Lynette and I are all about those real-world escape games. Toronto has something like 13 different businesses who all provide Escape experiences, which is insane. Asia blowing up all over the GTA.
The latest company is actually operating out of Casa Loma
, aka Toronto’s real world castle in the heart of the city. I think it’s something like $40 but the upside is that you already have this huge gothic environment that has no-shit secret passages and underground tunnels pre-baked into it. I’m salivating at the prospect, though I haven’t escaped that one.
To date I’ve patronized 3 separate escape room businesses of various strengths and weaknesses. The first one was a company called Esc-It up in the North part of Toronto (aside: North TO is almost entirely Asian so the Escape Room craze has a sizable ready and willing audience there pre-baked). I don’t know what it is about Asians and escaping rooms together… perhaps just cultural priming via 999 and Zero Escape? It was OK, but very much of the “office cubicles in a strip mall” as far as environment goes. They throw up a few Ikea bookshelves and you are supposed to pretend that you’re in a haunted library. My friend refers to that as having to use your “cardboard rocketship” imagination.
Pete and I visited a business in Oxford when we were in the UK last year – don’t remember what it was called. It was OK, maybe about the same as ESC-IT. I appreciated that one of their rooms wasn’t escape-centric but rather had the narrative of “you are a bunch of people who are trying to stop an assassination, clues to the assassination are peppered around this room”. Rifling a room for clues, unlocking safes, cracking passwords… this was all super enjoyable with friends.
Two weekends ago however, L and I got a chance to see exactly how far Toronto’s "A-game" in the Escape dept had been elevated in only one year at a place called OMescape
. OMescape is #2 in the recent poll of escape businesses, second only to the place that totally constructed a fake Mayan temple inside an old warehouse.
OMescape was awesome because:
- They combined board gaming and escape rooming into a single package entertainment deal. When you were waiting for your turn in the room(s) they had a big open brightly lit waiting lobby with a bubble tea counter, snack bar and a huge Snakes-and-Lattes style rack of board games and big wooden tables to play that you could upsell yourself on for something measly like $2 each. This is a genius idea because you’re already there with a big group of friends, why NOT play Touch of Evil and make an afternoon out of it.
- “Movie Poster” style promotion of the different escapes. I loved this slick marketing angle – each of the rooms was promoted like a feature film with huge posters framed on the wall advertising “DARK ALTAR” or “KINGDOM OF CATS”. You walked up to the counter and bought a ticket, just like you were buying a ticket to a movie. Each experience had a posted number of difficulty stars (4.5/6 stars) and a minimum floor for how many people you had to have on the team before you could be allowed in to escape X.
- As you waited they had “movie trailers” for the escapes playing on widescreen TVs, complete with (Asian style, visual novel) animated cutscenes, voiceovers and vignettes that explained the lore or story of the escape you were about to encounter. This added to the experience hugely.
- Blindfolded perp walk to the actual room
- Extreme tech. The selling point for OM Escape, at least as far as reviews were concerned, was the quality of their technical game, which all reviewers raved about. Having played several escape rooms I felt that I knew what I was in for, so I wasn’t surprised at initially when the blindfold fell and I found myself standing in a small unassuming room complete with computer, bookshelf and lots of stuffed cats everywhere. I WAS surprised when I began to encounter things like bookshelves and fireplaces sliding back to reveal secret hidden rooms, magnetically sensitive chess puzzles, olfactory puzzles, Zelda-style “rotate the statues” light puzzles and multiple riven-style “you need to hold down specific buttons in order” physical electronic locks of the 999 variety.
Escaping the Room – Playing MYST for real? It’s goddamn fun. Cheesy fun, frequently. Cardboard rocketship fun, that requires the right group of friends and lots of imagination. Much like playing old video games, at least for me there is a moment where “the graphics stop mattering” and you’re just in a situation where you’re able to suspend disbelief and go with it. OK, sure, we’re stopping an assassination now.
Strangely I am unquestionably the Escape Room truefan in my circle of friends. Most friends I’ve been with have been somewhat amused at the experience but not, like, RABID about it – more like “this is a fun experience similar to going bowling”. A fun activity to do together for a night out. Me on the other hand? Totally into it. Maybe it’s because this style of entertainment where one solving adventure game puzzles and uses lateral thinking to overcome 7th guest encounters – is just kind of second nature by virtue of just playing shitloads of video games in which I was made to do the exact same thing.
It’s deeply nerdy entertainment for all the above reasons. Requires creativity, breadth of skills, imagination and suspension of disbelief. But if you have all those? Fucking-A. #ZeroEscape4Lyfe