19 N 35th St, Seattle, WA 98103 –
Type: Environmental Awe: 6/10 Care: 9/10 Challenge: 3/10 Teamwork: 5/10 Theme: 4/10
This newer offering from Locurio is one of the most highly regarded escape rooms in Seattle. My experience with it was negative. Your mileage may vary.
The experience starts out with an actor — he’s talented, but his script is long and I found it annoying. It wasn’t the actor’s fault, but it was a long-ish speech, explaining both the premise (we are going to go into a story to find something) and the thou-shalt-nots (we shouldn’t touch certain parts of the scenery) and this was presented with a lot of “humor” that wasn’t actually funny, and you can probably see where I’m going with this. It was charming, in theory. Not in practice.
The first phase of the room itself is one of the better introductions you’ll ever see. That part of the experience is very promising. The lead-in to the second phase, where players literally enter a story, is even better. You’ll probably be in awe, and if you’ve never been to this venue before, you’ll think you’ve struck gold. But it’s fools gold. The next phase takes place in a nicely, but not mind-blowingly, decorated natural setting. It creates this illusion indoors, in a room with poor ventilation and an unusually high number of physical challenges. Not a fairy-tale marriage of elements, especially since the physical puzzles seem designed to frustrate rather than inspire.
To be fair, we played this room in July, and the room did have a fan, noisily doing its best to cool us down — which made it all the more difficult to solve the puzzle where we had to discern which, of four locations, certain natural sounds were emanating from. Turning the fan off was out of the question, we were already melting, so solving the sound-puzzle was the aural equivalent of matching colors in the dark.
The puzzles themselves are clever — but not in a way that allows you, the player, to feel clever. They would have been hard to design, and hard to build, so half of me wants to congratulate Locurio for putting them in there. On the other hand, they’re difficult to solve in a way that punishes the aged without really giving muvch of an advantage to the young. They’re difficult physically, not mentally, and while the venue provided a caveat (“if it hurts to try and solve it, you’re probably doing it the wrong way) I have to wonder why they’d want to build a puzzle that tells you you’re doing it wrong by hurting you. Don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing that will injure you, but at several points, I wondered if I’d finally discovered the scientific opposite of fun. The fact that one of them requires two people to try and pretzel themselves to push a box through a wooden maze we can’t see didn’t make me think, “Oh, of course! Teamwork was the answer all along!” so much as “I tried to spare you this pain and this indignity. I’m so sorry, my friends, for having to involve you in this.”
Again, your mileage may vary. In fact, most people love this room.
Admirably, there’s a cutesy-clever hint system in place, in which your attempts are desacribed to you int he third person past tense (“after trying unsuccessfully to [whatever], she realized she had never tried [hint]!”). The game master was very attentive. Here again, the personnel are not the problem, they’re probably some of the best in the world.
But darkness is not a puzzle. And as for the physical discomfort, well, those elements might (might) not be out of place in a saw-themed room, but this was meant to be whimsical and fairy-tale like. No matter, eventually we made it into phase three, which was unusually boring as a concept, yet unusually well-built and well-decorated, making it another example of that rarest of entities: a bad idea, well-executed. The puzzles inside had the potential to be more sane and coherent, because the NPC we were ostensibly there to help had a sort of project they’d been working on. That could have given us the opportunity to complete their work, and sometimes, that’s what we’re doing. Othertimes, it seems that NPC encrypted their own home for no reason with cognitively incongruous puzzles that didn’t really involve the plot, or fairy tales in general, and just seemed like they were in the way of the story. We’d been told it was one of the venue’s more narrative experiences. It will wasn’t narrative enough, and in fact, integration of the puzzles into the story was probably the source of my other gripes.
I could provide more details, but I don’t want to spoil this for people, and I’m also holding back because so many other critics have had a positive reaction to this room, I know I must be wrong somehow. Still, this is one of the most negative reactions to an escape room I’ve had in years. It made me yearn for the days of luggage locks in rented offices. The good reviews are probably sincere, but that’s not much good if you’re introducing someone to escape rooms for the first time, and, misled by the plethora of good reviews, they leave Locurio thinking “this is as good as it gets?”
In case you’re from Seattle, no, it’s not. All the places where Storykeeper is above average are undermined by frustrating elements that were included, ironically, out of an almost petulant boredom with the actual story we were supposedly stepping into. Narrative isn’t this room’s strength, it’s its downfall. It includes unique puzzles that don’t fit but are too expensive to even think of tearing out and replacing. Still, a great first act and the promise of new scenarios (new stories to “walk into”) mean it’s a room to watch. Just don’t go into the woods.