Peterborough, Apr 2018
One of my favourite local escape room venues, Thinking Outside The Box has a policy of having fairly rapid rebuilds of their two spaces — keeping things fresh and encouraging high levels of repeat custom.
Naturally I was excited to hear their newest game was based around Retro games. The thin, but pretty unimportant plot line has the teams try to escape from being inside a retro games console, after a gaming night goes somewhat awry.
The reception, both in terms of the space and the experience is great, too. Bottles of water are provided, as well as some mini puzzles to keep you occupied through the briefing 😉
As with TOTB’s other rooms, the sense of theatre is there from the beginning again, with a dramatic start involving many of your senses, and then a sudden entry into the game itself. Despite playing two other games in the exact same space before, this still felt like a new-to-us area and the decor, theming and ambience was top notch. Yes, it’s ‘home made’ (a definite labour of love), but the attention to detail is fantastic, and we often got distracted during the game by spotting a gaming reference or just admiring the set.
Today I was playing as a pair, with a 7-year old gaming obsessive tagging along for the ride. The gameplay itself is pretty straightforward – fix the console, escape the console. We struggled to make early headway for some reason – a clear starting place wasn’t too obvious, and we definitely over-thought a few puzzles initially. Having taken an early clue/pointer, it was back on track again.
We were enjoying this, listening to chip tunes, solving giant puzzles, and getting closer to escape. I was particularly impressed with the props, which were thematically excellent as well as larger than life. The inclusion of some physical challenges really made sense in the retro gaming context as well, and they were skilfully designed.
We hit a couple of puzzle-shaped roadblocks and some minor prop failure towards the end – a slight struggle with the lighting conditions in one area slowed us down a bit, too. Well, that and not really understanding the nature of the puzzle itself. Again, over thinking was our downfall. A couple of nudges in the right direction saw us out with a couple of minutes to spare, and no extra lives needed. Phew… I wasn’t looking forward to having to console mini-Chris if we had failed.
This is a superb game, not only for fans of escape rooms, but fans of retro gaming in general. The nods to the classics are evident throughout the game. woven into the puzzles, and in the soundscape. With a larger team, I would expect some fairly quick times, but it’s one to savour, not to rush through.
It’s always worth mentioning that the host (and designer) Jason always goes the extra mile to involve kids playing the game, and his passion for what he does shines like one of Mario’s coins. This is easily on a par with their excellent Merlin room, and bodes well for their next game.
I seem to end up playing games at Thinking Outside The Box just before they close, and squeaked in a game of Retro on the final weekend before the venue closed, having had to shut down (hopefully temporarily) due to the impending demolition of the car park above it. This isn’t a strategy I’d particularly recommend, since the company’s design style tends to involve plenty of handmade props and mechanisms which can suffer wear and tear; and our game did have a couple of moments where something didn’t trigger properly and a manual override was needed; but those were minor hiccups in an impressive game.
That game opens with a jokey immersive sequence to set the scene, a smart intro that tied into the rest in a cleverer way than was immediately apparent. My teammate was doubtful about Retro before playing it, since she’s less keen on escape rooms that make heavy use of computers and electronics. The brilliant thing about the game is that despite the theme, it doesn’t rely much on electronics – the computer game theme is recreated physically, larger than life.
So much is familiar (at least, it will be if you played a lot of computer games during the 80s and 90s), but translated in one form or another from the electronic world into a physical space. This above all is the charm of the game, and if you don’t get the references it may not appeal as much; although even then there’s a lot to enjoy, from the many physical tasks to the varied and smart puzzle ideas.
I do wish it could have been built with a somewhat higher budget to allow for a more robust feel to the props – although that impression may be mainly due to playing it on the game’s second last day of operation. But even if the props were a little worn in places, the ideas felt very fresh, an original theme implemented with energetic creativity and the venue’s usual very solid puzzle design.