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Review: Dark Carnival

RATING: 3 Keys          RESULT: Loss          REMAINING: X:XX

Ladies and gentlemen! Step right up, but be warned that things are not always as they seem at the fair, especially when annual disappearances are a thing.

Last Second Escape in Richmond, VA


Dark Carnival at Last Second Escape

For the past 100 years, the carnival has been coming to Richmond. You go every year, but strange things happen, and people go missing. This year, You and your friends decided to go to find the mystery of what happened in the ringmaster’s tent.

If you ever thought there was something slightly unnerving about ringmasters, here is your chance to investigate any truth to it. The annual carnival has come to town and it is our responsibility to figure out what has been happening to all of the people who have gone missing each year. Were they eaten by the bearded lady? Mangled by the prized circus tiger? We’ll search the big top inch by inch until we uncover the source behind the strange disappearances.

Dark Carnival’s story provides a fairly entertaining journey through a country fair midway full of classic festival games and the intrigue that lies beyond what the general public is meant to see. This game’s name says it all – the theme is both light and dark at the same time, fun and also mysterious. Like a unicycle on a high wire, Last Second Escape stays the course and keeps the story on the straight and narrow from start to finish.


Dark Carnival at Last Second Escape

Stepping inside the world of Dark Carnival is like visiting an indoor and perhaps homemade version of games alley at an amusement park. Tests of coordination and skill line the boundary of the gamespace and bring out the inner child with their brightly colored elements and twinkling lights. Near the entrance of the first area, a ticket window beckons for those who have located the proper form of admission. An large panel of lights is the focal point for a digital game akin to the strength test game, except you are hitting a giant, glossy red button rather than swinging a hammer.

Breathing life into the carnival setting, a small crystal ball sits protected behind the glass of a fortune teller kiosk, lying still and quiet until a customer comes along. String lights create a canopy of ambient glow over the modest spinning stars and pluck-a-duck games and illuminate a shooting gallery that stretches the entire length of the room. The overall execution of the visuals in this large area leave a little bit to be desired. While there is nothing wrong with building things in-house, Dark Carnival’s sets could benefit from looking a little more polished and professional.

Through a fairly average secret passage, players enter the ringmaster’s lair in what appears to be the backstage area under the big top. Like the first chamber, the aesthetic elements in the second room seem to be made in-house and hastily painted with a solid, flat color.

A large chest bound in chains and locks sits in the spotlight of a mini stage, while mysterious newspaper clippings outlining disappearances of local fair-goers are displayed on a bulletin board either in memory of – or perhaps as a trophy from – the missing.


Dark Carnival at Last Second Escape

The puzzles in Dark Carnival are well-aligned with the story and seem to be authentic components found in such a setting. One of our first objectives was to locate our admission tickets so that we could proceed to play all of the carnival’s offerings and begin our continuous dashing from one game to the next, much like real life at a county fair. These puzzles require abstract thinking integrated with physical challenges.

One of the more memorable corporeal tasks was coordinating our efforts to reach the top of a progress meter at the same time. This proved to be quite challenging, especially since we originally were overthinking the skills required. Once we got the knack of it, we finished with flying colors.

We felt the best challenge in the game was a shooting gallery that involved each of us having a toy gun with laser sites. Although they did not quite work all of the time, this task still provided an entertaining aspect to Dark Carnival, and our gamemaster was kind enough to give us a hand to get things running smoothly again.

Another important step in the progress of the game required us to collect tokens for the fortune teller kiosk before we could have our future foretold. If only it could have told us to speed things up a bit.

The second space somewhat slacked off on the fun, but perhaps this was done deliberately in order to follow the story. After all, we did come here to search the underbelly of the carnival and uncover the source of the disappearances. Since multiple vanishings can never be a good thing, when you close in on the truth behind them, things get darker and more somber where puzzles and challenges are concerned. It did prove to be an anticlimactic second half of gameplay, however.


In the end, we ran out of time before we could claim our prize at the fair, but we still liked this adventure and classic story of possible darkness and evil hiding in plain sight under the guise of a happy and light facade.

While it’s not necessarily among our favorite rooms we’ve played, Dark Carnival is an enjoyable game. As an escape room, it is good, clean fun. As a series of carnival games, it appeals to the big kid in all of us who enjoys carefree playtime.

Mike and Maegen at Last Second Escape in Richmond, VA

Venue Details

Venue: Last Second Escape

Location: Richmond, VA

Number of Games: 6


Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 8 people

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

Cost: $25 per person

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