Location: North Melbourne, Melbourne
Date played: 24 April 2015
Players: 2 (Escape Club recommends 2-3)
Hints: Maximum 2 hints via knock on the door
When Harry calls…
Harry Potter needs your help. A curse has been placed on the Vanishing Cabinet and you are tasked with undoing this dark magic.
Escape Club Melbourne’s Curse of Hogwarts room gives you 40 minutes to solve the puzzles and escape the room. And when we say ‘escape the room’, we actually mean it: the door is locked and you cannot get out until you find the key (or knock on the door to be let out). More on that later, though.
The room is small (hence 2-3 players) but well themed. You feel like you’ve stepped into Hogwarts, with props, decorations and background music adding to the atmosphere. Clues are well hidden, so search thoroughly!
Escape Club hails from Sydney and was started by a group of engineering PhD students. Their tech-savvy influence is visible throughout the game and the way some of their puzzles work are really quite cool. The concept is there to create a really engaging and fun experience, however the game designers seem to have set out to frustrate and impede you.
Before entering the room, you’re given a lantern and an envelope containing your mission. You are thrust into a darkened room, the door is locked and you begin. Reading by the dim light from the lantern is difficult but you make out the instructions as to what your objective is and what you should start looking for. It concludes by telling you to place the lantern on the plinth. You do – and nothing visible happens (yet!), aside from taking away your only light source. You have to search the room and scour it for clues using the meagre light cast from the lantern, which is pretty much impossible. One of our team pulled out their mobile phone – not to Google anything, but to use the flash as a torch.
While the theming of the room is well thought out, there is a glaringly obvious issue with this room: legality. To be clear: you are actually locked in a room and cannot get out without the key or knocking on the door until you are let out. Every escape room we have played in Australia and New Zealand has said that legally, they cannot lock the door. Instead, the door either remains unlocked or has an emergency release button or both. Escape Club Melbourne are gambling with their customers lives: what if a fire breaks out in the building, or there is a first aid emergency? If there multiple rooms are in use, the game master has to decide who to save first. They may think it adds to the experience, but in reality it tarnishes the industry’s perceptions of safety and may put their customers at risk.
There’s not that many puzzles you can get through in 40 minutes and this room made sure it was doable in that time. Most relied on searching the room and finding objects to get you into locked boxes or reveal the combination, with a clever piece of tech tying together each clue to get you the key. A brain-teaser or even a math problem would help liven up the clues a bit.
As mentioned above, given the heavy focus on searching the room, the game masters really need to provide more light. A UV light torch wouldn’t go astray either. We mentioned to the game master afterwards that it was only by chance that we saw the final combination code, and he told us there was a way to illuminate it from across the room, but we seriously doubt it would have been effective. It’s also a little obscure and not an intuitive thing to try.
Finally, we were told just before entering that not only did we need to find a key to get out, we needed to identify the wizard or witch who was working against us. We’ve seen rooms before where the story and clues could exist separate to each other (see our Escape Hunt Perth review), so we were quite excited to see how Escape Club Melbourne handled it. In a word, poorly. We had the key in our hand but tried in vein to see how the clues we were given could implicate a character, giving up after five minutes and letting ourselves out. We offered our best guess (we got it wrong), and when the answer was revealed, it emerged that there wasn’t really a story, but more a particular decoration that paid homage to a character. If you can’t recognise Harry Potter characters by sight, you won’t stand a chance.
Escape Club Melbourne have done a really great job of fitting out the room. If you play it, make sure to look up! The Harry Potter soundtrack fills the air and the low-lighting – albeit not conducive for searching the room and finding clues – created a spooky atmosphere. Great job all round.
One thing however, we’re not sure what copyright clearance the game designers have to use images and soundtracks from the Harry Potter films. We’d like to think that copyright clearance has been obtained or covered at least by an APRA licence to avoid infringing intellectual property, but given their approach to safety, we wouldn’t bet on it.
A paragraph like the first one would suggest a higher rating, but we can’t overlook the safety issues having a locked door represents. There are better ways to add to the atmosphere of an escape room: this particular scenario had you trying to lift dark magic, so perhaps a final puzzle that tied in with this theme would be a better way to have you complete the room, rather than having to unlock the door. Other escape rooms do a superb job of getting around the problem of not being able to lock people in the room (a problem ignored here) so there’s no reason why they can’t implement a similar mechanism.
Unfortunately, while our host was very enthusiastic and welcoming, there were a number of issues we found that impacted the overall customer service. There is no time clock in the room, so were asked to keep an eye on our watch so we didn’t run out of time. While we don’t think it is essential to have a countdown clock in the room (Escape Room Melbourne don’t, but have a generous time allowance), when you are only given 40 minutes some method of keeping track of time would be appreciated.
When we knocked on the door to use one of our hints, we were greeted by the host who was talking to someone else on the phone and motioned for us to wait a minute. Not only did that make us feel like we were interrupting our host, the mechanism to request hints is severely disruptive to game play.
About Escape Club Melbourne
Escape Club Melbourne opened their Melbourne venue late 2014, after running Escape Club in Sydney since 2012/13. At the Melbourne venue you can play four themes; The Curse of Hogwarts (2-3 players), Ghost Maze (4-8 players), Virus (5-12 players) and Tomb Raider (4-6 players). At their Sydney venue you can also play Chimera (3-4 players) and Prison Break (4-6 players).
320A Victoria Street, North Melbourne VIC 3051