Area 51.5 Review | Well known alien hunter and conspiracy theorist, Professor Ross Well lives at 51½ George Street. After years spent collecting, and hunting evidence of extra-terrestrial life, he got his lucky break and came across a crash site up on the moors, complete with a live alien! He brought the alien back to his house with the intention of keeping him, but the mothership has tracked their friend down and arrived to collect him! You begin your mission outside Professor Ross Well’s house – what you will find in there is anyone’s guess! But what you do know is that you only have one hour to return the alien back to the mothership, or our planet will be destroyed!
Date Played: October 2023 Time Taken: ~40 minutes Number of Players: 4 Difficulty: Medium
Hidden away in the entirely unhidden town of Halifax, is Escaporium. Now, my entire family since the beginning of time is from Yorkshire, so how the heck have I never been to Halifax before?! It’s so incredibly lovely. Even posting random Instagram stories from around the city resulted in many replies from friends along the lines of “wow Halifax! You have to go to this place” or “you must visit here”. Halifax is a popular place. But now I have an even more compelling reason to come back – and that reason is Escaporium.
A couple of weeks ago I spend a weekend in Sheffield with my co-writers Al and Ash, and our friend Tasha. For us, this meant a weekend of board games, delicious food, and of course… Escape rooms. Newly opened just a short drive away was the sci-fi room “Area 51.5”. The Escaporium is also fairly close to a few other standout companies and rooms in the area – notably Project Breakout, and although Al and Ash have played all of their rooms multiple times, we made the detour just so I could play there too. But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to The Escaporium.
Welcome to The Escaporium
We were greeted on arrival by our enthusiastic host in the warm and well decorated lobby area. There are actually two Escaporium locations in Halifax, both just a minutes walk from each other. At the same location as Area 51.5, you can also play Operation Moonshine, and their seasonal Christmas game. On arrival, we were given the usual pre-game briefing – here at the locks, here are the keys, nothing is too high up, and so on. We were then led into the room, directed to a short video, and before long we were off!
The story goes that Professor Ross Well, a man whose house you need to break into, has been hunting evidence of aliens. It’s rumoured he’s keeping one such alien under life support within his very home, and with the mothership about to obliterate planet Earth in search of this missing alien, it’s up to you to get in there and rescue it before it’s too late. So we had three missions:
Break into Professor Wells house
Find the alien and rescue it
Though I suppose ‘escaping’ wouldn’t really be one of those missions only, the goal of every escape room is to technically escape, so I’m putting it there too.
Aliens and Anagrams
…Though not actually anagrams, I just wanted to use the word for ✨alliteration✨
Area 51.5 is a multi-room experience. Put shortly, there’s a huge amount of stuff to do in every new area you discover. I don’t think there was a single moment in the whole experience where we weren’t doing anything. Between working together and splitting up to cover more ground, it was all hands on deck from the first second to the last – and I love that.
Of those many, many puzzles, I genuinely enjoyed them all. That’s saying a lot. Even the best escape rooms often have duds. But of all the puzzles I took part in and watched my co-escapees tackle, everything just made sense and above all – was fun to complete. There was a good mix of logic, maths, visual puzzles, as well as a few brilliantly tactile ones as well. Tactile puzzles aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when they work, they just work.
In our particular run-through the team were testing a new item in the room. I don’t want to give too many spoilers because mainly – I don’t know if they’ll keep the item in the exact iteration we discovered it in. But essentially it’s a printed version of something which was previously delivered via audio. For us, this was a huge help – and I mean that in the best possible way. It gave us an anchor point to return to every time we needed to move onto the next puzzle. Probably part of the reason the room felt like it had this big, overall cohesion to it.
Easter Alien Eggs
One of my absolute favourite thing about this room was it’s decor. Seriously, if anything there could have been fewer puzzles – if only to give me the time to really appreciate the environment we were in. This room is packed with references from pop culture, and all integrated seamlessly into the environment in subtle and delightful ways. It’s a feast for the eyes – and in some cases, other senses too- oh god no wait don’t lick the alien eggs I didn’t mean that!
At the end of our experience, our Games Master stuck their head in and talked us through the experience pointing out little bits and bobs we might have missed the first time. I really enjoyed the recap, not least of all because it gave me a chance to experience anything I might have missed.
The only downside to the room, and it’s really very small, is that we had to wait upwards of two weeks to receive our team photo. Only a downside because I really just wanted to post about the room immediately, and tell the whole world how great the game was right there and then. I also wanted to write this review whilst the experience was fresh in my mind… But perhaps a little time between playing and receiving your photo only makes the heart grow fonder? Perhaps.
Either way, in a day and age where photos are usually taken on the customer’s phone, or sent immediately based on the email we give during the waiver signing process, it was an unusual experience. I was reminded of this meme.
Overall, I loved Area 51.5. In fact, in my whole trip down to Yorkshire to visit Al, Ash & Tasha, this was my very favourite room I did – and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make a regular appearance on all the enthusiast lists in the future.
I’m also choosing to award it a special badge:
For that reason, I’m awarding this one a “Best in Genre” badge for being just a really fantastically stand-out sci-fi room. I mean, I’m a sci-fi super fan, so that also had to count for more, right? The whole room was just packed with little sci-fi Easter Eggs from video games, films, and TV series. My nerdy brain was in overdrive.
If you want to book Area 51.5 at Escaporium in Halifax, you can head to their website here.
Down to the Wire Review | Being in Russia undercover for the government isn’t easy at the best of times. Especially during the Cold War. Even more especially when someone has tipped off Russian intelligence about you….and they aren’t very happy. Wanting to destroy your work; and everything attached to it. You have one hour to save yourselves, and all your secret findings. The Countdown is on. Tick tock.
Date Played: 24th August 2023 Time Taken: 40 minutes Number of Players: 2 Difficulty: Medium
Whenever I go on holiday, wherever it is in the world, I look and see if there are any local escape rooms. For a sunny week in August my family had booked a trip up from London to the Lake District, and being just an hour away in Edinburgh I thought I’d come along to escape the Edinburgh Fringe. There’s something so lovely about taking a week away to work in little cottage in the middle of absolutely nowhere, miles from the nearest tiny town. So what I wasn’t expecting to find was… An escape room!
I’ll be super honest. I almost didn’t book the room. The bus to get there would take an hour from where we were staying, and it only ran 5 times a day (so if we missed it we’d be screwed). To make matters worse, whichever bus we took we’d be arriving into Bowness 5 minutes after our room was meant to start. On top of that I made the mistake (or enthusiast judgement) of looking up other enthusiast reviews before. Other enthusiast reviews were… Not great. One reviewer said it was one of their least favourite rooms in the UK. Sheesh. That bad? So I chewed up whether I’d book it or not over the whole week. Until, on the very last day of the trip, I thought “What the heck, when else will I ever be in Bowness?! Lets just do it.” Besides, I only ever book good rooms, and I kinda wanted to see what a not-good room might be.
But on that front, I was disappointed. You know why? The room (or the company) wasn’t bad at all. Not in the slightest! It was lovely. Welcoming, super accommodating, and the room was the perfect example of making a fun, light-hearted experience on a small local budget. If asked, I’d probably even recommend it. But let’s get into all the specifics.
What to Expect at Bowness Escape Rooms
Bowness Escape Rooms is located in the heart of Bowness, just a short walk from most of the town’s bus stations. If you’re in town for a walking holiday, plenty of bus routes go through Bowness, so it’s a fairly conveniently location for the Lake District. On the other hand, if you live in the area then – oh my god you’re so lucky it’s so pretty – you may already know all about Bowness Escape Room and how to get there. Either way, despite my earlier bus complaint, it’s a convenient location.
The entrance is located on Lake Road (not Quarry Rigg, as Google Maps indicates), and is a part of a little stretch of cute shops and cafes. At this site, they run two rooms:
Down to the Wire
We only had time for one, so we picked the less scary Down to the Wire, though it is worth noting that Cutting Room can be made less spooky if you want.
In our case we were running late, but the team were super responsive via Facebook and gave our GM a heads up that we’d be running a little late. It seems like they have bookings comfortably spaced apart and so despite showing up a whole 15 minutes late, we didn’t feel at all rushed.
Our Games Master was the enthusiastic Raphael (or Raffi for short) – please excuse spelling! Raffi greeted us at the door and had us wait in the waiting room with a couple of ingenious puzzles to play around with. Then came the usual briefing (no force, nothing high up, don’t poke the plug sockets, and so on), before we were transported back into the Cold War and off to a flying start.
Down to the Wire
Down to the Wire begins with you, the players, contained in a separate space from the main room. It’s a classic ‘escape into the room’ beginning, where everything you’ll need to use is tantalisingly just out of reach, and you need to figure out how to break into the main game area. Here, we were greeted with a few linear puzzles. Solve one, gain access to the second, and so on. Now, I’m a complete sucker for something slightly gimmicky that tests your skill level rather than puzzle solving level – but I know these aren’t always the most popular. There’s something that happens in this first room which we found brilliantly fun, but we definitely were lucky with our skill.
After only a little bit of faffing, we finally escaped ‘into’ the main room, and from there the game was truly afoot. With the theme being the Cold War, our central goal was to deactivate a bomb that stood in one corner ticking away in the background. There were a number of things we needed to do before we could get to the bomb. A number of locked boxes, some padlocks, and a tantalising class case in one corner with plenty of puzzles inside it.
We managed to ‘beat’ the bomb in around 40 minutes. There were a few notable places we could have shaved some time off, but besides trying to make up for showing up 15 minutes late, we weren’t especially in a hurry.
Overall, the puzzles felt fun. The entire room is linear, meaning it’s less practical for a larger team, especially where a few puzzles can really only be solved by one or two people at the time. There were also one or two where the solution was in fact something much more obvious than we thought, where we’d spend a while trying to ‘solve’ a puzzle when the solution was staring us in the face. Similarly, a few maths puzzles where the real answer wasn’t the complicated thing we were trying to do. But overall, they clicked with us. I can see how some groups – especially enthusiasts – might be frustrated with some elements of the room, and so maybe I wouldn’t recommend it to a super, super enthusiast, but for our little two player team it clicked well.
In terms of decor, this room is painted a sleek Cold-War military green and white. It looks mostly like a scientist’s office, with books on the table and test tubes and microscopes dotted around. Similarly, there’s a little Cold War bleakness. It’s furnished fairly sparsely and most of the puzzles or locked boxes you need are on display around you. That’s not to say there weren’t a few surprise reveals – there were, such as a keycard being swiped in just the right place to trigger a secret door… But generally speaking we knew where each ‘secret door’ was hiding from a carefully concealed wire behind tape, or a slightly fraying design that had definitely been handled a lot. All that to say, not a bad thing, just a thing. It felt on the low budget side, but what it lacked in fancy decor it made up for in enthusiasm and love.
We enjoyed Down to the Wire! It was an unexpected bonus onto a non-escape room holiday. It wasn’t a perfect room, but for a little hidden treasure found deep into the countryside, we were greeted cheerily and enthusiastically, and found in the room a lot of love and a few clever puzzles along the way. It’s not going to wow enthusiasts, and it’s best not to go in with super high expectations, but for us it was the perfect way to spend a morning. I’d recommend it for anyone in the area who wants a fun challenge!
Down to the Wire is one of two escape rooms that can be played at Bowness Escape rooms in the Lake District. You can book it here.
Back in 1636, half of Newcastle’s population had succumbed to the Black Death. Enter our plague escape room, which overlooks a real plague pit. Can you outwit the crazed plague doctor and escape before the horror of the Black Death gets you?
Date Played: August 2023 Number of Players: 4 Time Taken: 23 minutes Difficulty: Medium
Since moving up North, I’ve realised the UK is more than just London… I kid, I kid. But in all honesty, fun escape room destinations like Newcastle are so much closer now. Which is why on a sunny Sunday morning we took a trip down to Newcastle to celebrate a friend’s birthday. The best way to celebrate a birthday? 4 escape rooms, of course. First up, Escape Key’s well-recommended “Plague” room.
Escape Key is one of Newcastle’s most loved escape rooms, and it’s located just a 10-15 minute walk from the station past a few cute coffee shops and overlooks a rather spooky looking graveyard. The graveyard would only feel spookier and spookier as, when we watched the briefing video, we realised the very escape room we were about to enter into was based on the rather large plague pit located just a stone’s throw away out the window. We all glanced at each other as we wondered- wait a minute, is this a horror room? Well, yes it is. But also no it’s not. It strikes a comfortable balance between “spookiness” and “this is real history so we’ll be respectful”, and I liked that a lot.
The story of “Plague” takes players back to the 17th century when plague was rife in the city of Newcastle. We had to get in, find a mysterious urn of ashes, and get out before the plague doctor returned. I’ll be honest, there was definitely more to the story than that, but it being our first room of the day had us in fits of excitement, eager to get into the experience. So, I’ll admit, we didn’t pay quite as much attention as we should have done – but thankfully, the story wasn’t too central to the puzzle solving. So long as you understood it was “find an urn and get out in under 60 minutes”, then you’d be fine in this room.
A really nice touch about Plague was the incense burner in the corner. Partially marking the time it takes us to complete the room, and partially just adding some historically specific ambiance to the room, it was a pretty cool touch. After so many rooms, it’s nice to be able to say “I’ve never had incense in the room with me before”. Besides the incense, the room was also very well decorated, just as a plague doctor’s creepy house should be. Complete with a jail cell, locked doors, and one or two jump scares. In a rarity for an escape room, the owners have uploaded a 360 degree ‘view’ of the room on Google Maps which you can go and explore here. Super useful for remembering all the little details, and of course for grabbing a photo or two for this review!
As well as the décor, for me the room really shined with it’s puzzles too. Okay I could be biased because we managed to escape with an all-time leader board score, but either way: The puzzles just really, really clicked for us. Maybe it was that it was so early in the day (believe me, the later rooms we did we didn’t escape quite as quickly), or maybe it was just that the style worked particularly well for our team, but we were off to a flying start. The room has a mix of locks and more outside-the-box thinking and some manual puzzles mixed in. Nothing overly challenging, but just enough to really get the braincells working. The room as a whole was also non-linear, meaning dividing and conquering was key. Most puzzles could be solved by one person, and a few perfect for a smaller ‘solving team’ of two.
Last but by no means least, I have to offer a shout out to our GM – Luna. Luna was absolutely excellent in every way!
We really enjoyed Plague. It was the most fun of the rooms we played during our trip to Newcastle, and at Escape Key, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. For folks afraid of jumps scares – there are a few small ones, but it isn’t by any means a ‘scary room’, just more on the side of eerie. In terms of difficulty, despite the website saying it’s hard, we found it a comfortable ‘medium’. If you’re in Newcastle and only have time to play one room, this should be very high up on your list!
When I play with this specific group, we call ourselves Chicken Nuggets. A spin off team from the Chicken Nugget Choir, who you may occasionally see on leader boards around the world.
Escape Room Cottage Tewkesbury | A holiday cottage cross escape room – Can you solve the puzzles, unravel the story, and gain the prize… all in one long weekend? The house is filled with puzzles and clues, all woven together into a story for you to discover.
Date played: July 2023 Time taken: Played over a long weekend (Fri-Sun) with approx 10-12 hours of puzzling Number of players: 4 Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (different puzzle levels available)
A Weekend of Puzzles
Playing escape room games is a bit like (I imagine) being addicted to drugs. That first game you play gives you a massive, excited, cerebral high, sending you back out into the world buzzing. It feels so good that you’re soon back, searching for a repeat of that high and, for a while, each new game also gives you the sought after buzz. But it’s not long before one game at a time isn’t enough. The comedown after a single game sends you scurrying to book a second straight away and pretty soon you’re booking escape room days of five or six games in a row. By this point you are a fully fledged ER addict. So when an opportunity to actually live in an escape room, where you can eat, drink, shower and sleep surrounded by puzzles, comes along, it doesn’t take much persuasion to hand over your cash for a full weekend of ER highs.
And at the Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury a weekend of highs is exactly what you get.
Escape Cottage? What Is That?
The Escape Cottage in Tewkesbury is an AirBnB property run by the lovely (and very responsive) Caroline and Rich. And honestly, the cottage itself and Tewkesbury would be more than worth the price of the weekend. The cottage is really a three floor house right in the centre of medieval Tewkesbury. It is a little jewel box of a property, filled with eclectic, quirky and lovely artwork, sculptures and books, that can accommodate up to 5 guests across three bedrooms (a double, twin and single) and with three separate bathrooms. It is beautifully decorated, luxuriously comfortable and spacious and has everything you need for a weekend break, including a fully equipped kitchen. It sits in the heart of the lovely town of Tewkesbury, which is rammed with characterful, wonky, beamed medieval and Tudor buildings, as well as narrow, atmospheric lanes and alleys and a stunning Medieval abbey. Tewkesbury was the site of a key battle in the War of the Roses, commemorated throughout the town with colourful banners representing the many warring families, and there are plenty of self-guided walks around the key historic sites available. And even if history is not your thing, Tewkesbury’s location as a point where the River Avon and the River Severn meet, creating the Severn Ham nature reserve, means there are wonderful riverside and country walks also on the cottage’s doorstep. Also just outside the cottage door are a great variety of independent cafes, restaurants, pubs and shops. There’s no private parking at the cottage (though a cheap long stay car park is a few mins walk away) but, honestly, once you’ve arrived everything you could possibly need for a weekend is all within walking distance.
Yes, Yes, Sounds Lovely, But What About The Escape Room?
TBH I wasn’t sure what to expect of the escape room element when I booked the cottage. I thought that perhaps, in order to appeal to the widest audience possible, the puzzles might be too simplistic for my team of experienced ER nerds, or that it would simply consist of nothing but padlocked boxes dumped in a room. Oh how wrong could I be? The puzzling element of the cottage blew our minds and vastly exceeded every expectation we had by miles and miles and miles.
The puzzling starts even before you’ve arrived, as in your welcome email your host sets up the story behind your weekend adventures and gives you the first puzzle that will give you the code for the property’s keybox. OK, this puzzle IS fairly simple but then you don’t want your guests to spend hours sitting outside your property wondering how on earth to get inside! But once inside, the puzzle world expands and the house becomes a treasure trove of clues, secret messages, mysterious locked boxes and intriguing artifacts. While areas of the house that are definitely NOT part of the puzzle world are clearly marked (by locked doors and stickers), and you are told before arrival that most clues will be straightforward to find so “you won’t need to pull everything off the walls and disembowel the furniture” there is an element of ‘searching’ needed to get puzzling properly. And inspiration and clues can strike at any time – even an innocent mid-puzzle trip to the loo can suddenly reveal a detail hidden up until then.
There is a clear narrative thread to the puzzles, and hints and clues are found in letters and postcards discovered as you move through the property. My advice is to read them carefully because at the end of the puzzles you will have to make a decision based on all you’ve read beforehand. While that narrative winds its way throughout the game play, once you’ve reached a certain point (I won’t say what as it’d ruin the excitement of the discovery for future players), the order in which you tackle the various puzzles no longer matters. Through some very clever tech, you can choose which puzzles you want to focus on, or jump around between the different ones if something stumps you and you need to think about something else instead. From that ‘certain point’ mentioned above hints are easily available if needed, but hosts Caroline and Rich are also accessible via phone or AirBnB messages if you really get stuck.
The variety of puzzles is impressive – there are some purely physical ones, as well as ones for the mathematician in your group, or the music-loving team member or the crossword obsessed player, the logic puzzle solver or that player who just enjoys a good jigsaw. There are some lovely little moments of puzzling and discovery magic that delighted my entire team and had us squealing with excitement, racing up and down the stairs, or just saying “wow” repeatedly. As a team we’ve pretty much seen and played it all before, but there were some elements here that had us genuinely surprised and excited. And to stop the puzzle-hardened obsessives from simply locking themselves inside for an entire weekend, also built into the experience is an outdoor puzzle/treasure hunt that takes you through much of medieval Tewkesbury, giving you puzzling pleasure, a tour of the town and a dose of fresh air all rolled into one. My team failed to find a part of the initial set up for this treasure hunt but still had a lovely time wandering the streets of the town and managed to find all the answers we needed.
And there are differing levels of involvement and commitment to the weekend too. You can choose to take things at a leisurely pace, solving just a handful of puzzles that get you to a certain narrative point, or you can keep going and solve more, or, as we did, commit to the completionist experience and make sure you’ve solved every single thing in the house including the few ‘bonus’ puzzles. Overall I think our team of four puzzled hard for around 10-12 hours in the cottage (but we also squeezed in 11 other escape rooms in Cheltenham and Worcester, on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday) so you can take your time, enjoy the luxurious cottage space and the beautiful town it’s in, and still play through most of puzzles on offer.
In other words, this escape room cottage experience can be enjoyed by anyone who likes to puzzle. There’s enough to keep a diehard ER enthusiast busy and satisfied, while a relative newbie or a family group could also play and have an absolute blast of a weekend. In short, this escape room cottage surpassed my expectations by a (beautiful) country mile and is amazing value for money, given the loveliness of the house and town and the sheer quantity of puzzles squeezed in. Would 100% highly recommend to pretty much anyone and everyone.
A Note on Accessibility
The listing on AirBnB makes it clear that this is an old house split over 3 floors with only stairs for access, so unfortunately it may not suit those with mobility issues, especially as the puzzle-solving requires quite a lot of going up and down across all three floors. Some of the puzzles use colours or sound so may be harder for those with restricted vision, colour blindness or hearing loss.
Full details of the cottage and how to book are here.
Photos in this review are either (c) Cottage Owners (from AirBnB), or Karen Myers, Jake Andrews, Jane Blackwell.
Mega Bite Review | Yo dudes and dudettes! Put down your Boom Box and step into a world beyond your wildest imagination, where the lines between reality and the virtual world blur. You’ll be transported through a Zombie arcade game and thrown into a carbonic, mad-capped world that will have you on the edge of your seat. MEGA BITE is not your average escape game. It’s a multi-dimensional experience that will push you to your limits. You’ll have to use your wits, skills and teamwork to escape this fantastical world and make it back to reality.
Date Played: 6th July 2023 Time Taken: 53 mins 13 seconds Number of Players: 4 (3 adults, 1 child (12)) Difficulty: Easy to Medium
Ok, so, lets cut to the chase here – if you’d spotted my Facebook and Instagram posts on the day we played this game, I simply said five key words – YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!
And here is why….
Firstly, if you’ve played Clue Cracker games before, you already know that you are in for a treat. Having played Jail Break, Diamond Dogs and Temple Quest here, there has become a certain expectation that they create high quality immersive experiences, on a level only dreamt of by other companies. Clue Cracker have a very obvious style which is visible across all of their games in terms of decoration, puzzles and game flow.
But before I pinpoint how this game exceeds all expectations, lets talk customer service…
The Warmest of Welcomes at Clue Cracker
Clue Cracker has two separate locations within Tunbridge Wells. Their original is based at The Shuffle House, a beautifully appointed restaurant with some food to die food – so Id highly recommend that after a brain taxing hour in an escape room. Their newer location is literally just over the road (so no excuse to still not grab a bite to eat!) and houses both Temple Quest and their newest addition Mega Bite.
The reception at Clue Cracker is quirky yet practical. Some big comfy sofas, a handful of lockers and a two player arcade machine – this kept my son Fin quiet for a good twenty mins whilst we chatted with owner Ben.
Now, lets be honest here, as an owner, you’d expect a certain level of enthusiasm and pride in your product, however chatting with Ben for the first time was a complete delight. As we were there for opening day, there’s no doubt that this would have been a very stressful day, and as the last team of the day at 9.15pm, I wouldn’t have been surprised to be met with a slightly bemused GM and owner who was ready for the clock to hit home time – but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Ben was engaging, genuine, humorous and thoughtful; clearly proud of the creation we were about to face. And, he had every right too, as he guided up down to the brightly coloured neon entrance to the room.
Up Down, Left Right and START!
Given that this is a brand new room, we were yet to have seen any reviews, and the website is a little sketchy in terms of a full disclosure about the game, we were chomping at the bit with anticipation not knowing behind what was behind the door. Quick normal pre-game health and safety talk, and game rules completed, Ben accompanied us into the room.
However, this game started very differently to how we were expecting – its tricky to go into detail without creating a spoiler here, so forgive my approach… He guided us around the initial room with some do’s and don’ts, quickly followed by a phrase that all owners must dread to say to their teams on opening day “Ah crap, this is embarrassing. Day one of opening, and the main feature of the room isn’t bloody working. Give me a minute and I will see if I can fix it”
…..And with that, he walked off and shut the door.
Bemused, we looked at each other, until it dawned on us – ooohhhh, that’s what we need to do to escape! Game On!
Visually Mind Melting
Now with a theme which is so called 80’s Zombie Arcade, you’d expect bright, loud, neon. And that’s exactly what you get! As you can see from the images kindly supplied by the guys at Clue Cracker in this review, you are immersed into a wacky world of 80’s animation, with a booming sound track, with a little hint of Stranger Things. You truly are thrown back in time, and its truly wonderful. Its quirky, unapologetic approach is a full blown attack on the senses, which fills the brief and then some! All this, whilst keeping the same Clue Cracker style that is seen across all their games.
There are some truly remarkable aspects of technology in this room, more than a handful of wow moments that will take your breath away, and some brilliant surprises that you are unlikely to have encountered anywhere else.
Puzzles… This Ain’t Pacman
When first chatting with Ben prior to the game, he discussed the need for this game to have a much more family friendly approach which is accessible to all. As enthusiasts, this concerned us a little as I didn’t want to smash the door down, be there for 30 mins and walk away without the brain getting a decent work out. But, never fear! Our concerns were alleviated when hit with puzzle number one! We all know what happens to those of us who have played far too many games – you get a bit puzzle blinded and “oh, i’ve seen this before” overthinking brain kicks into gear. And that’s exactly what happened to us! Don’t be fooled by the animations, visuals and outstanding effects in this room; there’s clearly moments when the brain cells need a work out!
Every puzzle fitted into the theme perfectly. The loud, bright animated approach isn’t just the set design, but the puzzles too. The game is very tangible so there’s lots to pick up and move around. There is very little to read, which for a family friendly game is perfect – you’re never stuck in bits of paper and you’re not hunting around for tricky maths equations. Its all big, chunky and impactful. But, don’t forget to search – look high, look low and question everything. Its easy to be bamboozled by the colours in here, but the colours may well be the thing that help you!
Sorry Alan Sugar, Atari Has Nothing on This
Whilst there is no doubt this is 100% a family friendly game, with puzzles galore, team work is the name of the game. One area of games that often gets overlooked, is the manner in which they flow; including how you work as a team. A great aspect of this game is how is separates you at moments and then pulls you back together – many puzzles need open discussions, where as others can be a solo mission. At no point did you really feel like you were completely lost, but similarly, the flow of the game meant that it challenged everyone enough to get a subtle hint to push you on your way.
Speaking of hints, the clue systems in this game were a lot of fun. A well loved “character” from the 80’s may likely make an appearance, and well, you may well need the help of another character in the game, who has a bit of an issue of his own too.
One thing that Clue Cracker have done well in, particularly in both Temple Quest and Diamond Dogs, is heighten the sense of pressure nearing completion of the game. And Mega Bite follows that same pattern. Don’t expect to just open a door at the end and walk out, with the obligatory “well done for escaping” comment from your GM here. Expect full blown action, sweat dripping, music booming-type escape, with a huge smile on your face.
Mega Bite: The Verdict
I think if you have read this far, you can clearly see quite how amazed we were by this game. Our de-brief for every game we’ve played in the car on the way home, usually revolves around one key subject “what would you change?”. And guess what, this is the first game we’d played where there was absolutely nothing! The customer service, game play, puzzles, theming, technology, effects, ticked every single box with a huge green permanent marker!
I often try to not get drawn into the “what’s your favourite room” conversations, as it often depends on the context. One place may have strong puzzles to make it a favourite, one might be due to the immersion, others might be how visually simulating it is. However, this room has to feature in every single one of them categories.
Clue Cracker have always been a company that, within their games, haven’t taken themselves too seriously, and upon each new room, that continues to demonstrate their enthusiasm, passion and devotion to their craft. This room, yet again shows, that the love of the game, produces a lovely game. And, without doubt, I leave you with the same five words that we started with… YOU.MUST.PLAY.THIS.GAME!
Heaven and Hell Review: Ever wondered what happens when you die? Does heaven exist? What if you’re sent to hell? As mere mortals we do not have the answers to these questions, but now you have the opportunity to find out. You will enter a state of hibernation. This will last for one hour and give you the chance to explore the afterlife. After your adventure you will need to use a defibrillator to return to life. However the defibrillator only works for one hour! If you do not find it in time, you may be stuck in hell forever! It could also be heaven, but in this case it’s nearly the same thing…
Date Played: June 2023 Time Taken: 46:52 Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy-Medium
This was exactly what happened when I mentioned in passing that I was travelling to Cambridge to play a few escape rooms.
“Oh, you’ve got to try Heaven and Hell while you’re there!”
Oh yes. You can be absolutely sure that this was the first room we booked – and in fact, the very room we planned the trip around!
Visiting Cambridge was also a super fun trip because I was playing with one of my co-writers, Georgie! Since moving up to Edinburgh I don’t get down South as much, and so we wanted to make the most out of a brief visit for my birthday and play as many escape rooms as we could possibly cram in on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. After a brief stop for lunch, the third in our trip was the ever-exciting and mysterious Heaven and Hell.
Cambridge Escape Rooms is tucked away off a busy road near a bus stop a short ride from the station. Buses run regularly so you can be fairly safe in both getting there by bus and getting back on bus as well. The lobby space is welcoming, and there’s physical puzzles you can play with whilst you wait – and the usual shelves of play at home puzzle games if you’d like to buy one and take one home with you.
As Above, So Below
A question enthusiasts love to discuss is “which escape rooms have the most exciting ending?“. But with Heaven and Hell I’d like to submit it for the discussion category of “escape rooms with the most exciting BEGINNING“. You see, Heaven and Hell is a game played in the afterlife… Hence the name. So in order to enter the escape room you’re going have to die. Yep, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you. I just hope you’re ready to meet your maker.
Getting the pesky concept of “dying” out of the way, what followed was an exciting journey through the after life and indeed – to Heaven, and Hell. Our central goal throughout our trip was to come back to life. And of course, as expected, we had just one hour to complete this goal within else risk being trapped on the other side forever.
*dun dun dunnn*
Heaven and Hell wasn’t always available at Cambridge Escape Rooms. In fact, the room was originally created by E-Exit in Budapest. The room has been lovingly recreated here in the UK, but from what I can tell from a quick Google online, Cambridge Escape Rooms has added their own twist on it. Whilst many, if not all of the puzzles are exactly the same, the set design itself seems to have had an overhaul. This is at least based on some photos I found of the Budapest version, and my own memory of being in this room.
Which is interesting, because the set was definitely the thing I loved most about this room. From the fun technology, to the “wow moments” every time we opened up a new door and discovered a new part of the afterlife, lovingly rendered in fluffy white clouds (or indeed the flames from the bowels of hell). Heaven and Hell as an experience was a really pretty one. Always something new to look at and always something fun to discover.
It’s almost impossible to choose between a favourite moment in the room – the hell portion, or the heaven portion, or even the exciting moments that built up to those two. There was something uniquely magical about stepping into the heaven room, all fluffy clouds and white doves. Equally, some of the interactions with the set in the hell portion were hilariously good fun. What can I say? I enjoy being in hot places being prodded by devils with pitchforks*
*there aren’t actually any devils prodding you, don’t worry!
Note: This is a photo from the Budapest edition of this room which differs in set design from the Cambridge version.
In terms of the puzzles, these were smooth sailing. Well, mostly. We were actually stumped on the very first puzzle for the longest time, which wasted a large amount of time we rushed to catch up on after. But a little nudge from our Games Master and we were off on our way.
We found that we didn’t get too stuck on anything after this point, which is probably why we’ve given this an Easy-Medium rating. Medium for that one puzzle, and Easy for everything else. There was a mixed bag. Some of the puzzles were a little too easy to bypass for my liking, and a few others felt a little contrived, but for each that didn’t totally click with us there were plenty which absolutely did.
Heaven and Hell: The Verdict
The original Heaven and Hell in Budapest is an immensely popular game, and this version of it in the UK has been faithfully recreated in case anyone can’t make the trip out to Central Europe. We really enjoyed our experience at Heaven and Hell, and spent a lot of the trip back into London discussing which was our favourite of the two we played at Cambridge Escape Rooms, this one or The Secret Clubhouse.
In terms of accessibility, there were several moments of big claustrophobia. One of them seemed to be compulsory for every player – although if you let the venue know in advance, they’ll let you skip this part. The others were optional, in that you can pick one member of your team to be the sacrifice and get in the small space. In our team, I was that person – but hey I kinda enjoy the small spaces! There is also a smoke machine in this room which can be disabled if you request it.
I’d recommend this escape room to anyone who can make the trip over to Cambridge. It’s a very unique experience and well worth it!
Heaven and Hell can be booked at Cambridge Escape Rooms. This room is also available at some sites in Madrid and Budapest.
The Great Loudini is a one-of-a-kind adventure that combines the thrill of an escape room with the wonder of live magic performances. You have been tasked by Harry Houdini himself to help retrieve one of his stolen diaries. Taken by the imposter that is ‘The Great Loudini’… However that’s not all, Loudini has been working on a way to predict the future! Can you retrieve the diary in time and help Houdini secure his place, as the greatest magician of all time…
Completion Time: ~50 minutes Date Played: 12th May 2023 Party size: 4 Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5
After returning from our epic escape room holiday in the Netherlands, we were a bit worried that rooms in the UK would not be able to measure up to the leaderboard topping rooms we had played the week previous. However, we struck gold with our visit to Escapable in Wakefield, where we had an all round magical evening celebrating Ash’s birthday.
The Great Loudini was an escape room that has been blowing up the recommendation pages, and since it launched we’d spotted plenty of shout-outs to Tom and the team via the various enthusiast Facebook pages. So naturally, we were very excited to see what Escapable had in store for us!
Take your seats for the Magic Show!
Upon arriving at the venue, we were greeted by our Games Master Tom, who appeared very much in character as a magician apprentice for ‘The Great Loudini!’. We are such big fans of an immersive start and arriving at Escapable did not disappoint. From there, we were taken through to the theatre to where Loudini would be performing. Our Games Master then gave us a glimpse into the fun we could expect from this experience, drawing us in with some of the best live magic any of us had ever experienced. Seriously, live magic in an escape room? We love it!
The Great Loudini was so much fun and truly jaw dropping (huge shout out to Tom for his magic abilities, I have so many questions!). After we’d had our minds blown with some magical mischief, we were blindfolded to sneak through to Loudini’s room. Our first mission would be to sneak into his dressing room to see if we could find Houdini’s stolen diary!
Perfectly Puzzling Puzzles 🪄
Once we were released into the room to explore, we were delighted to find the room’s physical space and decor very much on theme. Everything in the room was well through out and had a purpose, there were references to magic everywhere, and even some very special hidden surprises! As a group of four, we totally clicked with this room and would recommend this as the perfect size. With this group, the puzzles flowed beautifully, and they were delivered on theme in a satisfying way.
With a typical group of four, we tend to split to tackle different parts of the room at different times, but with The Great Loudini, we found ourselves coming back together on purpose, just so we could all experience the puzzles on offer. Not to mention tyring to figure out exactly how on Earth some the puzzles had come to be… It literally could only be magic! In The Great Loudini we also came up against a couple of absolutely stand out puzzles, and more than one we’d be left feeling beyond-perplexed as to just what we’d witnessed.
Knock Knock! Who’s There? It’s Tom.
Throughout the experience, Tom returned to us a number of times (in character), to provide some additional information about Loudini, and to provide us with some ‘tools’ we would need to complete some of the puzzles in the space. These ‘tools’ were presented wonderfully. It’s not exactly a live-actor room, but those touchpoints of interaction were some of the most pleasant interaction with a live actor any of us had ever experienced. These interludes were spaced out perfectly well, and didn’t feel clunky or disruptive in the slightest. Each one was a welcome ‘break’ from the puzzling and into the magical narrative of this superb experience.
Without giving away too many spoilers, one of the most unique moments of the room was when one of the final puzzles left us all feeling very confused, as we questioned the loyalty of our own as the puzzle and solution was revealed (looking at you Tasha!). It was the best way to finish the experience, and had us all laughing and discussing for many hours after how we had managed to locate the missing diary.
Escapable: Above and Beyond
Since we were playing on Ash’s actual birthday, I (Al) had reached out to Tom earlier in the month to ask if he had any particularly magical ways of producing cake. Anyone who knows us knows that cake is an integral part of our lives, not just for a birthday! Tom was wonderful and obliged in surprising the birthday girl with an excellent magic trick that yes – actually produced cake too!
Having played The Great Loudini, we can see why this room has skyrocketed in popularity with the UK escape room community. It was just so different! It was lively, it was funny, it was packed with brilliant puzzles and a smooth and seamless logical flow we all love to see. I cannot recommend this room more, we had an absolute blast.
The Magic Emporium: Three days ago a well renowned supplies shop for all budding wizards closed for the day. However inexplicably the shop never opened again. Sensing that forces of evil are at work you have decided that you are going to investigate the mystery behind Ms Garbo’s disappearance. Don’t get caught!
Date Played: December 2022 Time Taken: 35 minutes Number of Players: 3 Difficulty: Easy
“I’ve never done an escape room before”, my friend tells me.
“Wait, what?! Let’s fix that right away!”
Unfortunately by now I have done most of the absolutely excellent rooms in Edinburgh, so my choices to take a brand new non-enthusiast somewhere impressive were slim – but you can’t go wrong with somewhere like “Escape Edinburgh” which is a franchise with venues all around the UK. Back in London, I’d enjoyed a lot of their rooms and being a franchise model of company I figured they’d be pretty good in any city you came across. We’re fans of the ‘magical world’ theme, so The Magic Emporium in Edinburgh (one not available in London) seemed like a good bet to try out.
On a wintery day just after Christmas we took ourselves down to Escape Edinburgh to try out the magical shop themed room as a team of three. Between us, we had a range of ‘experience’ levels with the escape room, making for a perfect mix, and – in my opinion – a perfect team size for a game like this. The lobby area is much smaller than most escape rooms, so as we waited for our friend to arrive, we stood to one side reading through the waiver and making small talk with our host. Just as we were about to be led to the room, an enormous group of around 20 people who had not made a booking showed up asking if they could play a room there and then. I felt for the Games Master as they dealt with the chaos of that group arriving to the world’s smallest lobby all at once, and it did cause a slight delay to the start time of our game as we huddled in the corner patiently. But after a little while, we were at our room’s door and off into the magical world of “The Magical Emporium”.
The room starts impressively as you find yourself in a cobblestone alleyway outside of a row of shops. I really like this “looking into shop front mechanic”, and Escape Edinburgh did well to recreate a magical atmosphere in this space. As we could tell from the offset, there were many more puzzles to be found inside but our first task was simple: Get inside, somehow.
Magic and Mystery in the Air
The room did a fairly good job of taking us through the narrative and puzzling journey in terms of gameplay. It was a fairly linear room, although there were moments when different members of our group were split up from one another, relaying and reciting information we’d found. There was plenty of searching and finding, and plenty of locks to keep us occupied too. At one point did we get stuck and require a clue. The puzzle was something that had been staring us in the face for a while, but after much staring it didn’t quite click for us, so we opted for a clue. Besides this one puzzle, the overall game felt like it had a good balance of fun and puzzling to suit a newbie group (such as ourselves) and still give that magical spark that makes someone want to come back for more escape rooms. My life goal to create more escape room enthusiasts is therefore complete!
Since The Magic Emporium is a franchise escape room available at the Escape group, you might notice a similarly named room available at a number of other locations around the UK. Notable: Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon and of course the venue we visited: Edinburgh. In general, rooms of the same name are the same across different locations. However some may have notable differences. So an experience at another venue may be slightly different than the one we had here. Similarly, being a franchise escape room, I find that sometimes- but not always, there’s a little wear and tear. This holds true for The Magic Emporium which I have no doubt was a stunning room in it’s glory days but now suffers a little roughness around the edges and slight breaks that can’t be easily fixed. That said, if you’re not put off by details like this, it’s still a solid escape room.
The Magic Emporium: The Verdict
A fun little room that suited our newbie group very well. We weren’t overly challenged, but we did have a lot of fun and appreciated the environment and setting a lot. The Magic Emporium would be an excellent room for kids and families alike, as there’s a fun mix of traditional locks and more ‘magical’ activations of hidden puzzles. It might not satisfy the enthusiast’s itch, but still worth a visit if you’re in the area.
The Magic Emporium is available at Chelmsford, Lincoln, Walton Pier, Newcastle, Basildon, and of course the location we did it at: Edinburgh. The room is (as far as we’re aware) identical at all locations.
Okay yes, so this is “The Escape Roomer” and yes, we almost exclusively review UK escape rooms. That is, barring the few awesome “play at home” ones which we invariably did play from the comfort of our homes here in the UK… But then sometimes you go on an ‘escape room road trip’ to another country and are just so downright blown away by what you experienced you immediately come home and open up a “New Post” to start writing about them. This is one of those times.
So, if you’re reading this blog looking for a good escape room to play in the UK – stop what you’re doing and book a train to the Netherlands instead!
I’m sure this list of rooms will come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, since our trip was “Let’s play as many of the best escape rooms in the Netherlands as we possibly can“, but there are of course a number of rooms we just didn’t get round to playing this time. So this list isn’t an exhaustive, complete list to ‘the best’ rooms, but more a general look at what we loved most about the ones we played.
If you want a complete list of the best rooms to play, I highly recommend checking out the latest TERPECA winners. Simply head to this page and CTRL+F “Netherlands” and you’ll quickly see how well represented this fantastic country is in the rankings. At the time of writing, the Netherlands has, in the global rankings:
2. Down the Hatch’s “Molly’s Game”
3. Mama Bazooka’s “The Dome”
9. Darkpark’s “Stay in the Dark”
32. Kamer 237’s “Lost and Found”
35. Darkpark’s “The End”
40. Epic Escape’s “Illusion”
74. Rock City Escape’s “Soup du Jour”
82. Escape Room Junkie’s “Corpse Inc.”
95. Kamer 237’s “Room 237”
99. Logic Lock’s “The Amsterdam Catacombs”
10 out of the top 100 escape rooms in the world are here. For the 22nd smallest country in the world (and 6x smaller than the UK), that’s not bad. Not bad at all.
The Netherlands Escape Room Itinerary
Comprised of a team of myself, Alice & Ash from Escaping the Closet, and our good friend Tasha, we took the overnight ferry from Hull to Rotterdam on Thursday night. We checked into our Airbnb in Rotterdam, and then hurried off to play our first game.
Mama Bazooka @ Bunschoten
Rock City Escape @ Amersfoort
Darkpark @ Zoetermeer
Next Level Escapes @ Eindhoven
Darkpark @ Vlaardingen
Darkpark @ Delft
Down the Hatch @ The Hague
In terms of transport, the Netherlands is incredibly well connected by train, bus and tram. In fact no two escape rooms we needed to travel by took more than 1 hour, or cost more than about €14. We stayed in Rotterdam which is South-Central, and a lot less expensive than somewhere like Amsterdam.
Escape Rooms in the Netherlands – General Observations
Before I get into the details of each room, I wanted to share a few observations we noticed about Dutch escape rooms in general.
Firstly, there’s this amazing trust system in the lobby that simply would not work in the UK, and that is that you can help yourself to drinks and snacks before and after. Usually the lobbies are unmanned, but you can pick up a little checklist if you plan to take a bunch of stuff. This includes alcoholic drinks, and often merchandise too. This was a really nice touch. In the UK you’re lucky if there’s an old vending machine in the corner. In the Netherlands it was much more “please make yourself comfortable” and I loved that.
Mama Bazooka’s “Self Serve” counter
Secondly, briefings are given in-character. We often (but not always) arrived to be greeted by someone absolutely in character, not breaking for a second. It was interesting seeing how people offered us the use of lockers and bathrooms ‘in-character’. I enjoyed this, although we did get caught out with a “you’re late!”, only to start to argue that we were 20 minutes early, before realising this was part of the briefing.
Thirdly, many rooms were ‘self-triggered‘. What do I mean by this? After your briefing, we were told to enter the room by ourselves, without the Games Master around. I’m sure it’s because the Games Masters were off getting set up in their office, but it always worked so well in the theme. Go up to a door and knock three times? Or solve a puzzle to actually ‘get into’ the game. Excellent!
A final point to raise is that Dutch escape rooms – or at least the ones we played – tended to be more expensive than the average UK escape room. Yes, even more expensive than London. We paid in the region of £30 – £50 per person, per room. That said, they were all absolutely worth it – but be sure to factor that into your budget!
The Dome – Mama Bazooka
We started and ended the trip with the two rooms that have been ‘competing’ for the number 1 spot. The Dome, and Molly’s Game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and first lets talk about The Dome.
The Dome is a ‘sci-fi’ escape room. Well, sort of. In fact, it’s the kind of room that really defies categorisation because a week later and I’m not even totally sure I understood the things that happened to me in that room. You enter the experience as laboratory assistants, but things take a surreal turn when you accidentally ingest an hallucinatory substance. From this point onwards there’s a “wait, what?” level of disbelief and astonishment. The physical space is impressive, it’s twisting and turning corridors that do not take you to where you expected to go, and those moments of looking back at something you’d already completed only to find subtle, eerie differences that leave you questioning your sanity. There’s a good amount of physicality to the experience, but you’re mostly running on pure excitement and adrenaline. What it lacks in a complex narrative, it makes up for in visual, thematic and technical impressiveness. For that, I absolutely adored this room. The focus was squarely on the puzzles – as brilliant as they were – and the set design. It was a fantastic room.
It’s best played with very little expectations (though I suppose being for a while #1 in the world does come with it a certain level of expectation), so I’ll leave the review with just one final question:
Does it live up to the hype? Absolutely.
Soup Du Jour – Rock City Escape
Next up on our itinerary was “Soup Du Jour”. I approached this escape room with a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I’m not a fan of scary or horror games and this one certainly verges on the side of “creepy”.
We approached the unusual building (a hidden door tucked away in something that looks a lot like an actual monastery), and were greeted by our stern Games Master who boldly barked “you’re late”, before giving us a nun outfit each and ushering us into the Monasterie Restaurant to help set up for the day. But something peculiar is afoot at this restaurant Nuns have been going missing. As we explored the physical space, we couldn’t help but shake the feeling that we might be next on the menu.
Soup Du Jour is a creepy room. There are a few more ‘jump scare’ elements than the average room (including one hilarious one we all screamed our heads off at), and a definite feeling of tension throughout. Where Soup Du Jour really shined for me were the puzzles. There’s a mix of linear, non-linear, and really creative solutions. Whether I’d personally agree it’s the 74th best escape room in the world… I’m not sure. It’s certainly better than the hundreds of others I’ve played in my life so far, and it certainly brought us a lot of delight, but it’s hard not to compare it to the other Dutch rooms. If this were in another country it would be exceptionally outstanding. Because it’s in the Netherlands, it’s simply “brilliant”. Make of what whatever you will!
In this room we ‘escaped’ with a comfortable time of around (I forget exactly) 45 minutes. Success!
Honeymoon Hotel – Darkpark
More horror?! For this scaredy cat?! It’s likelier than you think. But thankfully after a stormy and atmospheric day, the sun finally decided to come out and so the approach to our final room of the day wasn’t quite so creepy.
Honeymoon Hotel was my first taste of the infamous Darkpark… A company I’ve loved since I played their at-home puzzle game The Witchery Spell. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Darkpark that is they do horror really well, and Honeymoon Hotel is an excellent opportunity to “dip your toes in” to the theme and style the company goes for to see if their other (scarier) games are for you.
The game begun as H. H. Holmes’ latest bride entering his infamous murder hotel. So far, so good. Our goal was quite simple – to try not to die. What followed was a lot of darkness, loud jump scares, and creeping banging noises looming all around us in the dark. In fact, the best (or funniest) jump scare came when we’d forgotten to lock the main door behind us and the Games Master has to creep back and close it loudly behind us.
As with many Dutch rooms, Honeymoon Hotel is a multi-space experience that takes you on a visual and puzzling journey through the depths of the hotel as you try to find your way out. It has a labyrinth-like quality to it, confusing and horrifying in all the best ways. There isn’t a live actor in the room, but there’s something about the impressive atmosphere they’ve created that really makes you wonder “wait a second, is there actually someone in here with us?!”
My favourite thing about Honeymoon Hotel by far was the finale. All that atmosphere, all those noises, culminating in something seriouslty impressive. I won’t spoil it, but I will say I squealed with delight when I realised what was happening. Not exactly the noise I expected to make in a ‘scary’ room, but I was thrilled!
We finished with 44:20 on the clock!
The Suspicious Farmhouse – Next Level Escapes
Day two and we were off to Eindhoven – a fantastic city in the South of the country. But unlike other cities, there was just one escape room company on our list: Next Level Escapes. Next Level is located behind a very fun looking bar / social space, and up some stairs. Their two rooms:
The Suspicious Farmhouse, and
Catch Me if You Can
are sequential, one after the other. The characters you meet in the former will make a reappearance in the latter. That’s not to say you couldn’t play them out of order… But for the best experience, I recommend doing them this way round.
In the former, you enter what is essentially your grandma’s farmhouse. Think kitsch furniture, cute wooden shelves, and some very fun light-hearted puzzles about looking after the farmhouse. At about the 50% mark, the game turns out to be about something very different indeed. I knew there was something “suspicious”, but the twist took me by surprise in all the best ways. I loved the reveals and hidden details which turned out to be important, and the final puzzle really brought the whole experience together in one fell swoop.
I don’t know if I was just a little out of sorts in The Suspicious Farmhouse, but I would say that of all the rooms we played, this one didn’t totally click with me. This was a room in which we ended up asking for many hints, and at times I felt like due to the linear-nature of the experience, there was always one of us (usually me) not contributing to an active puzzle solve. There was also a lot of searching. If we needed a hint, the answer was usually “have you searched more in this place”, only to find something that was almost impossible to spot without help.
That said, we immediately followed it with Catch Me if You Can which was, to me, a stellar room. So they balanced out in the end.
We finished with 02:28 left on the clock!
Catch Me if You Can – Next Level Escapes
After a quick break between the rooms, in which we almost lost Ash (see below, oh no!)
We were once again called back in and ready to take on the sequel – Catch Me if You Can. Now I’ve never seen the film of the same name, but I think the story in this room is something similar – except we were playing the FBI agents! The experience began with us hot on the heels of the criminal we were uncovering in the first game. Unlike the first one, I immediately fell in love with this escape room from the moment I stepped foot inside. Then, if you can believe it, the experience kept getting better and better.
After having played multiple horror rooms, I was secretly thrilled to be playing a super high quality escape room that is about as far from horror as you can imagine. Furthermore, Catch Me if you Can featured one of the most impressive ‘sets’ I’ve ever seen. I really don’t want to spoil it because the reveal of “wait, surely they don’t have…” is well worth the anticipation. There’s a certain cinematic quality to this escape room that I appreciated a lot. It felt like more than just being ‘in an escape room’, we were quite literally the main character in our own film for the duration of an hour. It also allowed me to fulfil one of my bucket list items for my life. Not something I expected I’d be saying about an escape room trip, but there you go!
In terms of puzzles, with a few exceptions we required a nudge for, Catch Me if You Can really stood out in these. As with it’s predecessor we finished with an almost picture-perfect 2 minutes on the clock, which really added to the heightened tension of racing to the end. If you can’t tell from the jubilation on our faces in the photo, Catch Me if You Can was a real stand out in it’s genre!
As a brief non-escape room recommendation, after playing at Next Level Escape we stumbled upon the most fantastic eatery about 1 minute around the corner: Down Town Gourmet Market. This is a marketplace that has a bunch of different hot food stands and you can order from any of them all from your table!
Stay in the Dark – Darkpark
Okay, lets get one thing straight. None of us slept well the night before. Tasha even stayed up until 1am reading every single review on EscapeTalk.nl trying to anticipate what this experience would be like. On the train there, we all sat in stony silence, occasionally saying things like “pozzy vibes” to brighten the mood. But all that to say, we were really nervous going into Stay in the Dark.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Stay in the Dark is probably one of the scariest escape rooms out there. It certainly has the reputation for being so. It’s also won a lot of awards and one of those “you absolutely must not miss” rooms, and so there was no chance we weren’t going to do it. In fact, we planned our whole trip around securing a booking for Stay in the Dark. So there you go.
First things first, there is a live actor. Secondly, it’s 2hr30 long. Thirdly, if you need to leave the experience there’s no going back. That’s it.
In honesty, I’d probably say it isn’t really an escape room. It’s a live immersive experience much closer to something like Burnt City, or Colab Theatre’s Spy City, or a Swamp Motel immersive experience. I say this as throughout the experience I counted maybe three, maybe four “puzzles” in the sense of the word. There’s about one puzzle per “area”. But for an experience like this where you feel like you’re fighting for your life, that’s a good level. There were moments when we got slightly stuck on a puzzle, but this had more to do with the environment around us than the puzzles themselves. In short, it’s not terribly puzzly.
But what it lacks in puzzles it makes up for in immersivity. There’s sequence of pitch blackness, there’s strobe lighting, and there’s a horrifying somebody or some-thing following you. There’s strange blood spatters I’d rather not think of. The whole thing is utterly immersive. From the distant creaking of a door, or a dog’s bark, or a shadow crossing across your vision, the whole thing is thrilling. My favourite ‘part’ of the experience is towards the end and it involved the largest room (and largest props) I’ve ever seen in any escape room ever. Whilst my teammates were solving a puzzle I had my face pressed up to a window saying “wow I hope we get to go in there!!”. Sure enough, the puzzle’s success state unlocked that very door and off we went.
Is it scary? Oh yes. Is it unsurmountably scary? No. Should I book it if I don’t like horror? Yes. -Wait, what? Well, the reason I think everyone should book this is because they actually tailor it to your comfort level. Yes it’s terrifying but if you’re full of bravado, they’re going to dial it up. If you’re crouched in the corner screaming, they’ll dial it down. And if you’re so scared you can’t move, somebody will come in and help you out. At the end of the day Darkpark are escape room designers and they really want you to have fun, so they’re going to make it fun. The worst part of the whole thing was the beginning- and that’s really just the fear of the unknown. Once you ‘know’, it’s not so scary anymore. And this is coming from someone who is mortally afraid of scary escape rooms.
As a final note on this mini-review of Stay in the Dark, I want to give a particular shout-out to our host Ruud. Ruud absolutely made the experience as perfect as he was. He was flawless in his judgement of how much scare we could handle as a team, his acting was fantastic, and his upbeat personality really brought such a smile to our faces. I always try to remember our host’s names but sometimes days later they’ve slipped my mind, but it was impossible to forget Ruud. We’re planning to come back some day and I am hoping with all my might that the next time I play a Darkpark game we’ll have Ruud as our host once again.
The Dentist – Darkpark
From one Darkpark to another. There was no way anything else could possibly be scary to us after having played Stay in the Dark, so off to Darkpark’s Delft venue we went, full of a newfound bravery. The first escape room on our list at their venue was The Dentist. The Dentist is one of the first ever escape rooms in the Netherlands. As such, it’s fairly Gen 1 in terms of it’s use of puzzles and locks. That said, Gen 1 usually has negative connotations of being basic, but I think the Netherlands needs its own category of escape room generations, because a Dutch Gen 1 room is as visually and immersive-ly impressive as some of the escape rooms opening around the world today in 2023. Despite it’s age, The Dentist was… Awesome!
As the name suggests, you go to visit the Dentist. His room has all the familiar tropes of a creepy dental worker – strange contraptions, blood spattered all over the walls, and dark and sinister secrets to uncover. Nothing like my dentist whose name is Anthony. Anthony is a lovely lovely guy. Shout out to him if he’s reading this.
Our main goal of the experience was to ‘escape’, but along the way we found a myriad of unique and exciting puzzles. There were plenty of ‘search and find’ ones, and some fun physical manipulation and button pressing. We didn’t take any hints on the game until the very end when our host opted to give us one as we were going round in circles on one particular puzzle. The most impressive thing about The Dentist, besides it being a very early escape room to the Dutch escape room industry was again, the atmosphere. Atmosphere is one thing Darkpark does really, really well. Lighting, auditory additions, and an exciting intro delivered in-game makes for a *chef’s kiss* experience.
The Carnival – Darkpark
As with many of these rooms, you’ll notice a theme in my reviewing. The first of each we played I’m like “this was great”, and the second I’m like “oh my god I’ll be thinking about this for the next 100 years”. The Carnival does not break this trend. After waiting in the lobby (and taking use of the self-serve drinks cabinet to have a celebratory prosecco), we proceeded to The Carnival which is easily one of my favourite games from the whole trip. I cannot get over how much I enjoyed The Carnival. However, I might be in a minority here, as for as much as I loved it, it didn’t hold the same weight for the rest of my team. But what can I say? I’m a sucker for a “wait they really want us to do this?” moment.
The Carnival also featured one of the funniest moments of an escape room. A moment where I thought a jump scare was over and went “oh look at that” to my group, causing them all to look at the exact place the very worst jump scare of the experience would pop up.
In all, The Carnival is again slightly less like a traditional escape room and more like a ridiculously fun series of carnival themed mini games. Your goal is simple – escape the carnival. But to do so you must perform, so perform you shall! Think about the most fun things that happen at a carnival and yep, this room has got them. Despite the occasional scare (though by this point we were desensitised and didn’t find it too frightening at all), this room was above everything super fun. I don’t want to give away too much, but it had us giggling and cheering for joy. The puzzles were less about locks (though there were a few) and more about performing actions and engaging with things physically, which I appreciated a lot.
It’s said that this DarkPark in Delft they’re building a third room – the upcoming Rise of the Phoenix which is set to be another ‘not to miss’. Combined with The Dentist and The Carnival, this puts this venue squarely on the map for any enthusiast visiting the country.
Molly’s Game – Down the Hatch
Last but by absolutely no means least, the final escape room on our trip was Molly’s Game. Where do I even start with this one?
10/10 for puzzles, 10/10 for set, and 19/10 for story. Molly’s Game begins with a visually amazing lobby, and a very enthusiastic greeting. After a brief introduction, we were led into the room where we had to break into a doctor’s office under the invitation of the mysterious and enigmatic “Molly”. Who is Molly? Well that was for us to find out. Molly’s Game is slightly Stranger Things themed – but only slightly, you don’t really need to have seen the TV show to understand it, I think it’s more just “set within the same thematic universe” which is pretty cool.
Again, it’s really hard not to spoil this experience as very early in the game it goes from “pretty good escape room” to “wait, what?” in all the best ways. The puzzles were extraordinarily fun and fit beautifully within the environment. There is an incredible amount of love and care gone into this escape room and I can completely see why so many people call this one their absolute favourite room in the world.
But the one thing that Molly’s Game does better than any other escape room in the world is tell a story. By now, I know every ‘escape room story’ like the back of my hand. You’re locked in a room. You escape. Sometimes you’re a pirate, other times you’re a convict. None of that at Down the Hatch. The story they tell is complex, beautiful, sad (oh yes, expect to cry in this one!), full of twists and turns, and very easy to follow. The puzzles are interwoven seamlessly through the environment and through that story. For those who appreciate the set they’ll spot a myriad of hidden clues and details which all add into that central story.
In this game you don’t “win” or “lose”, you experience something magical. It’s an escape room in the truest sense of the world, and a really special one at that.
This has been a very long review to write, and my conclusion really is: they were all amazing.
The Netherlands is a really special place for escape room enthusiasts. I’d often wondered about going – but thought to myself “Heh, how much better than rooms elsewhere in the world can they really be? An escape room is an escape room is an escape room”. But oh how pleasantly wrong I was. The ones we played were so brilliant, so utterly immersive, and so full of love I feel speechless even now.
If you had to make me choose between each escape room, I simply could not. Every single one we played brought something new and unique to the table and is not to be missed. But if you forced my hand, I’d split it by the following:
Best Set Design – The Dome
Most Impressive Set Reveal – Catch Me if You Can
Best Story – Molly’s Game
Best Puzzles – Also Molly’s Game
Most Immersive – Stay in the Dark
Best Host – Stay in the Dark
Most Fun – The Carnival
With that, there’s really just one question left to ask – where shall we travel to next?
The Library of Enchantment Review: Ever wanted to step inside a story? The Library of Enchantment is a fun-filled thrilling family-friendly escape room, full of seafaring adventures, time travelling tricks and a pesky old bookworm who’s always up to meddlesome mischief! Join us for an enchanting experience that requires your puzzling skills, logic, persistence and, most of all, teamwork. Can you help capture Billi the bookworm and put the chaos right before the Library Inspector arrives within the hour?
Completion time: about 50 minutes Date Played: 8th April 2023 Party size: 4 Difficulty: 3.5 out of 5
We were lucky enough to be asked to come and try out Z-Arts newest addition to their arts centre, to see if we could help restore calm within the library walls before the (gasp) ‘Library Inspector’ arrives!
Z-Arts: First things first – the Z-Cafe!
First things first, let’s talk about the Arts Centre itself. It was super easy to get to (accessible very easily from the tram or walking distance to the city centre). The space was wonderful: all bright colours and smiling faces. Put simply, there is so much going on in here and the atmosphere is very welcoming.
We started off by checking out the café (well, of course), where we got a coffee and a (vegan!) cake for £4.50. The perfect way to fuel up and get our heads in the game, before the main event. For this escape room, we invited Al’s parents along for the ride – so technically we fit the bill. We were a ‘family’ playing the escape room, some adults and some ‘kids’ (us!). Having played in this size group, I would say 4 is the perfect number for this game. It allows everyone to have something to do, but also making sure you have enough people to get through all the different spaces within the allocated 60 minute slot.
Photo (c) Lizzie Henshaw
Talk about ‘Reading the Room’…
Our first impressions were excellent. The game opened up brilliantly, beginning long before you even got through the main door, which is always a nice touch. It also started with a puzzle that was very much on theme, helping to get us into the swing of things right from the start. Throughout the game, we were welcomed into a number of different spaces, guided by our lovely host, El, who provided us with a new book each time for each room, to help us with where to go next. Each one of these books matched the theme of the new rooms we found ourselves in, and it was a really nice touch that tied the whole thing together in a neat, comprehensive package.
Having a host in the room with us throughout the experience was something that we haven’t come across before. Usually we want to play with just our team, or more likely desperately wanting the non-members of our team to be out of the room – as from our experience, actors in the room are usually a form of demon, ghost, or other unwanted presence to make us jump! However, and most importantly, as this room is built to be suitable for children to complete the experience alone, the presence of a games master throughout definitely makes sense. El was brilliant throughout our escape room experience. They knew exactly when to step back and let us puzzle on, and knew the perfect moment when we needed a slight nudge in the right direction.
From start to finish the escape room felt well balanced. The puzzles were varied and exciting – there were physical puzzles, there were logical puzzles, we did some searching, we did some ‘pondering’. We were kept very busy throughout the whole experience, moving through the different spaces to finish all our tasks in order to proceed to the next room. No spoilers, but one of the room transitions was up there with the most fun we have had moving from room to room!! Even Al’s dad had a go, and judging by his smile – he absolutely loved it!
Whilst Z-Arts have pitched this as a family friendly escape (which it definitely is), we think puzzle lovers, both adults and children alike, will have an absolute blast playing The Library of Enchantment. We know from experience that central Manchester is not the *best* place to find escape rooms, so Z-Arts have created a very, very welcome addition to the escape room scene, and one we wholeheartedly recommend!
The Verdict: A real hidden gem!
If you like puzzles, you appreciate set design, and you want a challenge that will fill up the full hour slot for most teams, we would 100% recommend getting yourself to the Library of Enchantment!