Shadows of the Skunk Ape
Shadows of the Skunk Ape
- Played November 2019
- Tampa, FL
- 60 minutes
- 2-8 players
- What People Say
In a relatively quiet part of Tampa, just outside the downtown core you’ll find Rabbit Hole Escapes. Although we initially missed their company sign as we drove past, it was easily visible and accessible from the main road, (and a lot easier to see coming back from the other direction when driving at a more reasonable pace). Out front of their building was a small parking lot, perfectly sized for a handful of cars. Their lobby was large, decorated in a slightly modern style, and had lots of zen-like qualities. Ambient lighting, Alice In Wonderland posters, and information on the walls about their escape rooms made for an interesting sight to see. Rabbit Hole’s bathroom was also cleverly themed and decorated with Alice In Wonderland items, going hand in hand with their overall company theme. On this day however, we were getting set for an adventure in Shadows Of The Skunk Ape (more on that in a minute)… The lobby also had some beautiful lounge couches, a couple games, knick-knacks, and although there were no refreshments or snacks available, our game master (and owner of Rabbit Hole) was welcoming and great to talk to… that’s when our pre-room experience started to get interesting! She led us down a long hallway towards the back of the building and as she was talking to us her conversation shifted towards the Floridian folk tale of the skunk ape… then another hallway where the lighting, décor and atmosphere started to change. On route she picked up a couple national park ranger items, and by the time we arrived towards the back of the building she had somehow transformed herself into the character of a park ranger guide! The transformation came across so natural and seamless we couldn’t help but be VERY impressed! Now here we were standing in what looked like an old time information centre (in the style of those national historic highway rest stops you see across the USA and Canada). Here we learned even more about our new duties as park ranger recruits, and a wee bit more about the legend of the skunk ape. We didn’t need to worry about that however because our job was simply to meet the head park ranger and complete our training. All we needed to do was find a way in the ranger’s lodge because wouldn’t you know it, the ranger must’ve been out doing his rounds, and our guide lost the key! Now if only we could find a way into the lodge to wait for the head ranger so our game… errr… training could begin! This was a brilliant introduction and had us more than wee bit excited from the beginning! The only drawback we could find with the pre-room experience was the lack of refreshments and maybe just the exterior of the building needing a bit of sprucing up (which is REALLY stretching to be honest)… aside from that, this was one of the best pre-room experiences we’ve ever had, and the reason why we take the time to look at all aspects of an escape room experience from start to finish.
The room quality and immersion was also near flawless. This is one of those times we can’t really talk about one without the other because both aspects supported each other throughout the whole game. The immersion added to our awareness and appreciation of several different design aspects of the game, while at the same time, different set pieces and special effects really created an incredible immersive experience! The sights, the sounds, and yes, even the smells of this game were perfectly designed to look and feel like we were ranger recruits in various circumstances. Because we didn’t know much about what we’d be doing (aside from completing our ranger training as new recruits) the story had the freedom to develop with us being the active characters from the beginning. For those who follow our reviews, you’ll know we’ve been saying this for years… it’s IMPORTANT for players to feel like they are actively developing the story as they learn more information. Shadows Of The Skunk Ape provides this almost perfectly. At one point we did find instructions on a series of tasks to do which removed a bit of the developmental fun of the game, but even then it was still better than most escape rooms which don’t develop the story at all. And let’s not forget set design… there’s LOTS to enjoy here. Not only did this game use nice large spaces with high quality set designs, but each set transition had its own atmosphere and theme in a way that makes you wonder how long it must’ve taken to build it all (it’s definitely no overnight rush job)! At one point in the game there was such a strong and comfortable feeling of being surrounded by nature, we honestly didn’t want to proceed and purposely hung out a few minutes longer because it felt as close to real as it could be (how many companies can boast a set design that detailed?!) Ok ok, so let’s add a bit of balance… was it perfect? Of course not, there’s always little things that can be improved no matter how good things are. A bit of wear and tear was present throughout the game with a couple of the locks and text based puzzles being faded, too small, and/or hard to read in parts where the lighting was dim. And yes one could get ultra nit-picky and point out that some wires, connectors, and other electronics were visible and/or obvious. Those are all fair points, but you’d REALLY need to be looking for the negatives to ignore the overwhelming positives of the immersion and building quality of this game which is why our team scored it so high.
The puzzles were decent, but were relegated to the shadows in comparison to the impressive pre-room, set design, and immersion. But seriously, were they good? Yes. Were there enough puzzles to keep our group busy? Again yes. Did they call upon different skills and talents for us to use cooperatively? Yup, it had that too. So what makes them slightly above average but not great like the other aspects of the game? A couple small things here and there: First, there wasn’t really a ‘wow’ moment we had with any of the puzzles. Some were clever, some were straightforward, but there wasn’t really a time where our group noticed a particular puzzle over anything else in the room. Secondly, although there were some inclusive puzzles, there wasn’t really a strong teambuilding puzzle which would’ve been perfect for this game given the theme and story development. And finally, it’s been a while since anyone mentioned this in a post-game debriefing, but two of our team members actually felt a bit of lock fatigue because of the amount of alpha and numeric locks used in the game. This wasn’t a feeling shared by everyone, so it’s probably not going to affect most people who play the game. So yes, for the most part the puzzles are decent but we suspect most people will agree they aren’t the main selling point of the experience. What they do provide however is a good amount of support in tying together the other aspects of the game.
As for how much fun we had… something interesting happened while our team talked about how much fun each of us had. In our group of five we had three distinct camps of reaction from the passionate: ‘’This is possibly one of my new top 10 faves!’’, to the more admiring of ‘’This was definitely a better than average room, and one people should try!’’ all the way to a more neutral ‘’It was good, but for some reason I found myself losing focus’’ It’s possible that without a strong ‘tension point’ in the story some adrenaline junkies may find themselves drifting in focus, but it’s safe to say our group consensus was that Shadows Of The Skunk Ape is a VERY good game most people will either like a lot, or simply fall in love with! In fact, during the time it took for us to write this review we already sent two other groups of enthusiasts to go play the game and sure enough both groups really enjoyed it! We’d suggest a group size of 3-6 people depending on the level of experience your group has with solving puzzles and/or the amount of engagement you prefer (i.e. more players generally leads to less engagement with the game itself but does help with puzzles). It’s suitable for all ages, and we can’t wait to hear about what Rabbit Hole has in store next for their customers!
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