RATING: 1 Key RESULT: Loss REMAINING: 0:00
Welcome to the In & Out Gift Emporium: Your one stop shop for merchandise painted on the walls and the widest selection of logic leaps in town!
At first glance the In & Out Gift Emporium looks like an ordinary souvenir shop. Take a closer look and discover a front for an international exotic animal trade organization. Your team’s mission is to infiltrate the shop, stop the latest shipment of animals and get out before it’s too late.
A rather vague backstory online downplays a really clever, original narrative that aims to rope you into a highly family friendly spy mission. This is Operation “Sticky Foot,” and our goal is stop the evil Cora Medusa – code-named “The Red Viper” – ringleader of the infamous international exotic trade syndicate La Cosa Constrictor Nostra.
You see, Medusa and her henchman are running an illegal exotic animal smuggling shop under the innocent guise of the In & Out Gift Emporium, a popular tourist shopping spot at Sheraton Vistana Resort in Orlando. The affluent and ill-prepared know her as the local source to obtain non-native species of reptiles for their private collections – however when faced with the reality of their scope of care, many abandon them in the wild, which in turn poses a serious risk of destroying our eco system.
Everything about this story is unique, original and fun, and had me very excited to check it out. Unfortunately, we’d learn quickly that the story is where the fun begins… and ends at the In & Out Gift Emporium.
Upon arriving at the small, nondescript check in lobby, you’re greeted with a full entry facade of the fictitious In & Out Gift Emporium pained across the length of one wall, its door the actual entry point into the escape game. It’s a modest but nice first impression. I’d certainly prefer a physical set that gives some depth, dimension and realism to this supposed gift store, but the mural makes decent effort at doing the trick.
It’s inside the game’s first room that you begin to recognize standards may not be held to their highest potential. The gift shop front itself consists of a small check out counter with front display case – which is fine – a couple of cabinets, two shelves on the one wall (one of which is completely empty) and a few T-shirts and stuffed animals. I love the approach at selling the concept of this being an active gift shop, but when the majority of its merchandise is quite literally painted on the walls, it’s a shocking trip back to reality that at its core, In & Out Gift Emporium really is the square white box room style of game we’ve come to dread. Certainly, this first room is a bit more detailed than the average white box game – but only a bit. (The remaining rooms, however, are basic office fare from head to toe.)
Would it honestly have been so difficult to have a rack of real skateboards bolted to one wall instead of a painting of one? And why is this gift shop selling painting of snow globes? How hard would it have been — in Orlando, of all places — to pick up a handful of real snow globes to glue to that top shelf? This kind of half-baked design just feels lazy, and the unfortunate truth is it’s the first step to destroying a really wonderfully crafted storyworld that I truly did fall in love with prior to my visit.
Without a doubt, the puzzles were the weakest aspect of the In & Out Gift Emporium total package. Logic leaps abound, and their own monotony was broken up only by several tedious time-sink puzzles that at their core were clearly the very definition of “puzzles for puzzles sake.”
Here’s the thing though – In & Out Gift Emporium actually does have a few puzzles that really enforce the gift shop motif, from merchandise items to the illegal reptile trade backstory – and at the end of the day, their existence actually serves to make the many other “puzzles for puzzles sake” stand out like an even more sore thumb. Clearly, the creativity and ability to make this experience story driven is there; the fact that it is blatantly disregarded rather than embraced for the sake of color matching puzzles and tedious math problems that lead to just yet another four digit number to enter into just yet another four digit combination lock is difficult to comprehend.
But as much as “puzzles for puzzles sake” and tedious time-sink tasks frustrate me as a player, it was the continued re-emergence of the ugly, ugly head of repeated logic leaps that, by the last few minutes of this game literally left me uninterested in continuing – and let me tell you, after 200+ games, it takes a lot to push me to that point.
First and foremost we must stress that though this game was designed and produced by America’s Escape Game, it is NOT at their International Drive location. In & Out Gift Emporium is located within the gated grounds of Sheraton Vistana Resort, inside their Fountain Pool Recreation Center building.
I walked into the In & Out Gift Emporium honestly excited; with such a fun concept and clever backstory, it would seem on the surface that it would be difficult for me to at least not have some fun over the course of the sixty minutes that would follow. Sadly, the truth is I honestly had no fun at all. This is a broken game riddled with logic leaps and time sink puzzles that are just not enjoyable to tackle. Escape games, at their core, should be about having fun.
In & Out Gift Emporium felt much more like busy work.
Beyond November 20th, this new game will be available only and exclusively to resort guests who are staying at Sheraton Vistana Resort. Designed and produced by America’s Escape Game, past players of their original International Drive location were invited to play it first, before the hotel guest requirement kicks in on 11/21. And while on paper, that sounds like a great way to show loyalty to past customers, we were left feeling a bit mislead.
All promotion driving repeat players to visit this new game gives the clear implication that this game is a finished product – open and ready to go, but exclusively available to us for its first two weeks. In actuality, we learned upon arrival that we just paid full price to participate in a beta test – reinforced when the location’s staff (who, it needs to be stressed, were absolutely wonderful, completely enthusiastic, and probably the best part of our experience during our visit) thanked us for coming, and told us how important it is that we are there to give feedback in their beta testing period.
I’m all for participating in a beta test of a new game – and have many times. I recognize it’s a critically important part of the opening process – but the one thing you as a venue simply do not do is misrepresent that beta test as an open, finished product before tickets are purchased – and charge those beta testing guests full ticket price in the process.
But let’s be clear – none of my fundamental issues with In & Out Gift Emporium have anything to do with the cost of our ticket, or whether or not it was actually in beta testing. Simply and definitively, there are major flaws in this game’s design that need to be addressed before In & Out Gift Emporium can be something we are comfortable recommending you, our loyal readers to visit.
Location: Orlando, Florida
Number of Games: 1
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 8 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $35 per person (Discounts may be available for certain tiers of resort rewards guests.)