Date completed: Jan 2016 (5 players). Succeeded escaping.
Creativity: 4; Difficulty: 3; Atmosphere: 3; Fun: 2.5.
- Fluent English
- 2-6 players. We recommend no more than 4.
Quite simply, The Garden had the potential to be a pretty decent escape room but was let down in some key areas. Set in a magical garden which has trapped the players, this room was well decorated but a number of issues constantly reminded you that you were in an escape room co-located with a bowling alley. We really tried to have fun, but it was a frustrating experience. We’ll get onto this in the review below.
The Garden is one of STRIKE bowling’s escape rooms and sold through EXITUS (formerly Escapism at King St Wharf), Darling Harbour, Sydney. I suspect that the room was designed to provide an avenue for family fun and it probably isn’t too bad when you look at it from that perspective, especially if you are going in with kids. This escape room is small but very well decorated with a ‘secret garden’ atmosphere. It is also in a good location and it does have a bar run by STRIKE bowling. Unfortunately, our positive points end there.
To clinically breakdown our dissatisfaction with The Garden, I’ve broken it down into dot-points rather than bombard you, dear reader, with a text wall rant larger than what this already is:
Issues with atmosphere:
- The hint system is automated through a tablet which scans QR codes for hints. Asking for a hint will penalise players 5 minutes on their counter while asking for the solution will penalise 15 minutes. The QR codes are positioned so that you always know where there are puzzles and in the end feels like breaking the fourth wall / ruining suspension of disbelief.
- This hint system was not fully briefed. The staff explained what needed to be scanned to get to hints but not how the interface would look like on the screen. They also didn’t explain how once you asked the tablet for a hint, you couldn’t then navigate back to that hint if you asked for another one in the meantime. The bar was also very loud when the brief was being provided and it was hard to hear what the briefer was saying.
- Due to placement of QR codes, it is possible to get a hint for puzzles in the second portion the room whilst you are still in the first. This caused some easily overcome confusion which nevertheless reduced the atmosphere score for this room.
- When I (Trapspringer) used the walkie-talkie (provided as a backup) to talk about a questionably worded hint, the staff were serving drinks and it was very clear that they had no idea where the players were up to. For an outlet to charge $150 for an escape room, this was not up to scratch. The staff could not hear me over the noise of the bar and because they weren’t monitoring our progress, they gave hints to things we had already done. I then had to explain where we were up to and how we just wanted some clarification over a dubiously worded hint from the tablet. This interaction absolutely killed the setting – not only were we in an escape room, we were in a bowling alley and the staff were busy serving drinks.
- You could hear the activity outside the escape room – the bar and the bowling alley.
Issues with difficulty, cost and value:
- Once the badly worded hint issue was resolved (30 minutes), it took us 15 min to finish the rest of the room. If STRIKE bowling/EXITUS (then known as Escapism) had run The Garden like other professional escape room businesses, we would have been able to communicate with the staff to resolve our initial confusion. If that were the case, this room really just provides 25 minutes of approximate game time for an experienced team.
- Puzzles were too easy to the point of disbelief past the first portion of the room. There are also too few puzzles, and some were repeated in concept. Aside from some crafty hide and seek, there is very little in originality of the puzzles overall. For the amount of money spent on some of the more elaborate decorative elements, it would have been nice to have the same level of investment in game design.
- Playing with 5 players, it was evident that there was not enough space or tasks to occupy everyone, particularly towards end game. This room is ideal for 2-3 players ($50-$75 per person at that rate) while we think that 4 or more players will feel cramped.
- You don’t even get 1 hour. You get 50 minutes and no debrief.
Given all the negativity of our review, I would like to say that our issue is with STRIKE bowling and the way the company manages the business as opposed to the staff. Those guys and gals have been hired primarily to run the bar and that they do well. Actually, the bar is pretty good and has a good selection of beer.
The overall effect of the automated hint system and the way the bar staff are tasked to attend to the escape rooms can lead one to suspect that STRIKE’s intention was to cynically charge $150 to milk the escape room craze. That probably isn’t the case, but we definitely left with negative first impressions. Melbourne’s Trapt is a pretty good counterpoint to how fast paced escape rooms located in a bar should be run. You can’t exclude the human element from the communication.
Escapism at King St Wharf was recently renamed to EXITUS. Hopefully they have taken on board the negative reviews for this room that exists elsewhere and changed the way this game is run. It would be truly cynical if this move was just a name change to rebrand.
Out of the room
It’s Strike. They have bowling. A bar.
Surroundings: EXITUS is located in Darling Harbour. There’s plenty to do there:
- Madam Tussauds
- Wildlife Park
- Maritime Museum
- The Casino
For $150, you could take a small family to those locations instead (except for the Casino).
For other reviews of The Garden, please see Escape Room Hunters and Escape Rooms in Sydney. It’s very telling how the same issues we mentioned in this review are common across different EXITUS rooms from different venues. Escape Rooms in Sydney elaborates in detail for EXITUS Macquarie’s Moonshot and Jailbreak.
Postscript (2018): From Gotta Get A Room‘s review of The Garden, the EXITUS over at Wintergarden, Brisbane, went some way to addressing the issues in our review.