A Grown-Up’s Guide To Flying

5.5 Overall
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A Grown-Up's Guide To Flying

  • Played July 2019
  • Toronto

  • 60 minutes
  • 3-4 players
  • $25

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Not far from the University of Toronto, on Bloor West, you’ll notice a brand new VHS rental store. Yup, you read that correctly! The Tape Escape (brought to you by the good people from Outside The March, a local theatre company), have ventured into the world of mixed theatre escape rooms. Although the company is similar to other immersive, theatre based escape rooms, there were a number of distinct impressions left on us, so let’s get to the breakdown of how we experienced it…

Starting with The Tape Escape’s website and social media channels… we had some mixed feelings. On the one hand, our team enjoyed how their website and social media includes the immersive “in character” aspect of their company (when you’re on their website and social media, you’ll notice it’s designed for helping customers seeking a movie rental from The Tape Escape). At the same time, it took us several readings to realize what exactly this company was (it’s an immersive escape theatre experience as explained in the FAQ section). We suspect several others might not have the patience nor the motivation to read through that much text to understand what The Tape Escape actually is. Also unfortunate is the slightly misleading information you’ll find as they describe what an escape room vs. an immersive escape theatre experience is like. A few highlighted examples that caught our attention include:

Slightly Inaccurate: “So is The Tape Escape an escape room? …Sort of.”

Corrected: The Tape Escape definitely falls within the pantheon of different types of escape rooms, where the objective isn’t always to escape; rather you’ll be engaged in a team building, role playing, experience where you complete an objective within a set time limit (in this case one hour).

Slightly Inaccurate: “…appropriate for kids? … 10yrs+ would definitely dig it, especially if they like puzzles…”

Corrected: Although movie lovers of a certain generation (age range 30’ish – 50’ish) may enjoy the experience, there’s a lot of complexity which will make it hard for kids and younger teens to understand. In addition, there’s a large amount of breakables and potential for harm with a group that includes energetic teenagers.

Very Inaccurate: “…do I get a deal if I book more than one rental? No, but you’re already getting a deal! …Whereas most escape rooms cost upwards of $50”

Corrected: Considering the amount of actors we do think The Tape Escape is a good deal, but it’s misleading, and rare in the industry (throughout all of North America in fact) to find escape rooms that will cost you $50/person. Industry prices are slowly trending upwards, but the ‘current norm’ within the GTA is about $28-$30/person which puts The Tape Escape slightly lower than the average cost.

We’ll avoid nitpicking further about the Tape Escape’s social media & website issues, but we needed to correct some misinformation about escape rooms in general…

So what about the rest of the pre-room experience? Did it also bring about some mixed feelings?

Their sign was clearly visible from the street, and although there’s some drawbacks of being a storefront business in downtown Toronto (parking, accessibility, crowds… etc), we didn’t find those things detracting from our experience too much. What did hurt the pre-room experience was the absence of a proper lobby. Although there’s technically a small lobby with limited space and seating, the lobby doubles as part of the game playing area. Each of our members who arrived anywhere from 5-20 minutes early were asked to wait outside the store because incoming customers were interfering with a game taking place in the lobby. Having games which require players to schedule ahead of time also didn’t help as several people who walked by would just walk in the store to see what it’s all about (reminder: The Tape Escape is in a busy section of downtown Toronto right next to its largest university campus – you can expect a LOT of foot traffic and people popping in to see what it’s all about). Another concern about the pre-room experience is the lack of refreshments or a bathroom. In the end, there were quite a few things that added up to a rough start, but we’ve had rough starts before with varying outcomes, so there’s still hope… let’s look at the room quality.

The building quality varies quite a bit with the backdrop being a VHS rental store, there was some plastic… um, ok… there was a LOT of plastic, alongside a lot of paper slip covers, headphone wires, extension cords and all sorts of other things you wouldn’t associate with a strong design quality. The team was once again divided on this issue as a number of props and construction materials weren’t supposed to be in the room (for health and/or safety reasons), but they added to the fun campy flavour of the game. So should we say the room was well below safety, health and building quality levels knowing this is a pop up experience? Or should we say it’s a clever use of lower quality materials with safety taking a backseat? Well… if we’re being fair and balanced… it’s BOTH! We enjoyed the creativity of props and materials on hand, while at the same time, there’s a lot of needed improvements and much that could go wrong.

With professional actors playing a large role in your adventure, you’d expect the immersion of ‘A Grown Ups Guide To Flying’ to be the highlight of the experience…. and it was! It may not have been as strong as it could’ve been, but the dialogue, the story, and most of all the purpose of the story (which you find out in the end), was compelling. If anything, we felt as if they were holding back from engaging even more in a story based narrative and didn’t put enough character development into the actor who was with us the whole time. The video and audio segments used throughout our playful scavenger hunt were a bit awkward and could’ve also used some more development. Nonetheless, none of us could deny that by the end of game, we were deeply moved by the purpose of the story (especially for one of our team members who has been personally touched by the same issue raised within the game). So if going on a scavenger hunt through an early 90’s video rental store, with a store employee as your guide is something that sounds like fun, this might be something you’ll find yourself getting immersed in.

Finally the tasks and puzzle. And once again we’re back to a mixed bag of pros and cons. Although we enjoyed having him around, it was clear our designated Tape Escape employee/guide didn’t have much experience as a game master. His timing in giving hints, or getting personally involved in our adventure, or knowing how to interact throughout the experience while drawing on his character, all could’ve benefitted from a bit more preparation. Not a huge detractor, but definitely noticeable. The puzzles ranged from incredibly easy to very difficult, and there were a decent number of puzzles throughout the game. Knowledge of movies from the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s is a huge asset in this game so be sure to bring your movie buff friends, otherwise you’ll end up watching the game quite a bit. We enjoyed that the puzzle stream was delivered in line with the narrative (we genuinely felt like we were doing a makeshift scavenger hunt), but it’s unfortunate the narrative gets lost about half way through the game. Our biggest concern with the puzzles came in the final moments of the game where you’re required to use all your senses… including tasting different flavoured sprays. This not only raises the potential of adverse reactions to different tastes, smells, etc, it also might leave you feeling a bit uneasy by having to put something unidentified in your mouth as it did with us.

In any event, how did we feel about A Grown Ups Guide To Flying overall? It depends who you ask. One person on our team really enjoyed the creativity and the uniqueness of the game. Neither the health and safety code violations nor the lower build quality bothered them or got in the way of their immersive fun. The rest of the team felt different from the get-go with Tape Escape’s confusing social media and website, the lack of a lobby, the absence of a public bathroom, and just a number of other things that made it harder to appreciate the narrative. One thing we ALL agreed on however was the purpose and meaning of the story… it was touching and a nice surprise at the end. If there’s one thing we wish the industry could gain from this experience, it’s that a good narrative can be rooted in something relating to a real life issue, and help raise awareness in a positive way. Would we recommend this game? Truthfully it’s not for most people. It’s artsy, creative, and fun if you’re a 90’s movie fan who happens to have three other 90’s movie enthusiast friends. Spending $25 to relive an hour of nostalgia by rummaging through an old VHS store, might very well be something some people would enjoy. For us, we’ll miss the categorical and alphabetical searching up and down aisles and aisles of videos, but it wouldn’t be our first choice of things to seek out and find (yes, yes, pun intended). Kudos to the The Tape Escape for leaving us better educated and aware of a societal issue that doesn’t get much coverage however. We hope they continue to effectively touch the hearts of those with whom they interact.

We want to hear your thoughts! Be sure to comment in the section below or send us a message via ERA’s email, Facebook, or Twitter… As always, happy escaping!

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