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.

Dare 2 Escape – The Asylum (Review)

Location: Kissimmee, FL

Players:  2-8 (We recommend 2-5)

Price: $30 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Say hi to Lizzie for me!

Theme:

From the Dare 2 Escape website:

Dare to face the spirits of the abandoned Asylum? The lights have been long turned off, and tonight you and your paranormal team are about to enter The Asylum for the first time since it closed its doors over forty years ago. Rumored to be the home to many restless spirits, you are here trying to contact the spirit of Victoria Sneed, a patient who was unjustly admitted by her father. You have to move quickly as you navigate the darkened halls, for you only have one hour to find evidence of patient Victoria’s unjust admittance and Dr. Tillman’s unsavory activity, and escape before the spirits obtain enough energy to materialize and trap you within the walls of The Asylum forever.

First Impressions:

Dare 2 Escape has some pretty cool promotional posters for each of their rooms, which to me look like the box art for the awesome late 90’s, early 2000’s adventure games that are the reason I got into this hobby. Whether that’s intentional or not, it’s really nostalgic! The lobby is also fantastic, with loads of brainteasers, a Street Fighter arcade cabinet, and a soundtrack full of excellent music. It’s also filled to the brim with horror references, which I loved.

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Just a picture of a benevolent, lovely doll from the poster. Adorable, right?

High Points:

The Asylum is superbly decorated; it is equal parts dingy, old, and abandoned looking, while still obviously a clean and safe environment for the game. A soundtrack plays during the room and sets the tone well, with some thrills included for additional ambiance as players work their way through the dark halls of the Asylum. The theme is excellent, and the storyline kicks off the epic Tillman family saga that runs throughout all four rooms at Dare 2 Escape. Very rarely have we seen an escape room tie all of their rooms together this way, but when it’s done well, it really elevates the whole experience. And from the start, the incorporation of this ongoing storyline is obviously well integrated. The room is filled to the brim with spooky props, none quite as excellent as Lizzie the doll, who was directly pointed out to us at the beginning of the game, and can be seen below. Lizzie is a kind doll and you should absolutely give her a hug when you can.

The game flow itself is very smooth, with distinct non-linear points that culminate in puzzles that lead to satisfying progression into new puzzle threads, and eventually towards escape. All the enigmas inside the Asylum tie into the theme and keep the story going. Said story is mysterious and isn’t just a thin excuse for a puzzle room, it can be felt throughout the experience as an integral part of the adventure. In fact, many of the puzzles and interactions we came across were highly original, boasting layers of great moments of revelation, as well as some highly satisfying props and tools to fiddle with during the hour. One particular puzzle was very subtle, but eminently clever, taking a fairly common escape room trope and turning it into something a bit more fun to solve.

There’s also something I found to be an amazing addition to the room that can ratchet up the fun and spookiness, but will require players to interact with the Asylum in a particular way. I’m being vague about it because I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise, but it’s definitely an interesting way to develop the room that is somewhat optional. It is, however, extremely creative, and Dare 2 Escape should definitely be applauded for it’s addition.

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Also, the Asylum is obviously haunted, check out the spectral orb activity there at the bottom of our team photo!

Low Points:

The midpoint of the room feels somewhat tedious, with a particular type of puzzle that drags a bit too long for our liking. It’s also located in somewhat of a narrow area, which will be a choke point for larger groups since the puzzle doesn’t really require too many people around to solve it. An early puzzle relies on some outside knowledge of riddles, but isn’t overly egregious, however, this was an easy puzzle for me, so your mileage may vary. Clues were given via a television screen, so if you need a clue in the late game, you have to do a fair bit of backtracking. It isn’t arduous, but it’s nice to receive clues where you are.

Verdict:

The Asylum is a supremely entertaining room, and is just the beginning of the Tillman Family Saga which spans all four of their rooms. I cannot recommend this one enough, and urge you to check it out if you’re in town. You should start here, for sure, as the saga runs linearly through the rooms, starting with The Asylum, continuing in The Ringmaster, jumping over to The Dig, and culminating in The Archive! They are all stand alone experiences, but for best results story-wise, they should be played in order.  Book your time in the haunted Asylum here!

8.5/10 (Great)

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