Escape Room Herndon – 8-Bit Escape (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Totally Tubular!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

Your friends have come over to play your newest video game; however once you get to the basement you see your mom has locked up all your gaming gear until you finish you homework. You and your friends have 60 minutes to find all your gear and put it back together before your mom kicks them out and they all go over to Wade’s house.

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First Impressions:

I have to say, as a child who grew up on the NES, 80’s and 90’s movies, and sitting in front of giant box TVs on grandma’s shag carpet, 8-Bit Escape was absolutely calling my name, as it called most of our team. I try to go in to rooms without big expectations, but the pull of nostalgia from this one was hard to resist, and I was giddy to see what wonders were in store during this escape!

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High Points:

There are several pictures in this review that show the amount of detail that has gone into making 8-Bit Escape a truly convincing blast to the past, but these pictures alone cannot describe the absolutely amazing feeling of stepping into the room for the first time. The experience is truly brilliant, with a set design that stays one hundred percent faithful to it’s gloriously creative theme. Sound design was amazing as well, and hearkened back to the NES era of chiptune earwigs that I still cannot get out of my head decades later. The story is simple, but effective, and calls to the kid in us; it does a fantastic job to frame the adventure, but doesn’t need to be overly complex, as the main draw here is the immersion within the old school theme of the room. The first thing most folks will want to do upon entering is get their hands on some of the fantastic, true to life props and just start playing around, and in some cases, there are items within the room that are marked as simply that, games and toys to play around with while you explore the room. this touch is fantastic, and though they may not further the puzzle flow, they do add to the immersion of the room, and allow players to indulge their nostalgia to their heart’s content.

8-Bit Escape is a room that’s just enormously fun to be in, but there’s still an escape game to play inside, and it is just as exciting. The game flow is fantastic, with a non-linear run that ensures big groups with have plenty to work on when they aren’t playing around with the Atari or He-Man figures. Every single puzzle within this room is integrated perfectly into the theme, and there are so many superbly creative interactions, some of which we’d never seen before. One early puzzle rewards a bit of outside knowledge without requiring it, and gives a rush of satisfaction to those that can solve it early without breaking the game flow by skipping ahead, which is great. One of my absolute favorite parts of the room involves a full scale arcade cabinet, and an interaction that expanded the room in a way I did not expect. There are further surprises in the late game that are beautifully done, and during this climax, there are some absolute full-scale gems that are just joyous to work through. All in all, this room is a pleasure through and through, and I cannot say enough good things about the experience. It goes without saying that I recommend booking a slot here, no questions asked.

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Low Points:

We had to eventually leave. Seriously, though, that was kind of a bummer. We could spend all day in this room if you let us, I’m sure! Honestly, the only problem I personally can think of is that there are a few props that feel a bit worn. Beyond that, I really can’t think of much that I could write here.

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Verdict:

Only one other escape business I’ve visited has ever received more than one ten out of ten review from us in three years, but Escape Room Herndon absolutely deserves to be just the second business to receive this honor. 8-Bit Escape is an escape room that is elevated from merely a simple game to an experience that is a pure joy to engage with. The set design, nostalgia, clever puzzling, and great easter eggs come together to deliver a room that absolutely deserves the title of must-play! Book your time in mom’s 80’s basement here!

10/10 (Phenomenal)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Herndon provided comped tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Fairfax – 1960: History of the Future (Review)

Location: Fairfax, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Back to the Future!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Fairfax website:

You and your teammates are customers of a booming new company, New Horizon Tours, which offers trips to dozens of locations across time and space. Today’s tour: The History of Time Travel, which starts…in the 1960s? In the past few years (of the sixties, that is), INSPiRE Laboratories has been rising in the public eye and offers many innovations for your home and family, but there may be more behind its cheerful façade.When you arrive on location, your tour guide is nowhere to be found, but when the offices of INSPiRE LABS lie just down the hall, curiosity gets the best of you, but with nobody tending to your device, it leaves without you! You will need to seek out a new way to return to your own time in one or be stuck in the 60s forever. Can you make it back to modern times? You’ll be successful either way, if you want to wait 50-60 years.

First Impressions:

2233: Fighting for the Future was our favorite room at Escape Room Fairfax so far, and 1960: History of the Future is the asymmetric partner/prequel and/or sequel to that room, so I was interested to see how the stories interacted as well as how the room was paced to match up with 2233 during competitive games. The lobby was split down the middle via designs inspired by the two separate themes, so we knew that the set design would be appropriate, at least!

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Subtle, but appropriate.

High Points:

As a tie in to 2233, 1960: History of the Future is a cool follow up, if not quite as exciting. Easter eggs that reference each other are sprinkled throughout both rooms, and the experience is certainly more cohesive having done both rooms. Some of the storyline is fleshed out better having done both rooms, and seeing some of the tech from the previous room as it is being invented is a lot of fun. The set design feels very 60’s, and while not quite as flashy as the designs within 2233 by virtue of their highly different time periods, it still manages to overcome being “just an office,” with touches here and there that feel dated without feeling dated. Sound design was interesting, and media used within the room was fantastic, lending an authentic feel to the experience.

The game flow worked well for the most part, with a non-linear design that kept us fully engaged with the experience. Tech puzzles abounded, and while it wasn’t a futuristic room, the tech felt as though it belonged and lent a retro-sci-fi feel to the game as a whole. Some really great interactions, tinged with a bit of humor, elevated some of the puzzles, and there were a few really clever puzzles that were hinted in subtle, but intuitive ways. The ending of the game definitely felt more climactic than the end of 2233, and made more sense overall, leaving us with a certainty that this game had the better ending in terms of story and game.

Low Points:

For how authentic some of the set design feels, some of it is entirely too authentic, with horribly loud desk drawers and creaky old set pieces that added some unintended frustration to the game. Searching the room sometimes devolved into a cacophony of horrible sounds that reduced us to being unable to think, and unfortunately, a can of WD-40 was not at hand. The puzzles included within the game could feel disjointed at times, dropping out of the theming and feeling random rather than purposefully designed with story in mind. While everything in 2233 felt like part of a futuristic lab with high tech machinery, 1960 tended to have some interactions that were included “because escape room.” It was a little immersion breaking, especially when some puzzles involved some banal office sorting or a placement puzzle who’s inclusion was just tenuous at best. One late game puzzle caused a bit of frustration due to the similarities between two categories that weren’t clearly differentiated enough to ensure that the solve ran smoothly.

Verdict:

While not as cohesive or flashy as 2233, 1960: History of the Future is a serviceable game, and an interesting tie in to it’s companion experience. I would recommend checking it out in tandem with 2233, but would suggest doing it first, as it is definitely not as exciting as 2233 on the whole. Book your time in INSPiRE’s 1960’s lab here!

6.5/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Fairfax provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Arlington – Super Villains (Review)

Location: Arlington, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Gotham City needs its heroes.

Theme:

From the Escape Room Arlington website:

Slip on your spandex and strap on your utility belt! The super villains have escaped the comics! Using your wit and wiles, you must break into the very heart of darkness; transport yourself into the comic lairs of four of the city’s most notorious super villains, discover the clues they’ve left behind and save the city… if it’s not too late.

First Impressions:

Escape Room Arlington had already shown us some impressive rooms, so we were absolutely hyped for their take on the rare Superhero genre, at least in regards to escape rooms! Side note, as much as we love being the super heroes, the title of this room made me pine for a room where you get to be the super villains, which I think would be enormously fun! Perhaps a sequel is called for?

High Points:

Super Villains begins with an intense opening in an expansive, varied, and beautiful set. Initially placed in the center of a completely open space, players travel between the lairs of Catwoman, Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler, and each room is wonderfully decorated to reflect the personality of their owners. This openness is great for larger parties, allowing the group to split up and take on their favorite villain, while crossing over between each room as pertinent clues reveal themselves. This is exactly what our group of five did, as from the word go, I took the Catwoman room, one friend took on The Joker, and my wife and other two friends split time between The Penguin and Riddler’s lairs. At no point during the game were any of us not fully involved with puzzling, and we all found puzzles to suit our tastes and solving styles. The rooms weave together beautifully, and the game flow’s entirely non-linear threads tie together perfectly at the climax, giving us tangible feedback on our progression and making for enormously satisfying solves. Wrapping everything into the theme of the room are a cavalcade of fantastic props, including some tactile items that encourage some great mechanical puzzling.

Due to our frantic divide and conquer puzzling, we made pretty good time in this room, (and capstoned our years long quest for a golden gnome, a Ravenchase staple,) but that isn’t to say that the adventure isn’t densely packed with puzzles, quite the opposite! So many of these interactions are part of the set design, and figuring out their secrets is immensely enjoyable. There are some neat twists on standard designs, helping the entire game feel fresh, even for folks on a 23 room mega-marathon, and working through this highly intuitive yet entertainingly challenging experience was absolutely one of the highlights of our trip. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the highlights of my escape career so far!

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Our quest for a golden gnome is finally complete!

Low Points:

There was one particular puzzle that involved a fair bit of squinting to make out, which is somewhat by design, but even with tools to figure this one out, it’s a bit of a seek and find that was mostly underwhelming. That being said, we enjoyed every other puzzle in the room, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. The only other thing is, as may be obvious, this room could be a bit easy for long time enthusiasts, however, I feel it was still a reasonable challenge, and we had a glorious time in this room.

Verdict:

Escape Room Arlington’s Super Villains is a novel room, with an interestingly open layout that still manages to hide many secrets within its walls! Original puzzling, some beautiful set designs, and an intense storyline that had us battling it out with some of our favorite villains all wove together into one of the most exciting games we have played in Virginia or beyond! Without a doubt, I recommend checking out this room, and look forward to what the designers come up with next! Book your time in Escape Room Arlington’s manic comic book here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Arlington provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Rush Hour Live Escape Games – Murder at Mardi Gras (Review)

Location: Fredricksburg, VA

Players: 2-8 (We recommend 3-4)

Price: Prices vary, see website for more details

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

A celebration to die for!

Theme:

From the Rush Hour Live Escape Games website:

There’s been a murder and you and your group of jazz musicians are being framed for the crime! The Authorities are on their way back to the jazz club to arrest you all for the murder. Your only hope is to solve the mystery and collect the evidence to prove your innocence.

First Impressions:

I’ve never come across a Mardi Gras theme, and Murder at Mardi Gras seemed like a creative idea! The room was certainly decked out in the green, purples, and golds of the holiday, and was overall very festive, in spite of the gruesome murder that had been committed!

High Points:

The set design was well done in this room, and absolutely stayed on theme during the main portion of the game. It’s always nice to have a colorful, fun set when most escape rooms tend towards the darker, dreary realms of serial killers and jail cells. Props all played into the whimsical theme, and some of them were loads of fun to play with. The storyline for the room was a good time, with an exciting climax and enjoyable twists and turns, though the acting left a bit to be desired. However, this didn’t detract too much from the overall experience, and the main draw for us is the puzzles.

The game flow itself was straightforward and mostly intuitive, with a nonlinear approach that allowed for our team to divide and conquer for the most part. One of the initial puzzles was a favorite of mine, due to how it was put together, as well as the great moment of revelation it provided, as the clues were all hidden in plain sight, it just took some detective work to make all the pieces fit together nicely. One particular escape room staple is present within Murder at Mardi Gras, but it is handled in the best way possible, and we found no fault with it’s inclusion as the interaction was presented perfectly for what it is.

Low Points:

Some of the game’s puzzles dropped off theme, wandering into “because escape room” territory, and while they weren’t terrible, they weren’t terribly interesting either. Some puzzles were undirected, with one that didn’t even seem like an interaction until the game master quickly let us know that it was, and another leaving us to determine the solution without giving us the means to derive the full answer without throwing out a guess. There was one particular repeat of a similar puzzle type we saw a few times at Rush Hour Live, one which popped up several times during our visit, and while it wasn’t a bad puzzle, it began to become old hat once we saw it repeated a few times. There have been a few updates to the room since it’s inception, and there is some leftover artifacting, some of which would have been more fun had it been left in, in our opinion. Overall, Murder at Mardi Gras is a serviceable game, but nothing about the experience really stuck with us after the fact. Not a bad game, but mostly average, it definitely falls just above the middle of the pack.

Verdict:

Murder at Mardi Gras is, on the whole, a good time, but isn’t quite as exciting as other rooms we played at Rush Hour Live. The mystery is well presented, and the puzzles are serviceable, but overall, it feels just a little dated. Newer players will have fun here, and there is a pretty good time for enthusiasts as well, but it just doesn’t quite rise above average for the most part. You can book your investigation into the Mardi Gras Murder here!

6/10 (Alright)

Full Disclosure: Rush Hour Live Escape Games provided media discounted tickets for this room.

 

Escape Room Herndon – Maritime Mutiny (Review)

Location: Herndon, VA

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-5)

Price: $28 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

Here there be py’rates!

Theme:

From the Escape Room Herndon Website:

The pirate captain Ravensbeard has been cheating you and the crew out of your rightful share of plunder! Now that hornswoggling scoundrel has barricaded himself in his quarters. You and your mates must break in to reclaim what be rightfully yours and send that scurvy dog to Davey Jones’ Locker. If you’re crafty enough, mayhaps you’ll even commandeer the whole galleon. All hands on deck!

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First Impressions:

Most of the Keyed Up! A-team love a good pirate theme. While they’re fairly ubiquitous, especially over on the east coast, our main stomping grounds, we still have a soft spot in our hearts for them. Knowing Ravenchase rooms’ proclivities for great sets and interestingly engineered puzzles, we were excited to see what sort of high seas mischief we’d be getting into!

Mutiny

High Points:

Maritime Mutiny is housed within yet another beautiful set from Escape Room Herndon, who does an amazing job with their designs. The set reminded me of the astounding Lost Jewel of the James from sister company Escape Room RVA, with a more streamlined and easier to traverse set. Every technical item has been hidden away well, and the room itself has been artistically created to evoke a high level of immersion. Lighting and sound design add to the experience greatly as well, and I always appreciate a good ambient sound track that ensures players feel as though they’re within a living world rather than a converted office space.

The game flow itself works fantastically, with a bevy of well clued puzzles that will cater to an array of puzzlers. Each prop within the room feels important, and the intuitive nature of the enigmas within Ravensbeard’s pirate ship ensure that everyone will be completely engaged with the adventure at all times. The signposting is subtle, and presents an almost invisible road map for players that keeps the game challenging while ensuring that there are no red herrings to drive them off track. This is a very tactile game, and when the set opens up to present its secrets due to an action taken in the room, it’s a very satisfying. Progress is well marked during the game, and it never feels like the game is dragging at any point.

Maritime Mutiny is a special game in that the advertised difficulty is a 5/10, unless players opt for the bonus puzzles, in which the game becomes a 10/10. The decision to take these puzzles on is made after escaping the initial room, so no need to worry about if there’s time (or mental energy,) until the option presents itself. This is an awesome way to ensure folks who tend to fly through easier rooms still get their full 60 minutes with the game. I also love that solving these puzzles grants a better climax to the room, as hinted at in the room description. Our team definitely felt the pressure as these were some devious challenges, but know that the reward for solving these optional puzzles is absolutely worth it!

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Low Points:

While the bonus puzzles are a great addition for seasoned players, they were more puzzle hunt style than most are used to seeing in an escape room. I personally am not the biggest fan of this style of puzzle, which tend to feel overly vague and logically unsound. However, most of the puzzles presented are well implemented and they are, of course, optional, so it’s a small matter of mostly personal preference as to whether you’ll enjoy the bonus. Overall, we did, but I can certainly see where they would become frustrating. The initial set of puzzles are definitely some of the easier ones, so escape room veterans looking for a challenge will have to wait for the bonus puzzles. Overall, the dichotomy of the room is best for new players who don’t mind missing out on the bonus and better climax, or hardened escape enthusiasts looking for a bigger challenge, but not as much for those in between experience levels.

Verdict:

Maritime Mutiny is an astounding room that accomplishes the impossible task of being a great room for new players and those looking for a mind melting challenge as well. Couple that with the beautiful sound and set design, and you’ve got a game that I can absolutely recommend to everybody! Book your time escaping your Maritime Mutiny here!

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9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Room Herndon provided comped tickets for this room.