Dare 2 Escape – The Ringmaster (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 2-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Step right up, and be… see the next freak!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website (Truncated):

As you are standing in line for the Freak Show, an elusive figure wearing a top hat and a red jacket approaches you and your friends. He waves his wooden cane at you, beckoning you to follow him to the best seats in the house because you have been chosen as the lucky ones. Thrilled with this opportunity, you and your friends follow the Ringmaster into a side entrance to the main tent where he welcomes you into his personal dressing room. The musky room is covered in red and is illuminated with marquee lights and a small lamp. It’s quite dark, but there is enough light for you to see photos of grotesque freaks on the walls. You ask the Ringmaster about what you see, but the last thing you see is his scarred face before he hits you over the head with his wooden cane. In the background, as you are fading away, you can hear a cynical voice in the distance saying, “Welcome to my Carnival, where the lucky ones become part of the show!”

First Impressions:

After the thrilling escape from Dare 2 Escape’s haunted Asylum, (easily the best Asylum we’ve ever escaped from,) we were more than excited to be jumping right into our next chapter investigating the illusive Tillman family! There’s nothing creepier than a weird circus run by a mysterious ringmaster, (save maybe for our friend Lizzie from the Asylum,) so we steeled our nerves and started searching the Ringmaster’s office!

High Points:

The Ringmaster took the story begun in The Asylum and upped the game in several fantastic ways! The puzzle branches are even more non-linear than before, and presented us with a denser game flow that challenged us to remain on our A-game throughout. Dividing and conquering was the name of the game within this room, and while it remained a great challenge for our team of escape enthusiasts, it always felt like a balanced, if difficult, adventure. The Ringmaster’s office and tent are constructed believably and the highly tactile puzzles and props lend a sense of immersion to the experience from start to finish. Not once did any of the interactions dip outside the theme, and the solutions were cleverly hidden, sometimes in plain sight! One of my favorite puzzles involved a bit of decor that I had puzzled over for a while, mainly writing it off as just a swath of the scenery, but once I had connected it with another clue in the room, the moment of revelation was supremely satisfying.

The story is expertly integrated into the puzzles as well, and not only from overt storytelling via clues found, but via the set design and puzzles types that were found during each stage of the experience. Never before had I seen quite this level of attention to detail, and the whole thing is elevated from a simple game to a truly immersive adventure by it. The story throws twists at the players multiple times, subverting expectations and keeping everyone on their toes until the electrifying climax, and even then we were unsure if one more curve ball might be tossed our way. The entire room is the very definition of excellent design as every part of the set, down to the shape of the rooms, contributes to the overall story that Dare 2 Escape is telling. Gripping narrative in escape rooms is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to ensure players fully experience, but when it’s done this well it grabs your attention and refuses to let go!

Low Points:

There were only a couple moments at which The Ringmaster hiccuped, and honestly, they were both pretty minor issues. There was a puzzle during the initial stages of the game that just wasn’t clued quite well enough to lead to an intuitive and natural solution. Another puzzle had another layer added to the solution after we had solved the initial stage. The addition of a new level of the solve wasn’t so much the issue as the way this was introduced, which felt natural theme-wise, but not so much mechanically. Overall, though, both low points weren’t too much of a downer in the grand scheme of things.

Verdict:

The Ringmaster was easily my favorite room at Dare 2 Escape, and thinking back on the experience, one of my favorite rooms period. Though I think anyone who’s thinking about trying out Dare 2 Escape’s fantastic experiences should follow their generally recommended order of play (The Asylum, The Ringmaster, The Dig, The Archive,) this one absolutely stands on it’s own. If you only have time for a few games in the Orlando area, this one should absolutely be on your short-list. Book your time escaping the clutches of the sinister Ringmaster here!

9.5/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Dare 2 Escape provided our team with discounted tickets.