We take off our blindfolds and find ourselves in a quaint garden in the country. Is this a dream? Something feels wrong. We have to mine our childhood memories and escape from “The Garden”.
Exitus, Wintergarden on Queen Street
2-6 players allowed
Listed difficulty: 7 (out of 10)
How We Played
14 March 2016
7 players (I’ll explain below)
Hints: 1 (which we didn’t need)
32 min 42 sec, plus 5 minutes for the hint used
Having already done one of the rooms available at Strike Bowling in Wintergarden (Butcher’s Burrow, review available here), I had an idea what to expect. A lot had changed. In the six months since my last review, Strike had bought a Melbourne escape room outfit named Exitus, and rebranded their company from Escapism to the new name. Apart from this superficial change, there were significant changes to the manner in which clues were given. The new system uses iPads, which can be used to scan QR codes scattered throughout the room associated with different puzzles. Scanning a code will provide a cryptic hint, which adds 5 minutes to your time, or gives you an answer, adding 10 minutes. The iPad also functions as a timer, which is a great new addition, occasionally calling out in a booming voice the time remaining.
I found the new clue system to be hugely preferable to the old. I recognise that Strike (and therefore Exitus) is not a dedicated escape room venue, and therefore staff are required to do a huge number of things simultaneously. This automated system worked totally fine for us, and was vastly superior to the old system of calling a busy employee and having to explain where you were up to while they were distracted by drink orders. Obviously, as there is still no dedicated game master, if there is a major problem you will still have the above issue, but as long as things run smoothly the system works great.
Staff are still friendly and enthusiastic, though obviously distracted due to the many duties they have. They are also very flexible – our group had an unexpected extra person, which took us over the maximum number allowed in the room. Some might frown upon them allowing us all to enter (there are probably safety concerns) but it does indicate a certain flexibility that I appreciate.
I also noticed (or, rather, didn’t notice) that the soundproofing has improved since I last attended. Whether this is due to it being a quiet Monday compared with a Saturday evening, I’m not sure, though the venue seemed noisy when I arrived. “The Garden” has a nice background soundtrack that does a great job of setting the mood without getting intrusive.
The room itself falls halfway between a theme and a story room. The theming is excellent for the most part, with the first part of the room very nicely dressed. “The Garden” is – obviously – a garden, and a great deal of effort has gone into choosing appropriate props and decorations. I had a problem with the cheap feel of some of the props in “Butcher’s Burrow”, but “The Garden” does not have that problem at all. It is decorated beautifully, with a lovely mural painted across the blank spaces on the walls. I did feel the second segment of the room was a slight letdown in comparison to the first, but given most of the time is spent in the first section this wasn’t a big deal. Slightly more annoying was that the second room was very dim – it had a cool moody light, but this flashed on and off and made seeing numbers on padlocks quite difficult.
“The Garden” does have a great way of travelling between the two sections of the room, though experienced players will see it coming from a mile away. What they might not see coming is the surprise behind the second door… though this surprise is far more low-key.
In terms of story… I am a little hesitant to say there was one, though there is a very well-defined objective that could serve as story. You are seeking childhood memories, and this works very well, though there is not really a sense of narrative progression here – it mostly serves to aid the puzzle design (which it does very well, as I will explain in a moment). However, story is not an essential part of room design, and “The Garden” is able to succeed on the strength of its theme.
“The Garden’s” greatest strength when it comes to the puzzles is the strong sense of flow throughout. The objective is always clear, and the puzzles fit together in an unambiguous way. This is achieved through the use of the childhood memories theme mentioned earlier – puzzles are associated with a particular memory, and it is always very obvious which pieces belong together due to this. Furthermore, there are clear instructions relating what you should be working towards.
“The Garden” has a basically path-based structure, though each path is really only a single puzzle along with some searching. The puzzles themselves are very easy for anyone who has ever done an escape room, but they are all a great introduction for newcomers, with clear relationships and no ridiculous leaps of logic. We only used one clue, and we didn’t even need it – we had already figured out how to find the answer, but had simply not looked at the clue correctly, and had input something incorrectly. Admittedly, this may have been a problem with the puzzle, as it is a little ambiguous based on how you look at it, and it misuses certain conventions relating to the correct way around something should be (which is a roundabout way of saying we were holding it upside down, but based on certain aspects of the clue this seemed like it ought to be the right way up).
Speaking of searching, there is a fair amount of it here, but nothing is hidden in a ridiculous location (though there is a very cruel – in a good way – bit of searching right at the end). Those with prior experience will jump straight for the more clever hiding spots, but these will still elicit gasps of surprise and wonder from those new to escape rooms.
It was a little disappointing that there wasn’t more variety in the puzzles, as they were all number sequence puzzles involving spatial reasoning, lateral thinking, and basic maths. There are also very few puzzles, so you should expect to finish fairly quickly. Having said this, the clever hiding spots go some way toward alleviating this disappointment.
The Bottom Line
I recommend “The Garden” in particular for those new to escape rooms. It has exceptionally good flow, with the relationships between puzzles well signposted and the puzzles themselves simple and clear. Families with younger children would also enjoy this room, I think, and the kids would probably be able to do much of the room on their own. Though the surprises are familiar to veterans, they will elicit the intended surprise from newbies, and they work very well. The props are appropriately themed and the room simply looks great. Exitus have done a fantastic job transporting you into a dream-like garden from childhood, and I have to say this is the aspect of the experience that impressed me the most following my time with “Butcher’s Burrow”. If you want to introduce someone to the joys of escape rooms, this is the room to do it with.