- Played November 2019
- Tampa, FL
- 60 minutes
- 2-7 players
- Tiered pricing (approx. $30/person)
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In beautiful Tampa, Florida you’ll find a unique escape room company called Imagine Escapes. At least, it used to be called Imagine Escapes (and still is depending on which websites you visit). It has since been bought out by Breakout, (a fairly well known national franchise), and this makes Imagine Escapes by Breakout unlike any other Breakout location you’ll visit in the USA. Why so? Because it appears Breakout has wisely decided to keep some of Imagine’s existing games, and slowly phase in some of their standard games offered at other Breakout locations.
Although our host was a bit late upon arrival for our initial escape room (Dreamweaver), it gave us a chance to experience the exterior set up to Imagine-Breakout which was quite nice. They’re located in a little strip plaza with plenty of parking, good signage, and some patio tables set out along the walkway for people to sit down, albeit they’re probably for the customers who visit the nearby café, but they extend to the front of Imagine-Breakout so we took full advantage and had a seat while we waited. The inside lobby is fairly small, but does have an adjacent waiting room where you can sit, play some puzzle-based games, and just relax. No snacks or drinks were available which is unfortunate, but the costume pieces you get to wear during the pre-story prep were a nice touch. The game master we had was also welcoming and had some great energy in his interactions with us. Minus the absence of some refreshments and perhaps a bit more space for people to move around, the pre-room was a strong start and we were definitely excited to see what our second room of the day, Jungle Gem, had in store for us!
The room quality was noticeably mixed. This is one of those times we could tell the designers put a lot of work, sweat, and tears into creating a beautifully designed room with great themeing, careful design planning, quality props, and detailed work. And when it was done, they decided last minute to add another room next to it that was created in half the time, with half the budget, and perhaps as an afterthought. In our room debrief all five of us who played the game unanimously agreed this is a tale of two cities… err… ummm… two rooms within one game. The first half of the game takes place in a plane, and perhaps it was partially intentional to be experienced as a crashed plane. Many of the props, mechanical devices, and elements within the room were very worn, broken, or able to operate without the proper pieces needed (allowing you to skip parts of the game unless the game master intercedes as he did for us). This is counter-balanced by the next room which was small, but beautiful in comparison. We’re not sure why there was such a dramatic shift in room quality, but suffice to say we’re glad that the second half of the game really stood out as a well made room, with sturdy (and unbroken) set design elements. The props were solid, and at no point did we feel they spared on using space to its fullest even though it was a fairly small room. In the end the two sides balanced out to a fairly average experience for room quality, but our hope is that as time goes along, the Imagine-Breakout team will spruce up the first part of the experience to match the second part because it’s a very well built room with great themeing and impressive design work.
As you’d expect, the immersion follows suit with the room design. Once we hit the mid point of the game, we were pulled back into the thematic experience and felt re-engaged with what was happening around us. One thing that needs to be mentioned however is how well each of the games at Imagine-Breakout are tied together under one story arch. We’re not sure how (or if) this will continue as Breakout moves more of their standard games into their Tampa location, but we hope they find a way to keep it going because it’s a nice little touch that made us want to experience more of the story. At the same time, the ever present spectre of absent story development reared its ugly head. The story starts off and ends fairly well, but as with most escape games within the North American industry, the story isn’t developed in the game itself and leaves the participant wishing they could’ve been more of an ‘active character’ in discovering something new and fun to talk about (instead of playing out what was already told to us in the intro). We believe this is slowly changing, but as the industry continues to get larger day by day, we will continue to emphasize the importance of story development because of its ability to engage players (even more than set design we’d argue, but that’s a topic for another day). In the end Jungle Gem does a fairly decent job of making you feel engaged with your surroundings, and where it may suffer in the first half, it definitely picks up and becomes more fun and engaging in the second half. It should also be noted that because of Jungle Gem’s relatively small size, we’d suggest a group of no more than 3-5 people depending on the level of engagement you want with the puzzles (enthusiasts will probably want to stick with three people, whereas less experienced escape room participants may want a couple extra eyes and brains to help).
Which leads to the puzzles. There’s a good amount and variety of puzzles to be found in Jungle Gem which was nice. The puzzle path was semi-linear (roughly two-to-two), and although not all the puzzles were inclusive by design most of them were which allowed our group of five to feel involved most of the time. As we got closer to the end, the puzzle path narrows and didn’t allow everyone to get involved, but thankfully this felt like a small portion of the game. The theme was fairly well integrated into most of the puzzles, and although there wasn’t any real team building puzzles, there was enough to keep most of us occupied as we mentioned. What some of us particularly liked was the different variety of skill sets required throughout the game. Due to some mechanical and design issues we had to adapt how we approached some of the puzzles in the first half of the game, but again, for the most part the puzzles themselves didn’t leave any bad impressions on us.
Did we have fun? Yeah… for the most part. Those within our group who were more focused on design and quality issues enjoyed it a bit less than the others because of the first half, but everything else fit what one should expect from a standard escape room with some better than average design aspects in the second half. Jungle Gem is a game you’ll want to play earlier on in your escape room travels because enthusiasts tend to become more critical as they experience more games and start comparing rooms to each other. It’s a great choice for a first escape room experience, or if you have a mixed group of enthusiasts with new players having a fun outing together. Younger and older players will enjoy it equally, but as previously mentioned, we’d suggest limiting your group size from 3-5 people depending on the level of engagement you want with the puzzles. Although we enjoyed Dreamweaver quite a bit more than Jungle Gem, it’s definitely worth a play through if you like ongoing story narratives that allow you to indulge the ‘’what comes next?!!’’ bug that so many of us have.
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