RATING: 2 Keys RESULT: Win REMAINING: 3:40
Monkeys are loose all over Manhattan and the only way to bring them back to their cages and save the day is to solve logic puzzles seemingly taken straight from a dollar store puzzle book.
The loosest of stories exists in Manhattan Mayhem. Monkeys have escaped the zoo and are wreaking havoc around the city. The primary objective of the game is to find all the monkeys and return them to the zoo. The pretense of story essentially ends once the pre-game briefing is finished.
Boxes intended to be Manhattan buildings line the room. The puzzles attempt to thematically correspond to the building they belong to, but these mainly serve to be Mad Libs like fill-ins for bare-bones logic puzzles. For example, the New York Stock Exchange has a puzzle related to the purchase of a specific stock and the Natural History Museum has a Dinosaur puzzle. Both of the themed elements of these puzzles exist as mere labels for values and not an extension of a narrative. If the objective of the game is to find missing monkeys, how does determining how many shares of XYZ company I can purchase with a specific amount of money aid in that goal?
Entering the play space was immediately disappointing. The game takes place in a single room with eight boxes representing iconic Manhattan buildings placed on the sides of the room and a line of cages on a brick wall. The room is covered in stylized paintings of the city with monkeys interspersed. Beyond these few features there is not any other scenic decoration to the room. And it’s brightly lit by overhead fluorescents. There’s no sense of mood or place to the environment and more importantly for an Escape Room, no ability to have a discovery phase searching for hidden objects or clues. Everything is just out in the open.
Looking around the room reveals each box contains a puzzle to solve placed on top of it. Most of these can be solved by standing in front of the pillar, pulling out the provided notepad, and just working through the logic puzzle. There’s rarely the need to observe surroundings or interact with the room in a meaningful way beyond what’s directly at that building’s work station.
If your idea of Escape Room fun is solving word problems and completing math without a calculator, this is the game for you. This is a game clearly designed for a large group to split up among the room’s stations and solve the logic worksheet before moving on to the next element. While some may enjoy this activity, it’s a vastly inferior experience to what an Escape Room can and should provide to guests. Great puzzles should integrate into the story world, challenge observation skills, and ultimately be something that could not be easily replicated by the guest in their own home.
The only puzzle one group member found enjoyable involved what essentially turned into a substitution cipher problem. Instead of waiting until the last few pieces of the puzzle had arrived he started working on the translation of information and turned it into a missing element logic puzzle that was not the intended design of the puzzle. The intended design would have involved completing the same translation task eight times, a number which would certainly throw it into the “busy work” category of puzzles. The self-added challenge of deducing which values could go with missing pieces made the task more enjoyable than designed.
Manhattan Mayhem contains very few positive elements. It’s scenic is almost non-existent, puzzles are almost entirely solving word problems from sheets of paper, and the story may as well not exist. It’s an example of how not to design an escape room, and hopefully the first room this venue will replace.
Logic puzzles are a key element of Escape Rooms, but the core of a good live puzzle is translating those elements into physical items and scenarios for players to solve. It is a fundamental failure of experience design if most of a game’s puzzles could be offered as a “print at home” kit.
Manhattan Mayhem is a puzzle room, but it’s incredible lack of scenic and disregard for a story world make it a problematic candidate for the more modern definition of an Escape Room.
Venue: Escape Entertainment
Location: New York City, New York
Number of Games: 3
GAME SPECIFIC INFORMATION:
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 10 people
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $29 per person (minimum 4)