Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Next Level Escape - Review of Ex Libris





Hi everyone!

A little under 2 months ago now, my team and I tried out Next Level Escape’s Ex Libris Room.  In fact, we tried 2 of their rooms back to back – both Blitz Room and Ex Libris.  You can check out my review of their Blitz Room here

We had the “lite” version of our usual team this time, in that we were a team of 3 instead of our usual 4.  Both of the Next Level Escape rooms were the first time that I have ever tried a room with a team of 3.  This was our 33rd room in Sydney and our 45th room in Australia.

Ex Libris is quite a novel room theme (pun intended – you’re welcome!).  You and your team find yourself sucked into a portal where literature has broken free and has merged with reality.  Your mission is to escape from and then seal the portal. 

As always, I’ll start off with what I liked about the room:
  • the location is really convenient – they are on the corner of Hunter Street and Bligh Street in a low rise commercial office tower.  The owners greeted us at the door on the ground level, but you might need to call them when you arrive if it is after hours (as I suspect the front door might be locked of an evening).  The absolute best aspect of the location is that it is only a few doors down from the best laksa in Sydney at Malay - (try their king prawn laksa or their skinless chicken laksa).  Frankie’s Pizza, which is next door to Malay is also a good option;
  • I really liked the theme choice.  I don’t want to give too much away, but the theme of “literature” allows them to include various literary worlds within a single escape room, which was really unique;
  • the theming of this room is really well done – there is a high level of detail that has been applied to the room theme(s).  All of the props make sense in their space and the puzzles feel like they have been woven well into the room rather than having puzzles just for the sake of puzzles (as often occurs in other escape room outfits);
  • there is a nice mix of high tech puzzles and low tech puzzles in this room, with many of the high tech elements completely hidden, so as to have a “magical” appearance.  There is also a nice variety of different puzzle types, which should appeal to wide audiences;
  • my team found this room really challenging and a whole lot of fun.  They have another novel concept in this room (yep, pun again ;-) in that you have a few options as a team as to whether to simply escape from the portal, or to push on with a couple of additional puzzles and try to seal the portal behind you (for the good of mankind).  This is an interesting way of tackling the issue that most rooms have in that they are typically either designed for beginners or more advanced players, but rarely both.   This flexibility hands control over to the players who can then ‘choose their own adventure’ and decide whether or not to push their luck…;
  • the game masters are watching and listening to your every move (via cameras and microphones), which is the way all escape rooms should be run.  They also have a couple of awesome easter eggs hidden in the rooms and a fantastic narrator method of providing hints along the way (while taking the piss out of players at the same time).  This was my favourite hint method of any room I’ve been to – again, the literary theme really lends itself to the concept of a narrator; and
  • we had some constructive feedback on some elements of this room (see below for more details) and the owners were truly interested in listening and taking on our comments and suggestions.   I have lost count of how many escape rooms I have provided some constructive feedback to and which was ignored.  These guys instead listened and went one step further and adapted puzzles to take on our feedback; and
  • the owners are really passionate about their business and about ensuring that all players have a great time in their rooms.  In my experience, escape room outfits fit into 3 general categories:  (a)  immersive rooms that are cleverly designed and run by people who care;  (b)  run of the mill rooms that are ok in quality and design but which fall short of competitors’ rooms when it comes to level of immersion and design; and (c)  poor quality rooms that are run by uninterested game masters who ignore you and which typically exist only to make money or are an adjunct to their main business.  These guys clearly fall into category (a).
On the constructive side:
  • there was one puzzle that I didn’t enjoy.  A lot of thought had gone into its design and it totally fit the theme of the room.  Unfortunately though, it was a musical puzzle and I don’t think music puzzles work in escape rooms.   There’s a famous Melbourne escape room that has a simple music puzzle - 3 different notes in a 4 note melody.  I was really surprised to learn that 50% of the 1,200 teams that had gone through that room (as at the time we tried the room) got stuck and needed a hint on their music puzzle.  The fact is that most people are tone deaf.  The other problem with music puzzles is that there is no useful way to provide clues – you either solve it by yourself or you don’t.  My other team members and I didn’t (and still don’t) agree on whether or not the music puzzle could be tweaked to make it work in the room.   Whilst some measures could have been taken to simplify the puzzle, I don’t think it would have been enough.  I honestly think music puzzles are similar to puzzles that require external knowledge or skill – they don’t work in escape rooms;
  • the owners were really receptive to my feedback on this puzzle and in fact, they have now replaced the music puzzle with a completely new puzzle which I think fits the theme of the particular room even better.  I had a couple of other very minor puzzle and room flow tweaks which again the owners have implemented;
  • I’ve seen the changes that they have made and I think they result is that what was a really good room is now a truly great room; and
  • I initially thought that the cost was on the high side (at $48 per head).  Whilst it is still true to say that this is on the high side (compared to the norm which is around $35 per head), I think the quality of the room and the fact that it is a 75 minute room (rather than the usual 60) justifies the price tag. 

Ex Libris is a fantastic room.  There are lots of different puzzles, several distinct themes in the one experience and a push your luck element - all of which are really unique.  

As always, I judge rooms on the fun factor and my team all really enjoyed this room.  It's not an easy room though, so I suggest warming up with their Blitz Room and then tackling Ex Libris!

Location:                    Level 2, 37 Bligh Street, Sydney

Duration:                   75 minutes

Themes:                     2 so far (but 1 other planned)

Cost:                           $192 for 4 adults (but we played at the kind invitation of the owners)

Overall Summary:      Several themes in one – novel, challenging and a heap of fun!

More details:              http://nextlevelescape.com/

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