London, Apr 2017
During our introduction from Wynne, a mechanical toy / human, he asked us “Who’d pay real money to get locked in a room, just to get out of it again? With strangers!”. He has a point. I’d suggest he was a wind-up merchant, but he was, quite literally, just that. In fact, he’s pretty satisfying to wind up, as visitors to Handmade Mysteries will inevitably find out. Wynne’s dedicated host role starts from interrupting your quiet drink at Islington’s ‘The Depot’ pub to say the game is ready, throughout the game, and then all the way to guiding you back to the bar to decompress. It’s always fun to have the gamesmaster as part of the game itself. This experience is an evolution of that process.
For those who’ve played Handmade Mystery’s debut room “Lady Chastity’s Reserve”, you’ll already know what to expect from the new one. It’s a “pick-up” style open booking game, where teams of less than six will likely end up sharing with other people. It’s always refreshing doing rooms with new people. It’s harder, for sure, but the chats afterwards are fun, and makes finding games more accessible for those wanting to play with just 2 people.
Set in a Toymakers workshop, the general gist of Poppa Plock is for your team to step in where the Toymaker left off (missing due to an unfortunate head/paint incident, no less) and create ‘Roy’. Roy is, shall we say, a man apart. Apart from his legs, hands, feet and more or less everything else. Better figure out what’s going on, and give him his body parts back.
Just as with Lady Chastity, teams are guided softly through the experience, which Escape Room purists might not approve of, but neatly adds some structure to what is perhaps one of the most bizarre, surreal rooms I’ve seen. The interior setting is a mixture of awesome puppetry, carnival games, back alley grime and surrealism. Augmented by the excellent artwork of Eric Cox, the artistic direction is as crafted as much as the puzzle flow. These people care about the aesthetic and everything is honed, chiselled and whittled to become the final artefact – the room in which we get to play.
Being super critical, the downside is that the puzzle content itself isn’t really groundbreaking. Most of the puzzles are facsimiles we’ve all seen before. Sequences, codes, locks. The familiarity seems at odds with the surroundings – the mechanised robot toy assistant who is verbally helping/goading in equal measure, the stylish setting. Familiarity aside, the puzzles are fun and engaging throughout. Everything’s solid, thematically sound, thoughtful, funny and smart. It wasn’t until sitting down writing the review that I suddenly noticed the slightly derivative nature of what we *actually* did for the 50 minutes or so we took to complete the game.
In truth, none of the negatives mattered at all. Our minds were filled with surprises, amusing commentary, the host’s welcome interjections and more than anything it was fun bringing Roy to life. All of this whilst paired with complete strangers. It’s an achievement and yes, it’s as good as the original.
This is a must play room in London.