Hackers: The Tomb of the Wandering King | Review

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The Tomb of the Wandering King Review | The find of the century has been uncovered in the depths of Yorkshire – The Tomb of The Wandering King, a mysterious figure, lost to history. But the archaeological team have been silent for weeks. You arrive to find a dig site, long abandoned, and the mouth of the Tomb ajar and aglow. Who – or what – is this Wandering King? And what secrets lie beneath the soil?

Date Played: 8th May 2022
Number of Players: 4
Time Taken: ~1 Hour
Difficulty: Medium

Escape rooms and crazy golf... Not something I’d usually pair together, but after seeing how excellently Hackers has accomplished it, a trend I hope to see more of across the country. Add into the mix a well stocked bar and a fantastically enthusiastic bar-tender who was a dab hand at whipping up martinis for us, and you have a brilliant mix, truly putting Billericay on the map as a destination for a thoroughly fun day out.

On one such beautiful sunny Sunday, myself, Karen, Nick, and Nick’s kid arranged to travel in from our respective corners of ‘The South’ to take on not one but two brand new escape rooms. Not just any old escape room either… Two new creations by Time Run and Spectre and Vox alumnus Nick Moran – what a treat!

For many reasons *gestures vaguely*, this will be a difficult escape room to review, as it’s hard not to reveal too much about the game. But trust me when I say, this is a room you want to go into with absolutely no expectations. Expect the unexpected. Expect “ooohs” and “aaahs“. Expect to have your heart strings tugged at. Expect difficult decisions. Above all, remember that this escape room is all about the journey and not the destination and my God, what a journey.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

About The Tomb of the Wandering King

The name of this escape room evokes such strong imagery in my mind… Something between PB Shelley’s Ozymandias poem, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In both cases we, as the audience, are asked the question:

Who, or What is the Wandering King?

This escape room challenges players to find out exactly that. In this way, it’s not your classic “you’re locked in a room and you have 60 minutes to escape.” Actually, quite the opposite. We were never verbally given a time limit and, although we took around an hour to complete it, I didn’t get the sensation of time pressure at any moment at all. We were merely there to investigate and to see where the tides of our investigation might take us.

In this way the focus throughout the experience was less on the puzzles (more about those later) and more on the journey of being there and experiencing the story. The puzzles merely served as triggers to advance the story and uncover new rooms as we ventured along. The strangest thing? I didn’t even mind. Within minutes I was 100% there for the story.

That story! The character development! Ugh, give me more!

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

I met a traveller from an antique land

The story begins with you, an intrepid team sent to investigate an archaeological dig that has gone unusually quiet. Your mysterious benefactor has a financial interest in the dig, but doesn’t mind if you (or the archaeologists) study what they’ve found first. So long as the profit goes straight to him.

You arrive in the first room to an abandoned dig site. Initially it looked like something out of a vintage ‘camp forest’, complete with it’s log cabin, radio dials on the walls, and soft wood chip flooring. How… Curious! We were alone, yes, but a series of video and audio recordings left behind by one of the archaeologists kindly provided us expositional material and got us started on the journey. Having that anchor to a character along the journey was very helpful, and she was all parts charismatic, determined and brave.

Our mission was simple – retrace the archaeologist’s steps and uncover what she was digging up. You probably know the drill: a mysterious (and very well decorated) tomb entrance with an ancient and cryptic mechanic to get inside it. But here, unfortunately dear readers, is as far as I can go into describing what happens.

You’ll thank me later for not explaining any further, even though I’m dying to.

But what follows is an hour (or more) of following our fearless archaeologists steps, finally making contact, and doing some things that shake the foundations of what we know about, well, *gestures vaguely* all of this. If I weren’t with company, I’d probably have cried a little at the ending.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay…

In terms of puzzles, individually they were probably the weakest part of the escape room experience. But even take this with a pinch of salt, the real reason I think you should visit this room isn’t for ‘excellent’ puzzles, it’s for pure atmosphere and story. But since this is The Escape Roomer, we’ve gotta mention them.

In our session, our Games Master kindly let us know that there was one puzzle that wasn’t working correctly so they were going to provide a manual override on it. If we hadn’t been told, I don’t think I would have noticed as it was very easy to bypass, but it was nice of her to let us know.

Of those puzzles that were working, we found this room to be a very high tech room. A lot of screens, buttons, and fancy wiring in the back-end. Not a single lock and key in sight. Okay, well maybe just one. But as a whole this is a high tech room. I’m always a little questioning of very high tech rooms as they tend to be the first to break (our own breakage not withstanding), but since we’re one of the first teams to play it I’m not in a position to judge how they’ll hold up long term.

High tech or not, every single puzzle we encountered worked very well within the environment. Nothing immersion breaking, and some really brilliant moments of mimetic puzzle design that were a delight to play.

There were a few puzzles that were definitely open to interpretation, and there were a few more that were needlessly finnicky. At a point sometimes finnicky puzzles are more about luck than about skill, but we got there in the end after much huffing. There were a few ‘sound’ puzzles which didn’t gel well with us as a team – we’re all completely tone deaf and found these to be more frustrating than anything else. Finally, there were a few puzzles that were quite similar to one another in functionality.

Again, take this with a pinch of salt. If you’re like me and viewed the puzzles more as a mechanic to further the story – then you’ll be fine. But it’s worth mentioning as besides a few standout fun ones, we didn’t enjoy the puzzles as much as we might have done.

 

Photo (c) Hackers

 

…Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare…

…And right back to the positives. Starting with the decor. The decor was *dramatic chefs kiss* beautiful.

I genuinely felt like it might be the most pretty and awe inspiring room I’d ever experienced. At least until we stepped into Blood Over Baker Street the next room we had booked at Hackers.

The space was huge and no expense spared to make it look, feel and smell realistic. Every detail perfectly encapsulated the theme of the environment and it was a joy to just physically be there. Can Nick and his team please come round and convert my apartment into a super realistic fantasy world? Please and thank you.

 

Team Escape Roomer!

 

…The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Sometimes on The Escape Roomer, and in life in general, I like to describe escape rooms as like films. Only you play the main character. Thriller, horror, magical? It’s always about you and your quest. 90% of the time it’s an accurate description. But after playing Tomb of the Wandering King with it’s intense level of immersivity I’m going to rethink how liberally I give that description to other escape rooms. Few can hold a candle to the level of storytelling and immersivity in this game. It’s like something else entirely.

If my tone of voice and general gushing weren’t obvious, I cannot recommend Tomb of the Wandering King highly enough. It ticked so many boxes for me personally and I am a big fan. For sure, I think the puzzles brought the overall rating down from a 5 to 4, and if you’re an enthusiast who looks for excellent puzzle design before making a trip then perhaps book yourself into Blood over Baker Street instead. But for me? Tomb of the Wandering King is well worth the trip and goes down in my personal hall of fame.

For this, and many other reasons, I’ve decided to award this escape room the “I Believe” badge, awarded to experiences that had us immersed from start to finish.

In terms of accessibility there were some cramped spaces, low lighting conditions, crawl spaces, objects placed quite high up in various rooms, and sound-based puzzles. For those reasons it’s not the most accessible in the world. That said I’d recommend reaching out to Hackers about your specific accessibility needs if that’s a concern.

In terms of recommendation – we had a young lad (Nick’s son) with us. Whilst I’d love to say it’s a great room for kids, being on the longer and more narrative side it is hard to capture a kid’s attention for that long. It’s also fairly scary with some real moments of threat. So I’ll leave that at individual adults’ discretion, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than say, 14.

 

The Tomb of the Wandering King can be booked by heading to Hackers’ website here.

Enigma Fellowship: The Magical Tale | Review

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The Magical Tale Review | Once upon a time in the magical land of Nirgendheim, hidden amongst the wonders of our world, lived Baron Theodore Puffington the Third. A majestic young dragon of just slightly over 300 years old. In a sad twist of fate, Baron Puffington’s tail has disappeared. An untamed dragon’s tale can release chaotic magic across all of Nirgendheim and hurt the folk of this realm. To save Nirgendheim and recover his tail, Baron Puffington cast an ancient spell to find him a champion that can help discover where his tail now lays. A beautiful book appears on your doorstep, reading like a fairy tale and taking you on an enigmatic adventure guided by Baron Puffington himself. Are you the champion of this tale?

Date Played: 26th March 2022
Time Taken: 50 Minutes
Number of Players: 1
Difficulty: Easy
Recommended For: Kids

Enigma Fellowship’s The Magical Tale is, in my opinion, a game for kids. I say ‘in my opinion‘ as the website is unclear and doesn’t specifically say who the game is for. There’s no age recommendation but given the themes (a little dragon who loses his tail going on an adventure) and the generally easier and more tactile puzzles, it’ll probably appeal the most to those 10 and under. For sure, I can definitely picture puzzlers of all ages enjoying this but to me, it’s best played with little children – perhaps as a family together at bed time in lieu of a bed time story.

As such it’s always a little harder to review something when I’m not the target audience, so I’ll approach this review from a few angles: Did I enjoy it? Would a kid enjoy it? Was it challenging? Would I recommend it? Kinda, Sure, Sometimes, Yes.

 

 

Meet Baron Theodore von Puffington the Third

The Magical Tale is a saccharine sweet tale of a young (only 300 years) purple dragon called Baron Theodore von Puffington the Third. Theo, as his friends call him, is in training to be a Draco Magus, a grant protector of the magical realm. One day he decides to go to the spa, a magical place where he can soak away in the warm mud. Before he can enter the spa, he must remove his tail- for some reason this detail made my stomach churn even though it’s fairly innocent- but when he emerges from the spa his naughty tail has flown away off the cause mischief.

This sets up the story for a whirlwind adventure where you, the player, travels across the land, meeting with the weird and wonderful magicians, solving puzzles, and rescuing Theo’s tail. There are eight chapters in the story and eight puzzles to be solved at the end of each chapter. The general format is that our dragon hero Theo encounters somebody in trouble – a broken bridge, overgrown reeds, and so on. It becomes apparent that the naughty tail has been causing havoc. Oh dear! Each chapter has you solve one puzzle that is contained within a little envelope at the end of each. The answer for which is a spell. Luckily for you there’s a handy spell checker at the start of the book where you can check you’ve got your spell correct and what the result of the spell was. If correct, you may proceed!

The thing I enjoyed most about The Magical Tale was exactly this – the style of gameplay. In particular, how the whole game was offline. It was an ingenious method of checking my answers were correct and moving on. There’s nothing immersion breaking like needing to put a book down and go look online for an answer, and the Enigma Fellowship team have absolutely nailed this here. On that train of thought, it was also a lot of fun speaking the spells out loud- okay okay there’s no requirement to cast them out loud, but if I figure out a spell you bet I’m going to loudly shout it. Just in case magic is real.

 

 

A Fun Family Game from Enigma Fellowship

If you are a child between the ages of say, 6 – 11 you’re probably going to love this book. It’s simple language, a straightforward and uncomplex story, has bright colours and illustrations, and accessible puzzles that largely centre around using your fingers. If you’re an escape room enthusiast, this probably won’t be for you. Unless you’re really into dragons, fairytales, or cool collectable puzzle games bound in wood. Or maybe I’m just too old and cynical to be charmed by dragons and fairytales anymore…

*sobbing into a big glass of merlot over my lost childhood*

That said, if you know a kid around the right age who loves dragons… This is your way to introduce them to the wonderful world of puzzle solving.

Each of the puzzles in this game is very accessible to kids. Kids love tactile puzzles. There was plenty of folding, and sliding tokens around boards, and even a really fun ‘weaving’ puzzle which reminded me of games I used to play in the playground with friends (does anyone remember scoubidou strings?). The creators have pitched the puzzles at the perfect level, and whilst even I struggled once or twice to get going on a puzzle or two, it was usually fairly intuitive to get going and spot the hidden spells in the puzzles.

 

 

Did I mention it’s handmade wood-bound?

Another really lovely thing about this book is that it’s been lovingly hand made and bound in wood. This probably is some of the reason why the game comes in at a comparatively high price point – around £52 GBP. It’s clear a lot of attention and care has gone into making this, and it’s even got a lovely fabric edge and is tied up neatly with a little white ribbon.

When I was a kid I ended up over-reading my favourite books until each of them were completely destroyed, absolutely covered in cellotape and hanging off with no spines. I do not believe this book would have held up against my destructive childhood self, so it’s a consideration if you do give this as a gift. Maybe it’s one to keep up on the top shelf and play with with supervision.

Furthermore, the game is packed with illustrations. The dragon himself is illustrated by Mim Gibbs Creates, who is the partner of our good friend Armchair Escapist. It’s so cool to see enthusiasts and creators working together to make awesome games. The other illustrations appear to be stock imagery of fantasy worlds in a water-colour style.

 

 

The Verdict

Ok, so I’ll get straight to the point. Did I enjoy this? Honestly not really. But that’s okay because it really wasn’t for me. I am old and cynical and was never that interested in fairytales when I was little. But what I can say is that I can totally appreciate how great of a game this would be for it’s actual target audience – young children, families, and dragon enthusiasts. It’s got a charming, Disney-esque story of a fantasy world and a string of enjoyable puzzles supporting the game. Any game or book that gets the next generation into puzzle games is a double thumbs up from me.

It’s clear that all the creators have put a lot of love and effort into the game and it’s sure to make a great gift for young puzzlers across the world. So if there’s a young person in your life with a birthday upcoming, you should definitely consider this book.

 

The Magical Tale can be purchased from Enigma Fellowship’s website here.

Escape London: Overthrone | Review

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Escape London Overthrone Review: The King is dead, long live the King! With no natural successor to the King the throne is up for grabs. He who raises the legendary Sword of Britain will take the throne. Legend has it that the wily old King has hidden the sword within the castle. You are first onto the scene, explore the castle and retrieve the sword before the pretenders arrive!

Completion Time: 37mins
Date Played: February 2019
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

I’ve done a few Escape London games now, and I always have a great time. I booked this room for myself and one other friend, both of us fairly experienced, as it was the only one available (I need to stop booking rooms last minute!)

I always like Escape London, and think they’re a company you can rely on for a good room – enjoyable, light-hearted fun. I’ve never had a real brain workout or adrenaline rush, but have also never had a bad experience or left feeling disappointed.

The Set

Their ‘Overthrone’ room is a vaguely medieval, slightly mythical themed room – it’s like combining the legends of Arthur and Camelot with the Tudors. The brief we are given is that the king is dead and his nobles are out to kill you next – to stop them you need to find the crown and sceptre and sit on the throne.

I think this is a great set up – I haven’t come across many like it, so immediately I was sold. They already have a magic-themed room, so I was a little worried that it would be a similar set. However, they were very clever in skirting the line of “Wizard school” magic and instead focusing on the Arthurian elements. The hint of magic was really just a subtle nod, and I appreciated it.

The set was really nice. Like their other rooms, it’s obviously a plain rectangular room that they’ve decorated. However, it’s been done pretty well, with lots of nice touches. It’s one of the few rooms that actually managed to surprise me with it’s set.

My only comment would be that it wasn’t particularly big – it worked well for the two of us, but don’t think any more than 3 or 4 would fit.

The Game

The game was fairly multi-linear which was really nice. There were two of us, and we were never bored. Towards the end, it became more linear, as expected, but by that point, you’re just excited for the final puzzles!

The puzzles also perfectly suited the theme and were nicely creative. For the most part, we were able to figure out what we were doing – we only used one hint for the entire room! There were no annoying locks which didn’t work, and at no point were we left wondering if we were wrong, or if something was broken – which you can’t take for granted!

The hint system was also my favourite type – just a screen, although even this was perfectly themed to fit with the room. My only qualm with this was that there was no indication of a hint appearing.

The only other issue with this room was there were a few points where we felt a little lost, and unsure of what we still needed to do. However, when we did figure things out there was one puzzle in particular which combined a few different parts of the room into a satisfying solution.

Overall, we had a great time in this room – there was less going on than in many rooms we’ve done, but that allowed us to appreciate the set. I think seasoned professionals would breeze through it, but there is enough to keep them interested. Likewise, I would also recommend this to newcomers, as the puzzles were all really nice and I think it’s a great example of a room to get started.

Outside the room

We were greeted by one staff member, but ‘debriefed’ by another, which I don’t tend to like. However, they were both really nice and friendly. The brief before going into the room was fun and informative and got us excited to go in.

Afterwards, the GM was also really friendly, and from the way he was talking it seemed he was invested in our game, which I don’t often see. He commented that he regretted sending us that single hint slightly, as he felt we probably could have done without it, but he was very excited watching us. This was a really nice touch and shows they really care.

He took a great photo for us and gave us a discount code for a future visit (which I will definitely be using!). The venue itself had lockers to store your belongings, and are smart enough to assign each locker by room (rather than allowing a group to monopolise all the lockers). They also provide water (which I’ve stopped taking for granted now!) and have a nice waiting area.

Was it worth the money?

This room should have cost us £33 each, but we used a discount from a previous visit to take it to around £25 each. I think it was definitely worth the money for two of us, but I probably would have felt short-changed in a larger group, particularly if it was an experienced group.

Accessibility

Neither the room or venue were wheelchair accessible, and there isn’t anywhere to sit within the room. The room isn’t particularly big (as previously mentioned), but you won’t need to be physically agile.

The room lighting is a little dim, and partially sighted people may struggle to read.

TL; DR

Pros; Staff, Hint system, set design

Cons; Not enough puzzles/not clear, space

Overthrone can be booked at Escape London by heading to this link here.

Scarlet Envelope: Tale of a Golden Dragon | Review

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Tale of a Golden Dragon Review | One upon a time in the Kingdom of Severin, the legendary Golden Firedragon escapes the Castle and beats a path of destruction across the countryside. Terrified, the Royals announce a reward for saving their Kingdom, with one condition – the hero should use their head and not their sword! Expect the ironic Medieval fairytale with the DND style of writing, custom illustrations, and, of course, puzzles!

Completion Time: 1hr
Date Played: 23rd January 2022
Party Size: 2
Difficulty: Medium

*cue Game of Thrones music*

Dun dun, d-d-dun dun, d-d-doooooo!

After polishing off Chapter 6: Screaming Venice Art Heist with a cheeky break for lunch, Bianca and I were ready to tackle the next game in the series: Tale of a Golden Dragon. The previous game had been quite difficult, so the more gentler paced narrative-driven chapter that followed was a welcome break. Less like a pure puzzle game, and more like an immersive fantasy story… With puzzles! Tale of a Golden Dragon was certainly different.

This chapter was quite unlike any other play-at-home escape game we’ve played, and honestly – the whole subscription is worth it just to play this one chapter. Scarlet Envelope have had 6 chapters to hone and polish their craft and by gosh they’ve done it. I don’t know how it’s possible for a game to still be this refreshing and delightful, but here it is! Hey!

Once Upon a Time in Severin

Tale of a Golden Dragon is your classic fantasy story. Somewhere between Game of Thrones (which I’ve never read), The Witcher (also never read) and Lord of the Rings (which I have devoured like a goblin who had just escaped from a 1,00 year long stay dungeon without books). My point being, I’m no expert in high fantasy, but I recognise it when I see it and this game has it all: Dragons, Witches, Kings and Queens, Legends and so on.

The story in this game follows a King and Queen who decide to raise a dragon all by themselves. Unfortunately this dragon, like any surly teenager, is completely out of control. Your goal is to bring the dragon back into the fold without killing it. Easier said than done, but along your adventure you’ll encounter a host of curious characters to help you.

There was a Bustling Kingdom

There are two things this game does really well. Firstly, those very same characters! Just like a rich RPG game each character has a back story and an amusing personality. From a very drunk wizard, to a chipper dragon trainer who lives several kingdoms across, to two puzzle creators we stumbled across by accident who live in the woods. *cough cough*

Great character design is nothing new to Scarlet Envelope though, from the astronauts in Distress Call from Outer Space, to the staff at Stanley’s Diner, the creators write good characters. Really good characters.

The second thing I loved about this game was the map. Early on in your envelope you’re given a map with co-ordinates dotted all around it. To help you get around the kingdom quickly you’re given a chauffeur- I mean, a dragon rider to courier you around. You can instruct the rider too take you anywhere in the kingdom at any time. Some of the things you encounter will be relevant to the plot, and others will be fun Easter Eggs for the explorers among us. It’s a lot of fun to know you can go anywhere and do anything, and it made the game feel much more like a video game or a Dungeons and Dragons session than a envelope-based puzzle game. For that I’m seriously impressed!

In our playthrough we discovered a lot of fantastic Easter Eggs on the map – so my advice to anyone playing this would be to definitely go back and try to find more! You never know where you might end up.

And a Mystery to be Solved

In terms of puzzles, it’s hard not to compare this game to the previous Screaming Venice Art Heist, purely because we played both one after the other. For that reason I would say this game was a lot easier. Still enjoyably challenging, but no big jumps of logic and no puzzles we needed to use any hints for.

As well as figuring out where to go next, each new location had a brand new puzzle to be solved. In particular, one puzzle stood out as absolutely brilliant fun – a mini game I remember from my childhood, a cross between a rotadraw and a spirograph which was used delightfully. I’d even go so far as to say it’s a puzzle I’ve never ever encountered in a play at home escape game before and I can’t think why not. It’s brilliant!

There was also the usual enjoyable word puzzles, and a few fun logic and slight mathematical ones I’ve come to love and enjoy about Scarlet Envelope. I don’t want to say too much about the puzzles since that would be spoiler territory, so I’ll just leave it by saying we’ve decided to award Tale of the Golden Dragon a very special “Puzzle Prize” badge for particularly satisfying puzzles. In fact, it’s the very first badge of it’s kind we’ve awarded here on The Escape Roomer, so props to Scarlet Envelope for making such a memorably fun puzzle game!

Side Quests

But puzzles, plot and fantasy aside – here are a few additional things we absolutely loved (and thought could possibly be improved) about the experience.

Firstly: THE MUSIC! So full disclaimer, I almost never listen to the playlist Scarlet Envelope provides. Call me old fashioned but I like to do my puzzles in silence… That sounds weird. Probably is hey. But today with Bianca playing along with me, we decided to put on the playlist. The soundtrack that accompanies Tale of a Golden Dragon was, to put it simply: brilliant! From Lord of the Rings Dwarven chants, to Toss a Coin to your Witcher, I found myself singing along on more than one occasion.

So a word of advice – definitely don’t skip this playlist!

The second thing of note was the voice acting. With a lot of text to read in the more narrative parts of the game, we found that some pages were fully voice acted and others were not. Those that were, were fantastic. But I definitely felt like the whole thing should have been voice acted.

(As a side note myself + my VA-in-training partner volunteer our free labour if the creators would like any British accents in the game!)

The lack of, or partial voice acting wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I can imagine that with a larger group of people, pausing to read each page (in your head or out loud) could be tricky. I’m unsure whether the creators plan to continue adding more actors into the game to provide an audio alternative to written text, but it’s something we’d love to see more of because we loved it!

The Verdict

In a nutshell, we loved Tale of a Golden Dragon. It could well go down as my favourite game of 2022 and makes the whole subscription worth it. If Scarlet Envelope decide to set all future games in the Kingdom of Severin, I’ll be very happy!

*cough cough* Fantasy spin off… Anyone?

From the brilliant writing, to characters, to voice acting, and some of the most enjoyable puzzles I’ve ever had the pleasure of solving… Tale of a Golden Dragon is an almost flawless play-at-home envelope game in my opinion.

You can subscribe to Scarlet Envelope by heading to their website here.

Mindlock York: Viking Valhalla | Review

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Viking Valhalla Review | Your Viking hord have courageously battled foes and awake expecting to be dining with the Gods in Valhalla. Instead, you find yourselves in limbo having not yet completed some critical tasks to earn your place alongside them. Complete these tasks before your time runs out, please the Gods and earn your place in Valhalla. Thor and Odin await your team.

Date Played: 19th December 2021
Time Taken: 48 minutes
Number of Players: 3
Difficulty: Medium

When on a Christmas break to visit my family in York, my go to activity for working up an appetite (for the copious amount of Yorkshire Pudding Wrap I’ll order from the York Roast Co) is an escape room. This year, I asked for a recommendation from co-writers Al & Ash who suggested Mindlock. Of their rooms available, there was one obvious one to try… I mean, when in Jorvik, do as the Vikings.

This is how we found ourselves queuing up at Mindlock York, opposite Clifford’s Tower at opening time, excited to see if we could make it to the Viking afterlife in Viking Valhalla! First, our games master greeted us enthusiastically from a safe covid-friendly distance, then we were led towards our room and the timer started counting down. The game was on!

Photo (c) Visit York

“Fear not death”

The story behind Viking Valhalla is a unique one. In most escape rooms where death is a central theme, you’re escaping being killed. It makes sense. But in Viking Valhalla – you’re already dead. Oops. In Norse Mythology, if you die in battle your soul ascends to Valhalla where you’ll spend eternity wining and dining with the Gods.

But in our case, something went wrong. Perhaps we accidentally let go of our weapons at the moment of death and stuck on some technical hitch, we’re not eligible for Valhalla. But fear not – we were given a chance to prove ourselves with some good old fashioned puzzles. Solve the puzzles, escape limbo and emerge victorious into Valhalla.

It sounds simple, right? And yes, Limbo between life and Valhalla was a fairly simple affair. We emerged into the room to be greeted with a mostly white space adorned with some curious wood carvings on the wall and vines trailing from the walls. In the centre of our room was our first puzzle – the only thing we could do to get started.

I’m not sure what I imagined the limbo state between life and death to look like but I suppose this isn’t far off. But as we worked our way through the room and discovered more secret rooms, the decor got a lot more exciting. Almost like stepping back onto that Jorvik Viking Centre ‘rollercoaster’… Almost!

Image (c) Mindlock York

Ascend to Puzzle-halla

In terms of puzzles, Viking Valhalla had a good quantity of puzzles to work through, with some similar mechanics between them. For a team of three consisting of one experienced player (myself) and two fairly new escape room, it was paced well for us. We completed the whole experience in 48 minutes at a relaxed pace – enough time for a joke or two!

What seemed to be a sparse room quickly revealed itself to have plenty of hiding holes where we discovered even more chests and hints to keep us entertained. The game unfolded in a linear fashion, with one puzzle at any given time keeping us occupied before it unlocked a new space or chest which gave us the clues to solve the next, and so on.

In terms of styles of puzzles, we encountered plenty of locks – consisting of the usual keys, 4 digit codes, and a directional lock too. We also encountered a lot of maths and cipher related puzzles which made sense within the universe. I mean, who doesn’t love deciphering Norse runes? But it was nothing we hadn’t seen before, making it a good introduction to the types of puzzles escape rooms can contain.

One of the things that our team enjoyed the most about Viking Valhalla were the maths puzzles. One of our party was a rather maths-obsessed 11 year old who took a lot of delight putting the in-room calculator aside and doing all the complex calculations on paper. Maths puzzles can be like marmite in an escape room (personally, I can’t solve them to save my life- or my death, as it were), but there’s an audience who enjoy them for sure.

The Verdict

Viking Valhalla is a fun room that’s worth visiting whilst in York purely for the connection to York’s rich Viking history. We had fun playing it on a rainy Sunday morning before taking a trip to the Viking Centre to round off the theme. In particular, we loved the host interaction – buckets of enthusiasm and a fun introductory briefing. The room itself was fairly average and may not challenge an enthusiast, but may be just the perfect place to take your Puggle (Puzzle Muggle) friends in the area.

As a side note: Since we had a dog in our holiday group, it’s worth mentioning that Mindlock at the time of writing does not allow dogs on the premises. There’s no particular reason why it should do, but it’s worth mentioning just in case prospective bookers can’t find the information online. As always we recommend contacting them directly.

Viking Valhalla can be booked at Mindlock York’s website here.

Ratings

Down the Rabbit Hole | Review

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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

The Panic Room: Clue Kingdom: The Forgotten City | Review

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Clue Kingdom: The Forgotten City Review | Follow the glorious quest of Aldred as he explores the harrowing streets of a forgotten city lost to time where the powerful Air element awaits. It’s time to start your adventure!

Date Played: Early 2020
Time Taken: ~1 Hour

Make no doubt about, I am a big fan of the online games presented by The Panic Room. And the Clue Kingdom series is something special. But this chapter (at point of writing) is my absolute favourite of the series thus far.

For those that haven’t checked out the series, let me set the scene… The Clue Kingdom is under the control of evil magic at The Spire. In order to regain control of the Kingdom, you follow the journey of different characters in their bid to obtain a collection of different elements Think epic “Lord of the Rings”  and you have nailed it! In this chapter, we follow the path of Aldred the Apostle in his quest to secure the air element from deep within the bowels of the Cathedral of Divinity, in the Forgotten City. Yep, you got it folks, our quest continues and the series of puzzles that lay ahead will certainly get your adrenaline buzzing and the grey matter working for sure! 

As with the other chapters in this series, The Panic Room have cleverly devised them to also be standalone games. Yes, purchase on their own if you must, however I would highly suggest buying the series, so you get that little surprise in your inbox once a month! The journey certainly unfolds when combining all chapters and for families and enthusiasts alike, having that online get together once a month to see where the adventure is taking you, is well worth it!     

Although easy to compare chapters, this review will focus solely on chapter 3. So where to begin? Well, the opening video really sets the scene for the adventure that follows. An epic, orchestral, beautifully designed and animated opening provides the senses with a shot in the arm, and gets your excitement pulsing. 

The puzzles then begin, which tend to follow the well trodden path that The Panic Room have used before – page by page puzzles, accompanied by some cool download documents along the way. A great bonus on this adventure is that there isn’t the need to read through masses of text – the start of every puzzle commences with a well scripted audio opening. 

When it comes to puzzle content, this game is packed with them, all of which stick strictly to the theme. I would suggest that this game is medium difficultly – some games kept me guessing for a while however the penny dropped in most cases. Although there are a selection of hover boxes at the foot of each page where you can get some well pitched clues, and, if your really stuck, reveal the answer. 

A huge positive in this online game, is the use of more interactive puzzles. Not only does the game include beautifully designed games (and I mean really beautifully designed), which appear throughout the game series, this chapter includes games which get the user even more involved in the surroundings of the puzzle and will need you to interact with the content in front of you (that’s me being as cryptic as possible without giving any spoilers!)

This outstandingly epic adventure builds superbly and certainly utilises the strengths already seen in the previous chapters. Accompanied with a well appointed soundtrack to download, packed with superb games and beautiful graphics, this is one that all the family will enjoy. 

Yet another brilliant example of a well-rounded online adventure, brought to you by the expertise of The Panic Room. Certainly up there with our favourites. Every chapter keeps the hunger for the next – and I’m already starving for the next one! Unlike the city, this adventure will not be forgotten!   

The Forgotten City can be purchased at The Panic Room’s website here.

Ratings

The Panic Room: Clue Kingdom: The Dwarven Mines | Review

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Clue Kingdom: The Dwarven Mines Review | Follow the glorious quest of Ophelia the Mage as she explores the depths of a Dwarven City deep within the mountainside where the mighty Metal element awaits. It’s time to start your adventure!

Date Played: Early 2020
Time Taken: ~1 Hour

So, you have played part 1 and now your journey continues. More of the same? Yes please! Your epic “Lord of the Rings” styles adventure continues in part 2 as you make your way into the mines!

In respect of story line, this chapter follows on from The Enchanted Forest, however we now join Ophelia, the Mage, as she tries to locate the next element as the heroes attempt to make their way to The Spire and defeat the evil wizard who controls Clue Kingdom. 

If you enjoyed part 1, you are sure to love this too! And also, never fear… even if you hadn’t played part 1, this can be played as a standalone game (although, you’d be mad to miss it!).

Again, where this online game series sets itself apart, is with all those big budget style videos and outstanding soundtrack. It provides an epic feel to the game and gives you the feeling that you are indeed on a huge adventure. Digital animation, video clips, believable yet mystical characters, all build the tension and atmosphere of your journey. The Celtic/orchestral-styled soundtrack gives great depth and aides this epic feel.    

In respect of puzzles, these were very enjoyable. They sit perfectly on theme as you work deeper into the mines. Without spoilers, the early puzzles within this game all have a consistent theme/style around them. The common theme works really well in starting you on your mission and gives you chance to “find your feet”. However, don’t get too comfortable! Just as you find your stride, boom, the game mixes up and you find yourself with some much trickier puzzles! We may have used the well positioned clues to aide us on the journey in its latter stages! 

In a similar approach to part 1, I would suggest families with slightly older children would enjoy this game. Its soundtrack and animated elements certainly got my attention and the puzzles within this game allow everyone to be get round the screen and get involved.

The game certainly continues to build the Clue Kingdom journey, and those that have invested in the entire series will not be disappointed. The game continues to be very well rounded and demonstrate the outstanding passion and talent that the team at The Panic Room have. They continue to develop great puzzles, accompanying soundtracks, beautiful animation and a well designed platform which allow for care-free game play. Another highly-recommended online game.  

The Dwarven Mines can be purchased from The Panic Room’s website here.

The Panic Room: Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest | Review

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Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest Review | Once upon a time, in a far off land, was the Clue Kingdom. A truly wondrous land home to many incredible secrets and tales long forgotten. For years, the Kingdom stood tall and proud, all its subjects were treated fair, and the threat of war was only heard of in stories.

However, evil lurked deep within. Avibarin, a wizard with incredible power rose from the underworld and took control of the land in one fell swoop. He retreated to The Spire, the very tallest point of Clue Kingdom and fortified his castle, ruling the land with a terrible iron fist. Soon, monsters and beasts roamed the once peaceful landscapes and its people lived in fear, waiting for a hero to emerge and save them…

Date Played: Early 2020
Time Taken: ~1 hour

Think, Lord of the Rings meets Disney’s Tangled  and you wont go far wrong with this epic online adventure! 

In respect of story line, The Enchanted Forest is the first part of a 6 part epic online escape room. Following the journey of heroes as they make their way to The Spire to defeat the evil wizard who controls the Clue Kingdom. Within In The Enchanted Forest, you follow the quest of Sir Cadogan as he explores the enchanted forest to find the Faery Village and finally the hidden temple where the earth element awaits.

Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest

Now this really is a story of epic proportions! I am a huge fan of major film franchises where good meet evils in battles, with big budgets and never ending supplies of magic, mystery and mayhem – so this escape room series hits the mark for me for sure! 

The first thing of note, is the opening video to this game. A beautifully told, animated journey to the kingdom. Now when I say animated, don’t expect some over the top “cute” Disney animation. Think more classic design, coupled with a soundtrack of huge structure which, in my eyes, plays a major role in providing atmosphere to the game. (As a musician, I get very excited by the role music plays in setting an ambience and this one smashes all others out of the park). Please – make sure you download it when prompted at the start of the game, you’ll be amazed! 

Anyway, music fan boy out of the way, moving onto the puzzles. These sit wonderfully on theme as you work your way around the Enchanted Forest. All games have an earthy feel to them and certainly pull on the theme of nature and your wonderful surroundings. The games are of medium difficulty and are all certainly achievable, if for the occasionally well placed hint, which I called on from time to time! I really enjoyed the puzzles in this one. They were certainly taxing and no walk in the park however, at no stage did I feel overwhelmed or have the sense of “I have no idea what I’m doing here!”  

I would suggest families with slightly older children would enjoy this game. Its soundtrack and animated elements will warm the coldest of hearts and the puzzles within this game are a great one to “gather the family” with – I think many hands would work really well with this game.  

As the game evolves you find yourself heading deeper into the forest in your quest to find the earth element – the puzzles seem to just keep coming which is a real plus in this game. Its a really strong start and would certainly invest me in carrying on playing the rest of the series (which The Panic Room plan on releasing monthly). As well as being great as part of a series, this is also a brilliant standalone game – however, when seeing the end of this game, you certainly get a taste of whats to come so my attention has certainly been caught! 

Its safe to say that we really enjoyed this epic adventure and if this sets the tone of whats to come over the series, I am very excited. Some great puzzles, beautiful animation and a soundtrack which captures the imagination like no other. Great fun, taxing yet achievable, I would certainly recommend this one! 

The Clue Kingdom: The Enchanted Forest can be booked at The Panic Room’s website here.

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E-Scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review

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E-scape Rooms: The Sword of Drakul | Review | Retrieve the sword of the dragon king and save the kingdom in this online escape room game. 

Completion Time: 46:24
Date Played: 18th October 2021
Party Size: 4
Difficulty: Medium

If we could give an award for the most exciting and dramatic intro to any at-home escape room game, The Sword of Drakul would claim it! Seriously, I felt like I was watching the intro to HBO’s latest fantasy drama rather than an escape room.

Game of Thrones, eat your heart out!

On an October Monday – not our typical escape room day of the week – Escaping the Closet, our friend Tasha and I sat down to try the brand new game from E-scape Rooms. Please note, we played the game a couple of days before it’s official launch, meaning it’s possible the game has been tweaked slightly (read as: improved), so take this review with a pinch of salt!

Kings and Dragons and… Goblins!

The story of the Sword of Drakul is an exciting one. We arrive on the scene at the end of an incredibly long war between dragons and humans. So deadly that many a city had been burned to a crisp under the dragon’s tyrannical rule. The king of this great land, after trying every ‘conventional’ method, soon turned to magic to try to stop them – bewitching his most trusted soldiers into dragons themselves to fight them off.

However those six soldiers soon turned against the king and killed him to stop their power from being reversed at the end of the war. However, this also meant that the only secret to stopping these power-crazed dragons died with him. Legend has it the only way to stop the is to recover a mythical sword from deep within the king’s armoury.

It just so happens our crack team of escape room enthusiasts are up to the job. This isn’t our first rodeo and we’ve broken into (and out of) many a king’s armoury before. It’s time to save the world!

Start in the Catacombs…

The Sword of Drakul is played on a platform called Telescape. This means that players have a 360 degree view of each new space and may click into anything for a closer look. Furthermore, you’ll be able to see each other’s mouse mark on the screen to see which puzzles they’re working on in real time. In The Sword of Drakul, when an object is clickable, a dragon’s eye appeared and blinked at us, so no red herrings here.

What was most impressive about this at-home escape room however was those 360 degree views. In most Telescape games, they’re recreations of real life spaces captured with a 360 camera, but E-scape have gone a step further and created a whole new world that felt like it was right out of a video game!

We started in the Catacombs before moving throughout the castle in search of the hidden chamber, solving puzzles along the way – but each time we encountered a new space it took our breath away. The sheer detail! How can this be real? Absolutely gorgeous.

The Dragon King’s Puzzles

Overall, the puzzles in The Sword of Drakul felt really well themed to the setting. When I think of fantasy castles, I think of dusty old games of chess, huge stone pillars with unusual inscriptions and mysterious mechanics lost of time, and of course plenty of dragon motifs! This about sums it up for this at-home escape game, and players can expect to encounter a lot of different puzzles suited to a small group of players.

In particular, my favourite puzzle involved a maze and a goblin. This was also one of the most collaborative puzzles in the game where Ash and I separated ourselves at other ends of the room communicating directions and instructions out to one another. Collaborative puzzles are a theme throughout the game, and on many occasions we had to work together with two, or even three of us split between different screens. As such, we’d recommend it for at least a team of three!

There was one puzzle which didn’t gel particularly well with us, but we were lucky to be playing an early access version of the game and could ask the creator directly what the correct solution and method to solve it was. Once explained, it made a lot more sense!

The Verdict

Overall, we really enjoyed playing the Sword of Drakul. It’s also one of the prettiest Telescape games we’ve seen in a long time – for that reason, we’re awarding it a Diamond Badge (left) reserved for the best looking games in their genre!

This would be a fantastic game for anyone who is a fan of the fantasy genre – or anyone who simply wants to be impressed! There’s something for everyone in this game and we were delighted with it from start to finish.

The Sword of Drakul can be booked on E-Scape’s website here.

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