Riga, Jul 2017
Arcade Games is an escape room with a difference. It consists of two identical copies of the room with half the players in each, competing to complete the same set of activities first, where the activities are sports-themed tasks and activities instead of typical escape room puzzles. The two halves of the game are linked by a window, with a big golden trophy sandwiched between; I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that completing the game opens the window to allow the victorious team to grab the trophy. The connecting window allows the teams to see each other, but not hear – the rooms are well soundproofed.
From the website picture and description you might get the idea that this is a game designed for brawn over brains, for jocks not nerds. That’s not the case. No strength or serious exertion is needed, and even within the game the presentation often suggests a more physical game than it actually turns out to be. Skill based tasks, on the other hand, do form a big part of the game, and how much you enjoy it will be swayed in large part by how much you enjoy dexterity-based puzzles. Nonetheless, there’s some more mental-based puzzling to deal with too, and while it’s a very unusual escape room it’s still closer to a traditional escape room than, say, Crystal Maze, Boda Borg, etc.
Each task must be played in order, and a light appears above the currently active task. A screen shows how many of the tasks each team has completed as well as the time taken. Completing a task advances this indicator, and the light for the next puzzle in the sequence switches on to show you what to tackle next. It’s therefore completely linear and designed to be very competitive.
One task was outrageously difficult, and I had visions of both of our teams being stuck there trying and failing over and over for half an hour until the time ran out. But after a little despair and some histrionics we hit our stride and got past it. The others varied from forgettably okay to superb. My absolute favourite had a nasty technical flaw in that it took a couple of minutes to start up properly, during which time it appeared to be broken – I can’t say for sure whether that delay happens every time or if it had a genuine glitch that was resolved invisibly by the operator. Once past that though it was an absolute highlight, and thanks to a competitive twist would have been even better had the rival team been on the same stage at the same time.
The glitch on that task was exacerbated by the game start: we got ninety seconds into it before the operator interrupted us to tell us that there’d been a fault and we needed to come out while he reset it again. Since we’d also witnessed what appeared to be problems with a different team starting another game immediately before that (though the language barrier made it hard to know exactly what was happening there), it had undermined our faith in the venue somewhat. Nonetheless, and in contrast to the other half of our group, after the false start, and other than the temporary delay in one puzzle starting up, we thought the game ran entirely smoothly.
The game’s listed capacity is 4 to 8, which means rival teams of 2-4. I’d recommend going as a group of four total, so as to have two people in each half. The tasks are designed with clever multi-person dependencies so that they’re not constantly bottlenecked on one person; even so, with three people in each half we found the third person was sometimes stuck watching.
The competitive design here has the potential flaw that it’s likely to be more fun for the winning team, and if one half of your group does far better than the other then it could be a frustrating experience for the losing half. Because each team can look through at the other, the team that’s behind can get a little help in catching up by seeing what the other team has done, but in practice that’s unlikely to help much at all. To get the most out of the game players should aim to split into teams that are as closely matched as possible, and if one half gets too far ahead it might even be worth delaying to give the other half a sporting chance to catch up. My half of our group finished well ahead of our rivals, but I’d have far preferred a nail-biting photo-finish.
The hosting was the weakest part of the venue, and I suspect part of the reason my half did better was because we didn’t need to resort to the hint button, which appears to have hindered the other team much more than it helped them. But since we didn’t encounter that during this game, it didn’t impact on our experience and we had a great time. The style of Arcade Games will appeal to some teams more than others, but I’m a sucker for anything skill-based or a bit more physical and I thought it was refreshingly different, very cleverly designed and simply bags of fun.