Nottingham, May 2017
One of the challenges of writing reviews of escape rooms is giving a clear impression of the experience while avoiding spoilers. There are some rooms where this is particularly difficult because that means I can’t talk about a core element of the room, the most memorable and unique thing about it. Curio is one such game.
What I can say about it is that it’s a high quality, original and satisfying game from start to finish. There’s a particular style of decor you often see in escape rooms which I refer to as ‘period’, involving old-fashioned wallpaper and a lot of not-quite-antique furniture. It’s a look that I suspect became popular in Budapest and other early escape room centres because that was the natural appearance of many of the spaces in which the games were built. As a result, it’s a look I associate with many earlier rooms based heavily on padlocks and not much in the way of theming. None of that applies here. The whole room is built from the ground up with loving attention to detail, right down to the clever hint system.
This is a challenging room with no shortage of tasks (the success rate is apparently only 10%), but every single puzzle is custom and original. Some are more memorable than others, but they span the range from hands-on physicality to abstract pattern-matching, from lateral thinking to team-work. There are zero padlocks, but more importantly there are zero recycled puzzle ideas.
Of the four Escapologic games I’ve played so far, Curio is actually the least story-driven. You’re infiltrating the home of a famous explorer to swipe a magical diamond, which is effectively an excuse for a room full of puzzles. But the theming is beautiful, and it holds together so well it doesn’t need any more of a narrative. That’s because, like many of the really top-notch rooms, it has an explicit structure that indicates your progress through the game, combined with a sequencing that keeps the players (mostly) focusing on the right areas at the right time.
Perhaps the most ambitious and clever puzzle also struck me as the most potentially fragile, in terms of players getting stuck; and we did need some reassurance that we were on the right track. That also showed up the limits of the hint system, which is fantastic for most purposes but limited in the set of messages it can convey. But that’s a minor quibble.
Like the mystical diamond that’s the target of the game, Curio is a magnificent gem of a room. Rush to play it; or perhaps save it for a special occasion, because it’s worth savouring.
The central (ha!) premise of this room is very clever, and uses the building in which it is set incredibly well. Oft cited as one of the best rooms in the UK, it quite rightly has a place near the top in my top ten of all time. The puzzles are varied and interesting on the whole, and the feeling of making progress and solving things is such a…tactile and fun experience. It’s quite tough through, and our trio of strangers did pretty well to escape in the hour with 1 clue. It loses half a star for host-triggered puzzle content, which led to a couple of slow feedback actions for puzzle solves.