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Review: Jack’s Nightmare

RATING: 5 Keys          RESULT: Win          REMAINING: 3:00

Not all monsters are created equal – at least not in the carved out eyes of one particularly jealous pumpkin-headed fiend.


Jack, the original Busch Gardens trickster is back, and he’s had plenty of time to sit in the dark and come up with new ways to surprise and startle his fans. Explore the terrors that keep Jack up at night.

Jack’s Nightmare carries a fantastic premise – and creates a truly magical, intimate way to interact with this year’s Howl-O-Scream event icon. Alone in a room with the pumpkin-headed trickster himself, he confides in us the actual root of his own very real nightmares.

Jack is jealous.

That’s right. One of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s best known Halloween mascots, Jack hasn’t actually been invited back to host the event for some eight years. In that time, he’s been replaced on numerous occasions- the Lady of the Garden, Scarlet, Mr. Karver and Georgie, just to name a few.

If you take Jack’s side of the situation as truth, the reason each of them only hosted the event but one single year is because they, well, just weren’t as good as him. “Terrible.” Trainwreck.” “Total failure.” “Boring.” Needless to say, Jack’s got some spirited opinions of his peers.

In a sense, the object of the game is to uncover the faults of each prior icon, proving why Jack is the undisputed king of Halloween. It’s a brilliant twist that humanizes the villain character and instantly engages the guests as an active piece of his storyworld, all while crafting a distinctly iconic attraction that stands on its own as the face of 2018’s Howl-O-Scream. After all, Jack is back, and this is your one chance to not only meet him, but mingle with him exclusively for a full half hour!


Appropriate to its story, the setting for Jack’s Nightmare finds us in the former icon’s lair, where he has clearly been obsessing over his Howl-O-Scream replacements since his departure eight years ago. There’s stuff everywhere. Jack evidently isn’t the most organized of pumpkin-headed monsters.

Among that stuff are many objects that he’s collected (borrowed? stole?) from the icons that would follow him: pieces of dolls from Mr. Karver, tarot cards from Scarlet and eyeballed roses from the Lady of the Garden, just to name a few. These personal objects all play a part in Jack’s nefarious plan to rid Howl-O-Scream of his competition, allowing him to return to his rightful place as the one true icon.

But Jack’s plans for revenge are clearly well thought through, and much more far-reaching than just the icons themselves. In the back of his lair lies a secret control room, lined with rows of monitors broadcasting “live” feeds from all over Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Has Jack been watching us the entire time? Has he been here spying for the past eight years, planning for this moment to finally arrive?

Jack’s Nightmare follows a fairly non-linear flow, with multiple puzzle tracks that ultimately converge to the game’s finale. Cleverly in sync with the story, each individual short path centers around a past Howl-O-Scream icon, with tasks that connect directly to the style and history of those respective characters. And while some prior knowledge of Howl-O-Scream legend may give you a bit of a boost, just know it is not at all required in order to achieve the tasks at hand.

Each track leads guests to one of multiple keys required to open the several locks blocking the final step – a giant green button that will erase the other Howl-O-Scream icons forever, putting Jack back in charge. And best of all, Jack obviously has a vested interest in your victory, so as such, he’s always eager to help teams along should they get stuck – using fully in-character, story driven interactions that never just “give the answer,” but rather prompt you further in a way that inspires its discovery.

Jack himself (more specifically the actor that played him) was a phenomenal bonus to the otherwise great overall experience. He was so skilled at improvisational interactions that there was never a dull moment during our experience. Jack engaged us right from the moment he entered the room, and by the end, he actually felt like a member of our team. An odd, slightly evil, pumpkin-headed member of our team, admittedly, but we’re not here to judge. We’d later learn that the actor portraying Jack for our visit was the actual one used in all the commercials, promotional materials and announcements throughout the park – so we can literally say we met the real Jack! How cool is that?!


In its third year, No Escape remains the only example of actual escape games within the gates of a major US theme park. That alone makes this an incredibly unique and exciting experience. But in true Busch Gardens fashion, they really do take it several steps further with above and beyond character interactions that make something cool feel all the more special.

We try to look at No Escape from several different perspectives – and frankly, it impresses on all levels. First, let’s think of the impact these attractions have on the escape game industry as a whole. If we were to guess, on an average Howl-O-Scream event night, Busch Gardens Williamsburg may have 15,000 – 20,000 people in park. Peak nights are likely even higher. While we naturally understand that not every one of those tens of thousands will experience the No Escape rooms for themselves, the exposure is very much still there — and for many, this is likely their first chance to ever ask that question we all know so very well; the question that ultimately brought us all together here: “What is an escape room?” To further that exposure, No Escape actually has monitors outside the venue, allowing passers by to take a casual look at other groups as they tackle the challenges. It’s the perfect “no commitment” preview into what will likely be, for many, a whole new world.

But even better, the artful use of actors written into these games as a major element of the experience further makes No Escape compelling to an audience who otherwise may not have thought about trying an escape game. Especially in the case of Jack’s Nightmare, this is the only spot in the park you can actually meet the single most iconic character in Howl-O-Scream’s history (Jack gave us $50 to say that.) But this isn’t just a quick theme park meet and greet; it’s a full thirty minutes of private, intimate, highly interactive fun with him to truly become immersed in his world.

Jack’s Nightmare, at its core, is everything Howl-O-Scream is about – and who wouldn’t want to experience that during a visit to the event? What results is the inspiration of a whole new generation of escape game fans – furthering the growth and knowledge of our industry as a whole, all thanks to one theme park that dared to do something different.

We’ve been fans of Busch Gardens Williamburg’s No Escape games from the start – and speaking personally, I’ve booked travel during the last two of their three operating years specifically just to experience them. Each has been a different experience, but there’s just no question that Jack’s Nightmare should be their new standard bearer. The character interactions alone make for an incredibly unique, genuinely compelling experience, but add that to the highly story-driven puzzle flow and it should be no surprise that Jack’s Nightmare feels distinctly Howl-O-Scream in every possible way.


Venue:  Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Location: Williamsburg, Virginia

Number of Games: 2


Duration: 30 minutes

Capacity: 6 people

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

Cost: Prices vary between $30 – $40 depending on the day and time you choose. Separate Busch Gardens Williamsburg admission is required (starting at $70 per person if purchased online.)


We thank Busch Gardens Williamsburg for inviting us to play this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.
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