From the Sea to the Sky – Maze Rooms Excels at World-Building
Escape rooms are becoming more and more immersive; the narrative, theme and production design are constantly reaching new heights. Companies are finding ways to take their guests to new worlds, time periods or situations. From the fantastical (Vampire) to the historical (Jack the Ripper) and into the future (Portal), Maze Rooms has a room – and world – for everyone. Maze Rooms is a franchise, so each location sprinkled throughout Los Angeles varies in quality; the Culver City location has excellent rooms, as does the Tarzana location, while the Sherman Oaks location leaves something to be desired. Maze Rooms on Vermont falls somewhere in between.
The Abyss is a two-person mini-escape room which finds you and your teammate en route to an underwater prison. You are still allotted 60 minutes to escape the vessel, with help via video from a computer hacker back up on land.
Mini-escape rooms can feel cheap, as they are often created temporarily for conventions, but this is not the case with The Abyss. Maze Rooms incorporates video projections and hydraulics to excellently simulate the underwater experience. Even with such a small working space, the production design is excellent and the tools/clues presented are all what one might encounter in a submersible – no combination locks here. In addition to the intricate sets and props, Maze Rooms provides costumes for the players to better dive into the story. Things become problematic, however, when the interesting and clever technology within the room doesn’t work properly. For example, there was a puzzle for which six pieces needed to be manipulated. Having no problem with the first five, I had trouble with the last one even though I was repeating the same process as before. Apparently, there was a “sweet spot” that we needed to find for the tech to work correctly. This proved frustrating and added to our time while we tried to finesse the piece into working. Other than the issue with the tech, however, The Abyss was a fun little room – especially when players come face to face with a curious sea creature.
Sky Odyssey is a much larger, 70-minute room, designed for 4-10 players (I would suggest 4-6 for experienced players), and grander in scale and production design. Dressed in optional togas, players pile into a hot air balloon on the way to Mount Olympus to help save the Greek Gods who have been turned to stone by the usurping Titans.
Sky Odyssey has an amazing, expansive set filled to the brim with magical props. Larger-than-life statues and cloud formations greet players once they successfully land on Olympus. Like with The Abyss, every detail is carefully chosen to add to the ambiance and theme; all of the puzzles are unlocked through technology, which embellishes the fantastical story, and the methods to solve the puzzles are unique and fun including one that had several of us on all fours. The room, however, contains so much that it is easy to get overwhelmed, miss objects, or forget what has already been solved. In an attempt to limit the confusion, Maze Rooms provides a map which is meant to help players connect the dots from clue to clue. Even so, it’s not always clear what must be done with a prop. Also like The Abyss, the technology within the room can use some fixing. There were a handful of puzzles that we accidentally solved; by carrying around a prop, we unknowingly passed by the trigger that unlocked the next clue. Therefore, we spent a lot of time “stuck” trying to solve things that we had already moved past. Since there is so much content in the large space, it can also be difficult to know what has been unlocked. The sound and lighting effects – while great – let us know that something had happened, but did not clue us in as to what. We often found ourselves calling out to each other, “what just happened?”
Maze Rooms has pared down Sky Odyssey from its initial iteration. There used to be more puzzles in the main story, but now some of them have been eliminated or pushed to make up “bonus puzzles” at the end – these do not have to be solved in order to “complete” the room. I really enjoyed the three bonus puzzles which were more than seek-and-find quests, and if you are more advanced sleuths, it gives you the satisfaction of earning a “true” 100% completion of the room within the allotted time.
Maze Rooms on Vermont has done a fantastic job with transporting players to different worlds, but the finicky technology and unclear puzzle trajectory often took away from the experience. I believe that if the faulty elements were fixed and the logic of the clues in Sky Odyssey was a little clearer, these rooms could be must-sees. The Abyss and especially Sky Odyssey are very ambitious escape rooms that fall slightly short of their goals in terms of execution. Nonetheless, the sets are a wonder to behold, and if you have a great team with excellent communication, these non-linear rooms are definitely worth a try.