About Mairi

Mairi is the editor-in-chief of The Escape Roomer and covers escape room news and reviews across the UK's South.

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

Image

Down the Rabbit hole Review | Down the Rabbit Hole is a VR adventure set in Wonderland prior to Alice’s arrival. You will guide a girl who is looking for her lost pet by solving puzzles, uncovering secrets and making choices about the story along the way.

Developer: Cortopia Studios
Date Played: October 2021
Console: Oculus Quest
Number of Players: 1
Time Taken: 3 hours

My first encounter with Down the Rabbit Hole was, amusingly, in VRChat. VRChat is a land of absolute madness and debauchery where pretty much anyone can don their headset and be transported to an amazing land with folks from anywhere in the world. Actually, I’ve played some good escape games and made some friends there.

But one of the coolest ‘worlds’ I’ve been to in VRChat was a promotional space modelled off the intro sequence to Down the Rabbit Hole. It was so intriguing that I wasted almost no time purchasing my own copy of Down the Rabbit Hole the next time I spotted an Oculus sale.

I actually had almost no intention of reviewing the game for The Escape Roomer- you see, I didn’t even realise it was a puzzle game. But somehow the incredible, rich worlds filled with mystery just felt so right for the escape room audience. I was captivated from the very first moment to the very last, and binged the whole thing in just one day!

Oh yes, there are puzzles a-plenty!

Welcome to Wonderland…

Down the Rabbit Hole is a prequel to the story of Alice in Wonderland we all know and love. The theme is a staple of escape rooms all over the world (like this one, or this one, yep and this one, or even this one), but somehow Down the Rabbit Hole manages to make it different with the introduction of a new girl – not Alice! She descends into the rabbit hole and meets a host of wonderful (and familiar) characters before going up against the Queen of Hearts herself.

As a story, it’s fairly predictable. It’s probably quite hard to do anything other than loosely follow the source material, and that’s okay. But one big change the studio did make was casting an American voice actress for the classic British character. For some reason, this did bother me… A lot. If the game is a prequel, then this should be set in the very early 1800s and in Britain. Needlessly Disney-ified? Perhaps. But let’s move on…

Our main character falls down the rabbit hole whilst chasing her pet, but is soon joined by a ‘4 and a Half’ card who is shunned by his society. You see, the Queen of Hearts is a supremacist who believes only the whole cards are real cards. Whilst your main focus is to find your pet, by the time you descend to the very bottom of the rabbit hole you’re too embroiled in the world just to leave it as is it. Who else will help the half-cards?! Or find the missing letters?! Or help prepare for the Queen’s tea party?!

In a final note on the story, the game ends quite abruptly. There is some element of multiple choice, but largely the endings are bittersweet. You might save the day but you can’t save everyone, and even if you can are you willing to turn your back on the ‘real world’?

I’m wondering if the open-endedness of the story may lend itself to a possible sequel on the table? Well, a girl can hope!

Things are Getting Curiouser and Curiouser

So I’ve established that the story telling is okay. But let’s talk about what really makes this game shine: Environment and Puzzles!

This game is breath-taking.

No, seriously. A little louder for those in the back. This game isn’t just a pretty game it’s an absolute work of art and simply existing in this world for a few hours with your VR headset on is a privilege.

Players have two viewpoints. On the one hand, you are the camera in the middle of the rabbit hole looking at the story play out in these tiny, brightly coloured rooms lit up all around you. Using roots to pull yourself further down or pull yourself up, you can follow the story as it goes round and round in a feeling like you are the person tumbling down the hole. Look up and you’ll see the moon and the stars far above you, and look down and you’ll see the darkness stretching out forever.

On the other hand if you need to take a closer look you can switch to the perspective of the main character as she runs around each room. Especially useful for getting up close to treasure chests and opening small locks.

Frankly, I’ve never played anything quite like it, and it’s a perfect example of what wouldn’t be possible in real life but is flawless in VR. Game developers – take note! This is how a good VR game is presented!

“Six Impossible Things”

In terms of puzzles, they’re fairly straightforward making this a widely accessible game for puzzle enthusiasts of all skill level. For one, there’s a meta puzzle running throughout the whole game where a number of invitations to the royal party have gone missing. You need to collect them all. But then within each level is a number of mini-puzzles to tackle and solve before you can move on.

One of my favourite puzzle sequences was a world in which you could be flipped upside down from your partner and swap between the right-way-up and the wrong-way-up characters as you worked together to find a way through. It was a little like the classic Ibb and Obb, but made all the more brilliant for the giant teacups floating around.

Other puzzles involved painting hedges different colours, concocting a potion to make yourself shrink after accidentally trapping yourself inside a house, and may more involved finding 4 digit (or symbol) codes around the world.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed Down the Rabbit Hole – it’s not often I get to binge a VR game without the pressure of reviewing it (some irony that I did review it in the end!), and it was a lot of fun to relax into this world. The world and the immersivity in this is incomparable. Sure, I didn’t gel with the characters much – but the world itself is it’s own character and I love that.

After a discount, this game came in at about £10 which is the same as a couple of cups of coffee. Instead I got to experience one of the most impressive VR world’s ‘ve ever seen. Definitely worth it.

I’ve chosen to award this game a Diamond badge for being visually impressive, though it’s also easy to argue that this game deserves a Best in Genre badge for being a brilliant Alice in Wonderland game.

To try out Down the Rabbit hole for yourself, head to downtherabbitholegame.com

Ratings

Escape Room Community Comes Together for a Christmas Charity Auction – Priceless Prizes Such as the Lance of Longinus, Anna Morana Puppet and VIP Tickets

Image

In the true spirit of Christmas, the UK (and beyond!) escape room industry has come together for a charity fundraiser to raise money for one of our own. As the owner and creator of MARVO Mysteries in Bournemouth, Stephen Hawker is a widely loved member of the community and super enthusiast in his own right.

Steve is currently undergoing treatment for brain cancer, and the community is raising money so that Steve and his partner Lizzie can make amazing memories together for the future.

Steve became unwell earlier this year with headaches, after a lot of back and forth with doctors saying it’s just migraines caused by stress, we were forced to go private and in August he had an MRI scan which showed a primary brain tumour. Everything moved very fast and he had lots of cognitive tests done (like name 10 animals, he could name 2.) He then had a 5 hour awake brain surgery to remove majority of the tumour, and they also had to take some of his brain that now affects his speech, eyesight and memories. I’m sorry to have to tell you that after the biopsy we now know it is a Grade 4 glioblastoma. He has just finished 6 weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment, and whilst we remain positive time could be limited.

We are looking forward to making some happy memories, with Steve’s birthday coming up, Christmas, AND we are getting married in January in Scotland (it only took him 13 years!) After that the dream is to take a trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios in Florida, Steve spends countless hours mesmerized by Disney and filmmakers and how we can incorporate that into our escape rooms.

Lizzie, Steve’s Partner

The charity fundraiser is in support of Steve’s battle with cancer and will end on December 23rd.

“Steve has given so many hours, months and years of his life to make amazing experiences for tens of thousands of people: now is the time that we, his peers, friends and fellow enthusiasts, can give back in the way that matters most.”

Here at The Escape Roomer, many of our writers have had the pleasure of playing MARVO Mysteries games, and they continue to be some of the most innovative and brilliant. We fully support Steve and Lizzie, and hope that by sharing the story it’ll reach more escape room enthusiasts around the world.

64 Escape Room Prizes to be Won

In this escape room charity auction, there are 64 fantastic escape room themed items to be won. Alongside countless vouchers and VIP tickets are several priceless, one of a kind items from some of the world’s favourite escape rooms. All items are available to buy or bid on. If you can’t bid, you can also make an outright donation to the cause.

Here are just a few of those incredible prizes:

The Room, Berlin – Anna Morana Puppet

An original prop of puppet / ghostly opera diva Anna Morana from The Room Berlin, recently voted by the TERPECA awards as the best escape room company in the world. This is a priceless object for any Escape Room fanatic or fan, a hand made puppet that’s a part of Escape Room history. 

Framed Corrupt Congressman Photo, Crime Runners, Vienna

Ever wanted a piece of one of the world’s most famous escape rooms? Well, now’s your chance – Crime Runners Vienna have kindly donated us a photograph of their (in)famous Corrupt Congressman. Rumours are that he seals each photograph wit a kiss, something that you’ll have to test yourself when this is pride of place on your mantlepiece. 

The Lance of Longinus – formerly of Time Run, London

Own a piece of Escape Room History with The Lance Of Longinus from formerly globally renowned Escape Room Company, Time Run. The Lance Of Longinus featured in the titular game, played by 100s of thousands of customers across the UK and beyond. Time Run received multiple national and international awards before the venue was demolished in 2018. 

Since passing into memory, Time Run has become a veritable fragment of Escape Room history. This is your chance to own a truly limited edition item – the only true fragment of Time Run that remains and will ever be in public hands. 

Tarot Deck From The Man From Beyond – Strange Bird Immersive

A chance to own an iconic prop from the multiple TERPECA award winning company, Strange Bird Immersive. Strange Bird Immersive is frequently rated as one of the most innovative escape room companies in the world: they create lavishly detailed experiences, where every single detail is a part of the constituent experiential whole. This prop was used in their globally renowned experience: The Man From Beyond

A Personalised Video Message from a Bewilder Box Character

Bewilder Box will be donating personal recorded messages from D.A.V.E. for… well whatever you want them for. Birthdays, death threats, congratulations, proposals, it’s all fair game. These will be offered on a ‘pay what you like’ basis and we’ll make as many as we have requests for, so whatever amount you have to donate (big or small).

Alien Atlantian Spear – from The Escapement

An ultimate Sci Fi weapon. Made from fused turbine jet engine parts; main body is a carbine steel injector rod and with titanium blade, seamlessly welded – one of five created, each unique and unrepeatable. Able to survive in temperatures above 1700°C and designed as a hybrid of Stargate meets `StarWars. Intended as a display weapon. ‘Display’ because there’s no other spear that could duel with this. 

Fibre glass shark head previously used in our first escape game. Generally in good condition with the exception of minor paint faint at the nose, some paint marks at the sides and some chips/cracks at the bottom of the mouth.

As well as these pieces of escape room history, you can take home vouchers for many immersive experiences around the UK. To take part in the auction, head here:

Monopoly Lifesized | Review

Image

Monopoly Lifesized Review | All the most well-loved elements of a classic Monopoly gameplay have been translated into an exciting 4D experience on a full-sized board that teams of players will move around, participating in challenges as they go in order to acquire properties, earning money as they pass go, go to jail, picking up a chance card and maybe getting lucky landing on free parking…?

Monopoly Lifesized is an immersive, on-your-feet version of the world’s favourite family game brand. Compete in one of a kind challenges for your chance to buy properties. Experience the thrill of trying to stage a heist in Mayfair, competing against a clock to build some of London’s iconic buildings, solving a baffling murder mystery and stepping into the world of codebreakers.

Date Played: 29th November 2021
Board Played: City

Ever intrigued by the phrase “the best of the Monopoly game but with added escape room and team challenges”, we booked ourselves in and secretly hoped we’d be thrown in jail… Just so we could spectacularly escape!

What we actually experienced when we visited Monopoly Lifesized was frankly, something unlike anything else you’ll experience in London. The creators, Hasbro Inc. and Gamepath have converted the old Paperchase HQ building on Tottenham Court Road into an enormous immersive Monopoly themed world. Spread across the multiple stories are several game boards teams of up to 24 players can take on. To call it simply a ‘team challenge’ is underselling Monopoly Lifesized – no, it’s a thrilling, past paced 4D board game experience that has literally everything. Like Monopoly, but bigger and hosted by a fleet of actors playing each of the board tokens.

Behind each of the property doors on the Monopoly board is a challenge for you and your team to take on. For this reason no two teams – even playing the same board – will have quite the same experience. The luck of the roll means that each team will land on different property pieces and tackle different challenges. For example, we managed to avoid many of the most escape room-y type games and instead found ourselves having a dance-off, playing a modern spin on guitar hero, and assembling 3D jigsaws. It was… Wild.

Image (c) Monopoly Lifesized

How does Monopoly Lifesized Work?

When we took on this ultimate Monopoly challenge as a team of 4, we picked the Thimble token to represent us and accordingly, gave our team the name Thimbley Chalamet. It felt appropriate. Our Thimble token was played by Ben, an exceptionally enigmatic and funny host who was quick on the auction round and filled with sassy comebacks towards our rivals.

The game works in a series of turns:

  • Dice Roll Turn
  • Strategy Turn

In the Dice Roll turn, two teams got to roll their dice and move around the board. Whatever properties they land on, they get to take on the challenge behind the door. If the property is unowned, it is theirs to keep, and if the property is owned, they’ll have to pay a fine. Meanwhile the other two teams got to take part in a Strategy Turn. In a Strategy turn, a Chance Card is drawn, and then teams have the opportunity to build houses, hotels, or enact special actions against their rivals.

Sounds complicated? Eh, a little bit at the start, but having a host-per-team really helped. They’ll be guiding you around the board and through the game. They’ll also be helping you out… In a manner of thinking! So be sure to be extra nice to your token.

Team Thimbley Chalamet For the Win!

Monopoly Lifesized: The Experience

When we play any experience as The Escape Roomer, we have to ask ourselves how it compared on an escape room level. The truth is, we didn’t get to experience most of the puzzle related challenges. Jail being one of the obvious ‘escape rooms’ – we were lucky enough to never land on that foreboding ‘Go to Jail’ token. Instead most of the properties we picked up were tactile, musical, and quite silly. That’s the luck of the roll!

In two of the property locations we did land on, there were some puzzle games. In one, a pure maths puzzle involving a cipher that had been reskinned to look like a hacker’s apartment. This one we complexed in around 30 seconds of the available 5 minutes. Another property involved rearranging objects on a shelf according to logic rules (X cannot be next to Y, and so on), which we solved just in the nick of tie with a little help from Thimble.

In both cases, the puzzles had more mass-market appeal, and wouldn’t necessarily challenge the hardcore enthusiast – but that’s okay. In a game like this you’re not meant to fail. You’re meant to succeed even after a couple of drinks. So it’d be a perfect game to take your Puggle (Puzzle Muggle) friends to dip their toes into.

Overall, we had an absolute blast playing the game. There was something for everyone on our team and I don’t think any one of us stopped smiling, even for a second.

I suppose you’re wondering how Team Thimbley Chalamet did?

Well… We won!

An Immersive Dining Experience at the Top Hat Bar

Situated on the ground floor of Monopoly Lifesized is the ultra immersive and really quite swanky Top Hat Restaurant and Bar. With a menu packed with Monopoly-themed meals and brightly coloured cocktails, the presence of the bar elevates the fun experience into an all night affair.

Photo (c) Monopoly Lifesized

We tried out the Top Hat’s brand new Winter Menu and enjoyed sliders of pigs in blankets, and stuffing balls dipped in gravy on skewers. In short, heaven on a plate. But, the real pièce de résistance of dining at the Top Hat has to be the cocktails. One, above all, stole the show:

The Mayfair Royal Sours

Inspired by the original ‘May Fair’ that took place in the 16th century in the now famous, affluent district of Mayfair. The ingredients include Laurent Perrier Brut Cuvée Champagne syrup, Courvoisier VSOP, Lemon, Ms. Better’s Bitters, Edible Gold, and is topped off with a £50 note made from sugar.

For me, this one cocktail encapsulated the splendour of the whole event – there’s nothing quite like earning (and spending) millions of pounds on property, destroying your rivals, then clinking glasses in the Top Hat to celebrate afterwards.

The Verdict

We had no idea what to expect when we booked in to play Monopoly Lifesized, but even if we’d gone in with high expectations, I’m pretty sure they’d have been blown out of the water. Monopoly Lifesized is all about the glitz and the glamour and the sheer budget hat’s gone into every single aspect of the game is outstanding. It’s such a high quality experience.

Of course, this does come with a big price tag: Ticket prices range from £27.50 to £35 for the Junior Board and from £59 to £74 per person on Classic, City and Luxury Boards, depending on the date and time of day you book for. Food and drink are extra, and there’s also a gift shop on site which you’ll definitely want to spend some time browsing. In all, for the full experience you’re probably looking in the region of £100+ per person.

That said, I do think it’s worth it. For a special occasion or for a teambuilding event with work *cough* if you can get the boss to pay for it, it’s absolutely not to be missed. The best part, it’s completely replayable. With many boards to choose from and so many different challenges, no two games will be the same. Mark my words, we’ll be back!

Sara Lee Trust: The Detectives That Saved Christmas! | Review

Image

The Detectives That Saved Christmas Review | The elves radio beacon is in the shape of a star and when the time has come, they climb the tallest Christmas tree they can find, place the star at the top and await the reindeer. The elves stored the star in the community centre but when, after the twelfth week in Great Snoring they went to pick it up it was gone. Only a dozen people have a key to the community center and as there were no signs of a break in it must have been taken by one of them.

After comparing the naughty list with the list of key holders the elves have made a list of the 6 suspects. Can you help the elves find their star? Pull yourselves together and walk a mile in their pointy shoes!

Completion Time: 20 minutes
Date Played: 28th November 2021
Party Size: 1
Difficulty: Easy

This time last year Play Helps in partnership with the Sara Lee Trust released a charity escape game for Christmas: The Detectives that Saved Christmas! I was slightly gutted to have missed it- I mean, I’m a little bit obsessed with Christmas. It’s totally normal to be updating The Escape Roomer in a Santa hat in November, right? Anyway…

I was very excited to hear that this game is making a comeback this year – bigger and better than ever, 100% of the proceeds for the game go directly to charity. Wahey! Take my money!

There’s something a little magical about doing what I love – playing escape rooms – and knowing you’re doing it for good and the money you spent is going to a really, really good cause. The Sara Lee Trust are a local charity in Hastings that look after those affected by cancer. The charity was chosen after the game’s designer (Shaun Shrubsall) was helped by them, and it’s his way of giving back!

For this reason, we are generally very favourable about the game because we believe as many people as possible should go out and purchase it. For sure, your average enthusiast will not be challenged by it – as it’s not a difficult game at all – but look at it this way: Since it’s got such a family focus and a wide market appeal, this could be just the game to introduce to your puggle (puzzle muggle) friends to get them hooked on whodunnits.

About The Detectives That Saved Christmas

The Detectives That Saved Christmas is a classic whodunnit game. Rather than being in a physical room, the game is played looking top-down at a table with all the suspects and the evidence spilled out upon it. Since the game was built in Telescape, I’m used to 360 views of rooms, so it was really creative to see the escape game platform used in a different way.

Your goal is simple: find the elf that did the crime. This can be done by eliminating each of the elves’ alibis. Six elves and one crime committed in the sleepy town of Great Snoring. You start the game with just the descriptions of the elves, and as time ticks along more and more evidence appears on your desk. Each time a new piece of evidence appears, a little jingle bell sounds. The first time this happened I had my volume set to maximum and nearly screamed. The second and third time was a lot more gentle and festive! As each piece of evidence appears, you can click and drag them to each relevant elf and mark their portraits with a cross to eliminate them or a tick if you think they’re the culprits.

A Winter Whodunnit

In terms of pure puzzles – there aren’t a lot, as this game’s beauty is in logical deduction. If this, then that, which means that elf could not have done it. However I did particularly enjoy using a lot of maths to calculate the exact timings to figure out whether it was technically possible if an elf could have driven to the crime scene in time. Thankfully you’re provided with Google maps, but I like to whip out the calculator too!

It’s not particularly challenging, but I reckon that in a bigger group there’d be a lot of fun debate. This game is nothing if not fun, and when it’s not packed with hilarious elf puns and light hearted jokes, it causes you to question and chat out loud about what you’re solving. In short: making it a perfect family game to get everyone involved in.

Another of my favourite parts was at the very end of the game. once you’ve made your choice, the time skips forward and the credits roll with a funny “where are they now” montage of all the suspects you didn’t chose as the criminals. In a silly kind of way, I was very emotionally invested in these elves and was glad to see they all lived happily ever after… Well, perhaps not all of them.

The Verdict

The Detectives That Saved Christmas is fun, but don’t expect the world of it. After all, its’s a game designed for mass market appeal, to bring the family together – wherever they are in the world – to solve a Christmas mystery. Any game where the proceeds go towards charity is worth grabbing a ticket for!

Play The Detectives That Saved Christmas here.

Ratings

Online Escape Rooms Ireland: Santa’s Sleighcation | Review

Image

Santa’s Sleighcation Review | Everyone needs a break from time to time, and Santa is no exception. It has been a very busy year, and Santa is taking a little holiday to restore his energy for Christmas Eve. But Santa enjoyed the sunshine so much, that he decided not to return to the North Pole for Christmas! He told the elves to deliver the presents themselves this year. But… Santa has the keys to the Magic Sleigh with him! No one can deliver that many presents on Christmas Eve without the Magic Sleigh!​

Completion Time: 30 minutes
Date Played: 27th November 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easier

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… Oh yes! One of my favourite times of the year. Made all the better for all the festive escape rooms that pop up around this time. Which is why when we heard Online Escape Rooms Ireland had made a Christmas game, we couldn’t wait to get cracking on it!

With the Christmas tree up earlier in the day, Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and myself logged in to try and see if we could save Christmas.

A Summer Santa

Santa’s Sleighcation isn’t your typical Christmas game. There’s no snow in sight. Instead it’s set in somewhere hot and tropical like Barbados. Santa has been on holiday and doesn’t want to return, so it was up to us to find the keys to the sleigh. I think a fair few of the decorations may have been borrowed from Online Escape Rooms Ireland’s other room, Beach Bar, but it worked so well! More margaritas anyone?

As with many of the company’s other escape room experiences, Santa’s Sleighcation is based on a real life physical space at their site. With the use of a 360 camera, the creators have digitalised the space so that anyone from anywhere in the world can play it. The best part is it’s built in Telescape so you’ve got a 360 degree view of all the rooms, can see all your fellow player’s mouse points on the screen, and work together collaboratively.

Since the theme of the game is Christmas in a hot tropical climate, there’s a real mix to the decor. Tiki bars decorated with tinsel and baubles and a shining tree in the corner next to a couple of flamingos and talking parrots. I was also particularly tickled to find that Santa would be wearing a brightly coloured Hawaiian shirt!

Crack the Codes, not the Coconuts

Santa’s Sleighcation is adapted from a real life room and therefore those playing the digital version can enjoy a very tactile feel to the game. There’s plenty for a large team to get on with – we felt that us at 4 players was the sweet spot for everyone to be busy. You’ll encounter padlocks and 3 and 4 digit codes, and plenty of times will find yourself running- I mean, clicking your way across the room to cross-reference objects. There’s a handy inventory system to keep track of what items you still need to use. And, conveniently, objects will disappear when you’ve completed them.

Our favourite thing about digital games from Online Escape Rooms Ireland has to be the intro and outro video however. They are simple videos, but the stock videos of different Santa’s doing increasingly bizarre things always makes us laugh. It’s also always nice to be reminded, with a message from the creators, that by playing their games you are supporting local businesses. Dare I say it one of the only good things to come out of lockdown is the emergence of digital escape games – I can now enjoy real life rooms from exciting places around the world from my rainy flat in London (thanks lockdown travel ban!).

The Verdict

Overall, Santa’s Sleighcation is a really fun, lighthearted game. We completed it in just under 30 minutes and found it on the slightly easier side, compared to for example Spirit Seekers Ireland but I’m a big believer in not overdoing it at Christmas. So, I like it a lot. If you’re three boozy hot chocolates in and there’s a festive film in the background, this game would be a fantastic respite that’ll scratch that escape room itch over the festive period but not leave you bamboozled hours.

Santa’s Sleighcation can be booked from Online Escape Rooms Ireland’s website here.

Ratings

No Escape: The Haunted Toy Store | Review

Image

The Haunted Toy Store Review | An abandoned toy store looms over an otherwise charming village. People tell stories of weird noises and strange happenings, toys found in odd places and children going missing. Nobody has been brave enough to attempt to solve the mysteries of the toy store that is, until you…

Completion Time: 40 minutes
Date Played: 29th October 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Easy-ish

I’ve got a reputation on The Escape Roomer for being a little bit of a scaredy cat… Dark Spaces? Ghosts? Asylums? No thank you.

I listen in horror as Al and Ash chat about all the UK’s scariest games they’ve played and instead ‘reminisce’ about the time I went to the London Dungeon and had to be escorted out because I got too scared and started crying. It would be a funny story if I’d been a child… Only I was 17 at the time!

But when our group committed to playing a scary escape room over Halloween, I figured what the heck – if you can’t get scared witless on Halloween, then when can you? No Escape, bring it on!

A Hauntingly Good Halloween at No Escape

For No Escape’s special Halloween weekend, we went for what sounded like the least scary game they run: The Haunted Toy Store. Somehow ghosts feel more manageable than walking into a blood splattered cutting floor- which made being greeted at the entrance by a terrifying butcher in full character, sporting a human ear necklace all the more chilling.

For one weekend only in 2021, each of No Escape’s escape rooms at both of their London sites had a live actor in the room with the teams. It’s important to note that normally, their rooms are not live actor rooms, but given the circumstances I think The Haunted Toy Store was vastly improved with the presence of a creepy clown throwing red herrings our way. The creepy clown was an actor, Nicole, and just outside the room our games master was Holly.

We resolved to enter the room and pretend as if we wouldn’t be scared and in the end I think we made the right decision. I think without the live actor the room itself would have been fairly average and not too scary- but if you’re into creepy cursed dolls and children’s toys coming to life, then you’ll probably enjoy it all the same! No jump scares in the original, but plenty in the Halloween special! So a huge shout out to Holly and Nicole for that!

Pitch Black… Cackling Laughter

We began our briefing being told that this was a mysterious toy shop. The day before a boy had come into the room and cut himself quite badly, but when they’d returned to clean it up all the blood had mysteriously disappeared. Creepily, so had the boy – not a trace of him since.

The doors then swung open and we were in pitch darkness. As cackling laughter rose out of the corner, we quickly realised we were not alone! Our first actor interaction began in this room, which I feverishly tried to ignore, rushing past them to start busying myself with anything else. A word of warning: It’s quite hard to try to look for a light switch when you have your eyes closed.

From here, we were off to a flying start. The Haunted Toy Store is essentially a two-room escape room that pretty much looks and feels exactly like a toy shop from everyone’s worst nightmare. Plenty of dolls staring out at you from shelves, and plenty of toys that have had heads and limbs ripped off. So many distorted faces, dark corners and eerie sounds!

*shudders*

How did we escape the Haunted Toy Store?

The puzzles in this escape room were fairly straightforward and we managed to escape with a respectable time that put us right at the top of the Halloween leader board. I’d probably pitch the general puzzles at an easier-than-average level, but that’s not to say we didn’t get immensely stuck from time to time! No sir. The presence of a creepy clown made it all the harder.

There was a bit of searching and finding, plenty of children’s toys, some of which had clues and others were just for display, as well dials to turn, things to count and a few 3 and 4 digit codes. This all led to a meta puzzle which combined lots of the room and took us the longest to get right! There were also a few red herrings in the game which are usually a no-no in escape rooms, but we all felt they worked pretty well in a room like this. Red herrings can go a long way to building up atmosphere and forcing you to spread out (and away from the safety of numbers!)

Over the course of The Haunted Toy Store we asked for two hints. One of these was delivered via a screen in the room, and the other was given by the live actor in the room. Since this room is not usually available with a live actor, I don’t mind telling you that she had us all holding hands and singing ring-a-ring-a-roses followed by lots of screaming in order to receive the clue. I still have nightmares!

The Verdict

Overall, we had a lot of fun! We screamed quite a few times – but thankfully not as many as the butcher room next door to us, so I think we made the right choice!

There are a few ‘meh’ reviews of the company and the room out there, and I can see that without a live actor it probably wouldn’t appeal to hardcore enthusiasts as much. We were there for a good time, a couple of screams, and that’s exactly what we got – so no complaints.

For the special Halloween edition, we paid £35 per ticket which is also fairly expensive, even for London, but we’d still recommend the experience for the right team. Especially at Halloween.

The Haunted toy Store can be booked on No Escape’s website here. Please note, this review is of their special Halloween version of the room available from the 28th – 31st of October 2021. This involved a live actor in the room, which is not typically available.

Ratings

Puzzle Post: The Scandal | Review

Image

Puzzle Post – The Scandal Review | Femi Banuve, a sports photographer, has stumbled across a story of match-fixing and blackmail at the Marseille Tennis Championships. A bank of files and documents are being used to threaten a leading tennis star and Femi needs your help to disrupt the plan.

Completion Time: 70 minutes
Date Played: November 2021
Party Size: 2(+2)
Difficulty: Medium
Recommended For: A dinner party with a twist!

I am a huge fan of Puzzle Post – so when I found out they had a new (and quite unique) experience out, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! The Scandal differs from every other Puzzle Post game (such as The Split, The Secret Service and The Missed Flight) in that this one is not personalised. Rather than working on a code which unlocks a secret message for your lucky recipient, The Scandal is a game for groups to play together for a common goal.

Finally – I can stop buying these games as ‘gifts’ for other people then immediately asking to borrow them so I can solve it too!

Because it’s a group game, the envelope is packed with not one but two copies of the entire game. Doubles of everything. In particular, the creators suggest playing it over a dinner party – and I’d agree! With the addition of multiple copies in one go you can spread out and work together. With Christmas around the corner, it’s an impressive game that slims down to an A4 envelope that you could bring to your next celebration.

So What is The Scandal?

The scandal part of The Scandal takes place at the Marseille Tennis Open. The usual – blackmail, match fixing, and some very scandalous revelations. Some interested parties have got their hands on the information and stored it in a secure safe… The code for which, as I’m sure you can guess, is hidden behind juicy puzzles. It’s a fun spin on their usual formula where the sender hides their own message for the recipient to unlock!

Despite tennis being something we know absolutely nothing about, the puzzles that got us to the solution were fairly accessible. Each puzzle in the game is self contained and, hidden somewhere inside the game, is a meta puzzle which reveals the order.

I’m always particularly delighted when regular, almost ‘household’ items are included in puzzle games too. In The Scandal, on opening the envelope a full Raffle Ticket booklet fell out, as well as plenty of business cards, some stickers, leaflets, betting slips and menus. Each item is printed on different styles and qualities of paper but the whole thing felt incredibly genuine. In short, pretty much all the things you might accumulate if you were hanging around the Marseille Tennis Open.

Most of the puzzles are offline with the exception of one that will require you to use the internet. The ending too is digital, as you need to collect the codes from each puzzle and enter them to see if you’re correct. We used a couple of clues and again had to hop online for this – though the whole thing was mobile optimised, so no dinner-party-immersion breaks here!

At the end of the game we found ourselves with a very exciting decision to make. One that, amusingly, we could not agree on! It’s traditional to have at least one argument per dinner party, right? I particularly enjoyed that ours was over our escape game choice (and not the best method of cooking potatoes – I’ll die on the ‘mashed potato’ hill).

The Verdict

I am completely here for this new direction of Puzzle Post games that you buy for yourself rather than a gift, and The Scandal is a fantastic first entry in what I hope is a new series. Everything the company produces is super high quality, really accessible to puzzlers of all ages and demographics, and feels so exciting. All round reliably good games.

There’s a reason they were one of the first puzzle-game creators to get me into the genre and hey, look at where we are now!

The Scandal can be purchased on Puzzle Post’s website here.

Ratings

CluedUpp: The Ripper | Review

Image

CluedUpp: The Ripper Review | Three men have already been struck down by The Ripper and fear is taking it’s grip of this town! The police can’t cope with a case this complex and your help is required to catch the killer. Get your family and friends together for a day of crime-solving fun. Put your sleuthing skills to the test at this exciting outdoor detective event and see if your team has what it takes to crack the case.

Time Taken: 2hrs
Date Played: 20th November 2021
Location: Kensington, London
Difficulty: Easy

CluedUpp games are like marmite in the escape room enthusiast world. About once a month somebody in a Facebook or Reddit forum will ask about CluedUpp and be met with a barrage of “they are dreadful” and “I had the best time ever“. So, going into the experience on a wintery Saturday morning before Christmas, we weren’t sure what to think. Given that the tickets were so inexpensive and the area – Kensington – is somewhere we don’t get to explore much, we went in with an open mind.

For this particular case, I went with our regular outdoor escape room enthusiast team who you may recognise from posts over the lockdown, such as Operation Mindfall. If there’s walking and puzzles involved, we are there!

A Team on the case!

How do CluedUpp Games Work?

According to their website, CluedUpp “turns cities into playgrounds”, and yeah, I see it! As a concept, it sets itself apart from other outdoor walking experiences in that there’s no set route you need to follow. Instead what happens once you start your game is that you’ll see a sprawling number of “points of interest” on the map. These are witnesses to speak to, or items to collect, or score multipliers to boost your ranking in the leader boards.

Your ultimate goal is to catch the killer – a serial murderer stalking the streets of Whitechapel I mean, Kensington. Seems straightforward, only you’re racing against other real teams! For this reason, CluedUpp events only take place on specific days of the year. Everyone signs into the app on the same day, the clock starts ticking, and everyone must be finished by 5pm.

It’s entirely self guided, so there’s no big start and finish line you have to race towards but it was pretty cool to walk past other teams we bumped into whilst playing and marvel at their costumes.

One more thing that we didn’t realise until after the game was that you don’t need to visit every single point on the map. Actually, if you want to ‘win’ the game and beat your rivals, you probably shouldn’t because there are a lot. Ironically, we actually figured out who the correct culprit was around 30% of the way into the game. Instead of making our guess right there, we agreed to collect everything, then go to a pub and make our decision from there. It probably cost us an hour and a half of our time, but hey that’s not really in the spirit of things eh?

How to Solve CluedUpp Puzzles

In terms of puzzles, at each point of interest you encounter you’re presented with a riddle. Occasionally, it makes sense. A copper might be reading a newspaper and asks for a second opinion on one of the questions in the puzzle section. Often, it felt forced and a bit silly. Towards the end we began skipping each character’s preamble and instead grinned at each other – “guys, you’re gonna be shocked at this but Dr so-and-so has a riddle for us”

No wonder the crime has gone unsolved if everyone is spending all their time thinking about riddles!

That said, the riddles themselves were a good way to break up the gameplay with some fun moments that tested us. Some of the riddles involved details from the surrounding environment, and others were fairly well known puzzles you’d find on any escape room’s social media account. You know the ones I’m talking about.

So… Who Dunnit?

Haha! That I cannot tell you. You’ll just have to go and book the game yourself!

But I will say that if CluedUpp’s weakness is the puzzles, then their strength is definitely the storytelling. In just a few words with each character, a rich network of witnesses and informants unfolded in front of us. It was easy to forget we were just interacting with an app and not a real person in front of us. And, in the end, the conclusion was very satisfying. It felt like being the main character in your own, London based thriller.

The Verdict

Overall, we’ve definitely classed this one on the easier side – and I can see why it’s marmite to a lot of enthusiasts. It’s not a particularly challenging game. But CluedUpp never pretended to be challenging – they’re mass market appeal murder mystery games and put the emphasis on you and your team exploring a new part of the city, dressing up, and having a laugh.

We played a specific version of The Ripper in Kensington on a special event day. Since the game is available at so many places around the world, it’s hard to say if our experience is representative of what everyone will have when they sign up – but honestly? We enjoyed ourselves.

We would caution enthusiasts not to have too high expectations when it comes to the puzzles, instead this would be a great game to take along your puggle (puzzle muggle) friends for a lighthearted day out. For us, booking and playing was really just an excuse to hang out and I wouldn’t hesitate to book another!

The Ripper is available at countless cities across the world. To find your nearest and book in, head to CluedUpp’s website here.

Ratings

Where to find the best escape room Black Friday deals in the UK!

Image

Last year we created this handy list to all the Black Friday deals popping up across the UK. This year we’re doing something a little different. Rather than feature our master list of offers, we wanted to use this space to support some of our friends in the escape room industry and showcase some of our favourite Black Friday guides.

These hard working escape room enthusiasts have scoured the web and their local sites for some very exciting deals. Here’s where to get them, and scroll to the bottom to read some of our favourites!

As always, we encourage buyers to practice conscious consumerism and support small and local businesses on Black Friday more than ever.


Escape the Review Discount Guide – Brand new to the site is a big shiny red button showcasing all of the current live offers. ETR covers all the escape room sites in the UK and is a super comprehensive list that honestly we’re a little addicted to. I expect this to be the most up to date in real time of what Black Friday (and beyond) deals you can expect.

Exit Games Scotland – Living in Scotland? You’ve got to be following this page. They’ve been resharing and boosting all the black friday deals north of the border.

Society of Curiosities Black Friday Guide – Society of Curiosities is a US based escape game in a box company, but they’re also avid players and enthusiasts themselves. That’s why I was extra excited to see they’d put out a guide, featuring some of the lesser known at-home puzzle games. Definitely worth checking if you’d like to play something at home this winter!


Just a Few of Our Favourite Black Friday Deals

Escapologic (Leicester & Nottingham)

Recently we visited as a team to play Operation Magnus and Reactorvate – both fantastic rooms! So we’re extra excited that they’ve got 20% off for this Black Friday. To redeem, simply make a booking this Friday and the code will be automatically applied at checkout.

Escape the Past Edinburgh

One of the first discounts in this list that I redeemed… And may have done so twice… Is Escape the Past’s 20% of gift vouchers. Essentially, this equates to at least one free player when you do book. Being so close to Christmas, it also makes a lovely gift. Did we mention they’ve one of our favourite rooms in Edinburgh?!

Read our review for The Anatomist here.

Curious Correspondence Club

As we inch closer into the holiday season, take a moment to treat yourself, too. To help facilitate this, we are launching a “Gift One, Get One” offer. With every First Chapter or Starter Kit ordered, we’ll give you the same product to enjoy for yourself – on us. How?! Well, it’s super easy. Just add two to your cart, and the discount will be automatically applied upon checkout.

Read our reviews of The Custodian’s Keys and The Warehouse on the Wharf.

Key Enigma

Key Enigma is offering 35% off their entire site which, considering how much fun you get out of their games is a big deal! Use promo code BLACKFRIDAY on checkout to apply the discount.

Read our review of Hack Forward here.

The Keeper & The Fungus Among Us

If you only play one live avatar escape room again, make sure it’s Headlock Escape Rooms’ The Keeper and the Fungus Among Us! We LOVED it. Headlock Escape Rooms is offering a sale this week for The Keeper and the Fungus Among Us! 20% off using the code BLACKFRIDAY1 when you check out.

Read our review of The Keeper & The Fungus Among Us here.

As well as, of course, countless mystery and puzzle games over on Steam.

Great Scott Escapes: Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe | Review

Image

Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe Review | It is 1937. Late this afternoon Bugsy Marlowe came to the Dunwich Tower Hotel for reasons that are still unclear. He was standing in the lobby chatting with some associates when the elevator door opened. No one got out.  A few seconds later as the elevator door began to close, someone fired a gun from inside the elevator car. The bullet hit Bugsy in the head, killing him instantly.

Everyone in the lobby ducked and ran for cover. the elevator, now closed, had begun moving once again. Several witnesses reported seeing the elevator lights stopping on the fifth floor. Hotel staff immediately disabled the elevator, sealed off the staircases and called the police. The killer was now trapped on the fifth floor. The police arrived at the hotel and immediately began their investigation of the crime scene. Several detectives were then directed to the fifth floor where five guests were staying, each in separate rooms. All five guests were taken to the police station for questioning.

One of them is the killer. Can you figure out who done it?

Completion Time: 1 hour 17 minutes
Date Played: 21st October 2021
Party Size: 3

When it’s my turn at work to pick the office social activity, you best believe I’m choosing an escape room every time! But it’s always a little tricky to ensure it’ll be one I haven’t played, not too enthusiast-focused, and still be fantastic. To make sure I had all those boxes ticked, I asked my friends at Review the Room whether they recommended Bugsy Marlowe – a room that came out quite early in the pandemic but still consistently got good reviews – and received a resoundingly positive yes in reply! Fantastic – Bugsy Marlowe was booked!

It then took a few more weeks to get all my colleagues in the same place at the same time for us to actually play the game, but it was well worth the wait when we did!

Detective, I have a case for you

The point and click, non-hosted version of Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe opens with a 1920s style noire video all in sepia colours of your detective filling you in on the case. He gives you a smouldering look and stares into the distance as he ponders the suspects. Thankfully, he has nothing to worry about because we had our very best on the case – our director, our developer, and well, me.

Originally, this is a real life escape room by Great Scott Escapes in Pennsylvania, USA. Thanks to the global pandemic, the team converted it to a digital format. You could either load the game up in a platform called Telescape, or book a Games Master to guide you through it as a live video escape room. We opted for the point-and-click Telescape version because being on this side of the pond makes it hard to organise a time together.

In Telescape, you get a 360 degree view of all of the physical spaces and can click into anything for a closer look. When you hover over items of importance, they flash up with a magnifying glass icon, encouraging you to look closer. There was also audio, video, and plenty of fun multimedia moments that added to the immersion of the game – so we don’t feel like we suffered anything going for the less expensive point-and-click version.

Catch the Culprit, Close the Case

In terms of gameplay, Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe is a really unique escape room. Namely because the goal of the game isn’t to escape – it’s to find the suspect. In a Cluedo-esque logic grid, you’re presented with 5 suspects, 5 drinks, 5 weapons, 5 rooms and 5 countries of origins. As you explore the room you’ll uncover evidence that will connect these pieces of information and eventually be the key to cracking he case.

To help you out, on one of the walls in the first space is a very large logic board with each piece of information on a draggable image. It’s advised that every time you receive a new piece of information, such as Mr. Smith likes to drink orange juice (he doesn’t, it’s just for illustrative purposes), that you rush over and log the information on the board.

When we played, we must have missed something because we got something wrong. I think this comes with a lot of players working together and perhaps moving and changing things on the board, but we reached the final puzzle of the game and thought “oops, that can’t be right”. Thankfully, the game is merciful and doesn’t punish you for taking too long. We were able to clear the board and try again!

Right or wrong, we had a lot of fun cracking the case though. The puzzles, for once, felt truly quite mimetic – meaning they fit so well in their environment it made sense that doors would be locked and you’d need to uncover the maid’s key card first, and so on. Every time one of us found an item it added to everyone’s inventory so we could all play along at the same time. There’s something extra exciting about digging around in people’s private rooms to evidence and I love a good murder mystery. This certainly is a good murder mystery!

For sure, there is a lot to find. Compared to other escape rooms of the same length, I think there is at least double the average number of hot spots to click on. Attention is key, else you’ll lose track of what you’ve found so far.

The Verdict

Whenever I play really good digital/at home games that are adapted from real life rooms, I feel a little sad that I’ll never be able to play in person – but Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe doesn’t make me feel that way because it so beautifully translates to the digital format, I feel as if nothing is lost from the experience at all.

Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe definitely lives up to the ‘hype’ and my only regret is that I didn’t play this sooner! I absolutely love 1920s noir, murder mysteries, and escape rooms, so Bugsy Marlowe is a double thumbs up from me. I hope that at-home games like this one will be around to stay for a lot longer.

Who Killed Bugsy Marlowe can be booked on Great Scott Escape’s website here.

Ratings