been on three previous trips to Breakout, and it’s almost always a good time, but we noticed on this most recent trip that Breakout has made the shift to all private rooms; always a plus in our book! With a sliding scale pricing model, any size group can ensure they get the room to themselves, ensuring a consistent experience across the board, which is always commendable. Of course, for any of this to matter, the rooms have to be good, so were they?

High Points:

Mystery Mansion is one of the newer games at Breakout Greensboro, but has been around at other locations for quite some time, yet the game still holds up pretty well. Mixing technology with basic lock and key interactions, this room does a good job of keeping the escape room vibe going while still presenting some awesome supernatural interactions that ensure the experience feels fresh. A few climactic moments felt magical, and allowed for some pretty imaginative interactions we hadn’t seen done elsewhere. The logic for these moments are very well clued, and though players wouldn’t generally think to perform these actions, they make wonderfully intuitive sense within the context of the game flow. Barring one particular moment, detailed below, the game flow is fantastic, flowing smoothly between each layer of the game, and we always knew what to tackle next or were able to work these steps out naturally at all times.

The set design is well done, and while other sets at Breakout Greensboro can be hit or miss, this one is definitely put together well. It certainly isn’t Hollywood level, but for the market, it’s believable and immersive enough. Movement between different parts of the game makes logical sense, and the secrets we uncovered were excellently revealed. There was one particular puzzle of a genre that generally, we don’t much care for, but the way it was presented within this room ensured we were all engaged with the solve, and allowed for everyone to contribute. The climax was well implemented upon completion of our goal, the ending felt more satisfying as, unlike a few of the other rooms at Breakout, we didn’t just have to enter a code to escape, but find a hidden relic as well.

Low Points:

One particular puzzle that gave us some trouble was rather strangely clued, with not quite enough connective tissue to become truly intuitive, and once we’d determined what we needed to do, the answer hinged on a piece of outside knowledge. Though I think a lot of groups will be able to determine the answer, it cannot be determined in room if not, and having to waste a hint to figure it out would definitely be a bummer. One extremely original puzzle was a lot of fun to play around with, but never actually worked one hundred percent correctly for us, leading to the need to burn our only hint to figure out what in the world was going on. There was a reset failure in the early game for us, as a key was left in a lock accidentally. Fortunately, we didn’t notice until we were almost at that point anyway, but we would’ve bypassed a huge chunk of the game otherwise. The room is highly linear, so more than three or four players absolutely will result in some choke points wherein someone will be left sitting around with very little to do until the current puzzle is solved.

Verdict:

Though an older room, design wise, Mystery Mansion feels like a step above for Breakout Greensboro. While it still stumbles in places, and is firmly more of a earlier generation experience despite it’s best attempts, it’s still a really enjoyable and engaging experience. Providing enough of a challenge to ensure that enthusiasts don’t just blow through the game, yet ensuring it is approachable to new players, I think this one is definitely worth trying out! Experience the haunting at your local Breakout here!

7.5/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Breakout Greensboro provided media discounted tickets for our group.

Waxhaw Escape – Alice’s Dream (Review)

Location: Waxhaw, NC

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

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Curiouser and curiouser!

Theme:

From the Waxhaw Escape website:

Visit a historic room located in the 19th century hotel where Lewis Carroll first told his stories to Alice Liddell, and plunge into that magical world. Meet up with a white rabbit, BUT before you follow him anywhere, you’d better think about how you will get back!

First Impressions:

After the spectacular Train to Nowhere, we were excited to see what Waxhaw Escape could do with the Alice in Wonderland theme! This one promised to put a twist on the usual formula by setting it within the hotel where Lewis Carroll was inspired by the original Alice Liddel to write the whimsical tale of Wonderland. After a quick briefing and transport into the mysterious world of Alice’s Dream, we quickly got to puzzling!

High Points:

Many of the puzzles within Alice’s Dream are hard wired wonderfully into the unlogic of Wonderland. Nothing is nonsensical, but it all tends to follow a dreamlike logic that makes sense while still feeling somewhat surreal. The room lacks any physical locks, relying on well hidden technical magic for puzzles and reveals. This leads to some great surprises when seemingly innocuous interactions help pave the way towards the next part of the room by unexpectedly triggering a new puzzle or opening up the environment in an interesting way. Props are well integrated into the room, and items that are intended to be used are delineated excellently from those that don’t need to be manipulated+. Playing around with one particular prop is a fantastic time, and the way it reveals it’s purpose is executed in a wholly appropriate, Wonderland focused moment.

As Alice’s Dream progresses, the room responds by becoming more bizarre, twisting perspective and encouraging more out of the box thinking as the difficulty curve ramps up along with the non-linearity of the game. While the beginning provides a good on ramp to the experience, the latter half shifts gears and presents a bigger challenge, but does so smoothly, ensuring that the new challenges aren’t jarring to the game flow or overly obtuse. The experience kept our whole team fully engaged, even during the linear bits, as though there was only one specific puzzle to work on to start, the wins came quickly and everyone was able to contribute during each stage of the adventure. During the later, non-linear segment of the game, most puzzles were very original, and encouraged us to work towards the overarching goal by splitting into teams to take on the various challenges. I very much enjoyed how different segments of the room had been played with and twisted in whimsical ways. One particularly interesting puzzle was found in the likeliest of unlikely places, and the interaction’s intuitive unlogic was a pleasure to behold, and a great addition to the Wonderland theme.

Low Points:

The set for Alice’s Dream was good, but not quite as spectacularly decorated as Train to Nowhere, and seemed to become a little more sparse as the game went on. Though several familiar characters showed up, I didn’t quite get that Wonderland feel as much as I’d hoped. The storyline for this experience is fairly light, mostly consisting of escaping, with one other story element added as we progressed. The added story element was an interesting idea, but there didn’t seem to be too much urgency or threat behind the problem we came across, and beyond its announcement, it seemed to fade into the background quickly. Perhaps a more nightmarish, (but not scary, as this is a family friendly room,) set design during the latter parts of the game would help sell this part of the story better. There was a heavy focus on scavenging during a few parts of the game, and one particular interaction was repeated a few times. A particular interaction was unclued, though we solved it quickly, so it wasn’t much of a bother. I can see other groups getting stuck on this choke point, however, so a small hint may have been a welcome inclusion.

Verdict:

Alice’s Dream is a well made traipse through a hotel that has been injected with a bit of Wonderland. Though a few more touches here and there could make this room truly spectacular, the original theme, fun puzzling interactions, and magical technology deliver an enjoyable adventure nonetheless. I recommend checking it out, especially for beginners and enthusiasts who are looking for a lockless escape to challenge them! Book your time within Alice’s Dream here!

7/10 (Good)

Full disclosure: Waxhaw Escape provided comped tickets for our group.