Date completed: September 2016 (4 players). Succeeded escaping!
Creativity: 9.5; Difficulty: 7; Atmosphere: 9; Fun: 9.5.
- Fluent English
- 2-6 players
- At least one person not colour blind
We found ourselves applying for a position with an old fashioned toyshop named Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium, where Mr. Keller had left us with a series of tasks and puzzles to solve in one hour. The door locked behind us and we were treated to a shopfront that was odd and looked like it belonged to the turn of the 20th century.
If the description for this room sounds somewhat familiar for readers who have been following this blog for some time, it should. Escape Room Melbourne (ERM) have licensed one of their more successful games out to Escape Room Canberra (ERC), a new escape room venue which opened the start of this month in Australia’s capital. This adaption from Escape Rooms Canberra is as enjoyable as the original, with some special flavour. Read on to find out how!
Having played ERM’s Kellar’s Magic Emporium back in November 2015, this is the first time Pa and I have played a ‘remake’ room and we did so with two friends who had not experienced Melbourne’s original. When we played ERC’s Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium (notice the different spelling?), Pa and I deliberately took a back seat and let our friends set the direction of the game. Neither they nor the very enthusiastic gamemaster, Michael, knew of our experience with the first version of the game and our reason for doing so was primarily because we didn’t want to ruin the experience for our friends and also to not place unnecessary pressure on the venue.
In any event, we only actively tried to solve puzzles when Pa and I identified something we hadn’t already seen in ERM. And you know what? There was actually still plenty for us to do! ERC really did its predecessor justice – we’ll get back to a comparison between the two games later in this review.
ERC’s Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium has a very atmospheric setup designed to stimulate the imagination. Within the confines of the quaint toyshop, players are quickly exposed to toys, puppets, posters, books and a soundtrack from another era. However, the tone transitions from the quirky 1950s style transitions to a more sinister edge as the agenda of Mr Keller is gradually revealed. The creepiness factor is also presented through a puzzle that will leave players with the unnerving feeling of being stalked. Hours later, our friends were still amazed by it.
The puzzles of Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium shift gears from association based logic to perception based tasks. Make sure that your team is not composed only of colour blind people, as colours will be an important and frequent element, and bring a group of varying physical statures. Pa was the shortest of us and had way more difficulty than the others dealing with one of the puzzles. You will also deal with many beautiful and unusual props. Be gentle with them and enjoy the variety!
Overall, the trajectory of the game was very linear although we never felt like that was an issue. The number of puzzles combined with the how the puzzles matched the setting meant that we were never bored.
Our friends actually raised the point that analogue technology was well deployed with higher tech only carefully and sparingly used. They certainly appreciated the variation in puzzles and how ERC avoided blacklights (UV lights) and combo locks with predictable puzzles (which have unfortunately become too common in escape rooms in general). To top it off, everything worked. We talked with the gamemaster to ask for hints on only two occasions via walkie-talkie. Given the amount of props and things to deal with, remember not to leave your walkie talkie behind! Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium also has one of the most cleverly designed and hilarious red herrings we have seen yet.
The prominent moment which will induce a fight or flight reaction remained from the original game. Even though Pa and I expected the moment to arrive, the newer version changes the point of impact. Pa literally jumped across the room in response (and the gamemaster may have laughed heaps)! It was very well played.
Space was cleverly used and although there was ample space for four players, the game design and setting were able to deliver a certain degree of claustrophobia. Nothing crazy mind you, but the way the game achieves this falls in line with the story of a not-so-benevolent Mr. Keller. Will you manage to go though the magic, the mystery and the thrill? We hope so.
Speaking of story, Michael and Mitch added some elements from ERC’s other rooms into Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium. These Easter eggs, which relate to House on the Hill and newer rooms they are working on, create a nice sensation that all games are connected into the same fantasy universe.
For those looking to take a spot on the leaderboard, ERC has a very simple and elegant way of keeping track of quickest times by taking into account the amount of players in a team. There is a top time for every team size. Also, the first two clues were ‘free’ and subsequent clues requested by teams will add to their final completion time (you’ll still get the full hour in the room).
Why are the scores for Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium and the original ERM version different?
If you have already played ERM’s Kellar’s Magic Emporium or are choosing between playing either that or ERC’s Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium, let us state that you will get something out of playing both. We wouldn’t recommend playing the two of them with only a short span of time between sittings. However, approximately 35% of the newer game is different and for the better, in our opinion, so it’s certainly worth giving it a go even if you already enjoyed the Melbourne version.
The atmosphere score for Canberra’s Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium is slightly lower that its ancestor as it misses the small in-game and pre-game story related touches that escalated the scare factor of the ERM original. However, Michael and Mitch, who run ERC, have indicated that they will be making improvements to atmosphere now that their venue is fully up and running so there is every likelihood future experiences will differ again for the better.
Difficulty wise, the Canberra take on this escape room is more challenging and teams of two players might find it more on the harder side. It has a completely different and expanded ending with a whole other section to the game that was very well executed and in keeping with the theme. There were also other minor variations which should improve the physical durability of the escape room.
All up, Pa and I were very glad that an escape room venue of such a high calibre had setup in Canberra. We’ve also played ERC’s House on the Hill and The Vault, both of which were an excellent rooms as well.
Out of the room
Service: Michael, the gamemaster, was extremely enthusiastic and it was clear that he and Mitch have a passion for the escape room industry. He monitored our progress in the game flawlessly and responded very quickly when we asked for hints. Michael was also very keen to chat about their technical trials and tribulations in setting up Mr. Keller’s Magic Emporium and it was really good to see genuine passion being invested into the game.
Personal belongings are stored in lockers provided by Escape Rooms Canberra.
Communication: Hints, questions and other communication were conducted through walkie-talkie. Do not leave it behind!
Surroundings: To get to the particular area of Phillip in southern Canberra, odds are you’ll have to drive or cab/uber it there. There are buses, but not for the later times at night. The area does have a few cafes in its vicinity including the awesome Hansel & Gretel which does tasty French toasts and also sells freshly roasted ground coffee, chocolate and Dutch stroopwafels!