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Review: Under the Big Top

RATING: 2 Keys          RESULT: Win          REMAINING: 16:46

With thrills, chills and enough broken puzzles to give me my fill(s), this night at the circus was anything but funny.



Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, step right up!  Behind the Red Door is something you’ve never seen before. Lions and tigers, elephants and bears! Death-defying acts of courage! Try your hand at crazy games of skill. Join the most amazing show on earth. Experience the lights, the glitz, the glamour. Crack your whip and become the ringleader. But be careful – things aren’t always what they seem.  Do you want to come and play?

Who doesn’t love the circus? The big top, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy, the games, the clowns (ok, maybe more than a few of you don’t love the clowns.) The world of the circus is a theme that is instantly familiar to anyone – and one that’s sure to immediately evoke found memories of the fun we’ve all shared under a big red and white striped tent at some point in our lives.

It’s a great theme for an escape game – one that requires little narrative to become instantly appealing. It’s a wonder that more venues don’t embrace it.

Unfortunately even a classic theme meant to inspire joy wasn’t enough to make this experience an enjoyable one.



Our first impression of Under the Big Top was admittedly a little bit rough. Escape Countdown has established themselves as a venue that knows how to craft decently compelling scenic for their games. This one – sadly the one I was personally most looking forward to – was fairly lacking.

The two room game was intended to give the impression of starting outside the tent in a carnival games area and then ultimately moving inside to the world that exists under the Big Top itself. The “carnival” was very plain and lacked the whimsy that typically comes from that setting. The walls were plain. The carnival game booths felt thrown together.

The second room wasn’t much better, with appropriately striped tent walls, a tiger cage (complete with plush tiger) and for some reason, a vinyl graphic of cartoon animals performing circus acts.



Escape Countdown tried something a bit ambitious that sadly did not pay off like it could. All of the puzzles in the first room were adaptations of actual carnival puzzles. Sadly, they either didn’t deliver the same spirit of fun, or in several cases, flat out did not function as designed – an unfortunate truth that hindered some of the better puzzles the game managed to maintain. (One instantly memorable moment of brilliance involving dozens of ping pong balls will not soon be forgotten.)

In the second room, another puzzle that could have been a truly brilliant gag saw a monkey ride a unicycle across a tight rope wire. For a split second. Until he broke right in front of us, never triggering our next clue. Several sections of the tent intended to be locked no longer functioned as designed, allowing us to skip several steps of the game whether or not we wanted to.



We remain big fans of Escape Countdown as a brand, and this review is certainly not intended to hurt them in any way. The truth is I was legitimately sad after playing Under the Big Top. A bit of a back story – it’s no secret that among my professional resume as an attraction designer includes game design. At this point I’ve sold several – but as with anything in life, the first one you do will always hold a special place in your heart. For me, that first game was a circus theme – something that at the time I’ve never seen attempted, and since that point I’ve only seen on a very small number of occasions.

As is often the case in the world of attraction design, your first project greenlit may not necessarily mean your first project to open- and several other games will welcome their first guests before my version of a circus finally opens its tent – though it is for certain coming. What was interesting to me is that Escape Countdown’s game actually flowed very similarly to my own – at least on paper. Starting outside the tent in a carnival. Playing adapted versions of classic carnie games. I was truly excited to see someone else’s take on my first concept, and in a sense get to live vicariously through it until I get to see guests enjoy the one I dreamed up.

No two ideas will ever be the same – which is obviously a good thing – and while I don’t mean to imply that my idea was “right” and theirs was “wrong,” what I can say for certain is the execution I experienced in Under the Big Top just didn’t quite work – both figuratively and literally.

Shortly after our visit, Escape Countdown has elected to permanently close Under the Big Top. Constantly striving to improve their product offerings, this game just did not line up with the quality their others were delivering. Honestly, this is a testament to the level of standards Escape Countdown as a brand exhibits, and one of many reasons why we will always be supportive of their product.

So though our trip to the circus didn’t quite thrill and chill, Escape Countdown’s other offerings still absolutely deserve you to hurry, hurry, step right up and enjoy some of the greatest games on Florida’s west coast!

Venue Details

Venue:  Escape Countdown

Location: Sarasota, Florida

Number of Games: 3


Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 8 people

Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.

Cost: This game has permanently closed.

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