Cartman’s Escape Room

6.6 Overall
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Cartman's Escape Room

  • Played December 2019
  • Los Angeles, CA

  • 60 minutes
  • 2-8 players
  • $30 and up (prices vary)

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The last escape room our Toronto team got to experience during our LA visit had us visiting Glendale Galleria Mall, a northern suburb of LA. This is where you’ll find Escape The Room LA, a fairly well known American escape room franchise. More importantly, it’s where we got to play Cartman’s Escape Room! “Oh that’s nice another escape room in a hubbbah whaaaaat?!! You played what now?! Did you just say there’s an escape room based on South Park?!” Yes we did! And yes, it’s an AUTHENTIC South Park product, meaning it wasn’t just played by, but it was also partially designed by Stone and Parker (creators of South Park) themselves! “C’mon, why are we still talking about the pre-room then? Let’s get going here!” Ok, ok, just a few more things to mention we promise… The location of the mall is easy to find, there’s obviously plenty of parking, and once inside head to the middle of the mall on the upper floor. A good amount of seating was available, along with a couple games to play, but you won’t find snacks and/or refreshments so be sure to hit up Galleria’s food court if you need some brain energy. When we arrived the South Park enthusiasts in our group were going nuts with anticipation. The pre-room video, (delivered by Cartman himself) was definitely a nice touch and continued to build the anticipation nicely. It was time to enter Stan, Kyle and Kenny’s classroom and begin… Cartman’s Escape Room… just one thing to remember: You WILL respect his authoritay!

Then again, some won’t. One of the problems of managing an escape room company inside a mall must be the variety of customers who come in to play the games. Why would this be a problem? Because in order to keep an escape room in peak condition for every group, the previous groups had to avoid abusing or damaging the room. This type of damage typically happens where you find higher volumes of patrons who are: 1. Unfamiliar with escape rooms so they inadvertently damage something in the room because they didn’t know better; 2. Wild and undisciplined youths (sometimes young adults also) who probably don’t care about the game, they just want a place to run around and go nuts. The set design and props usually end up the victims of these type of pre-teen and youth groups with the parents often saying “They’ve never done anything like this before” (followed by a list of reasons why it’s clearly not their child’s fault things got damaged); or 3. Those who’ve had a few too many alkihawl(hic) beveridges and think it’s funny to break things. Perhaps not the last group, but we can think of no better place than a mall where an escape room company might encounter LOTS of people who fall into the first two categories… which is unfortunate for them, and on that particular evening, was a bit unfortunate for us also as some of the items showed signs of wear and tear, or being outright broken. Nonetheless, the set design was a beautiful 3D recreation of South Park Elementary from the TV show. The classroom was set up for 12 students, there were plenty of South Park ‘easter egg items’ inside, and minus the fact that this room has seen some abuse from previous guests, it was constructed with fairly good quality materials (solid wood, thick plastic, and metal). A couple areas within the room seemed to have props and interactive components that weren’t in use, but we later found out they were parts that had to be ignored because of damage and/or puzzles that were being added to the design of the game. A bit odd, but amidst the backdrop of the set design it didn’t really bother us too much. One cool feature of the room is the classroom window and the integration of the screens used to look ‘outside’. Again it was a nice touch for the South Park enthusiasts among us. When all was said and done, the room build quality was good (kudos to the ETR design team) but the daunting task of making sure you play this game when things aren’t rushed or damaged is what will determine how you experience the quality.

The immersion was interesting. Perhaps it was the great build up, or the anticipation of playing an officially licensed South Park escape room, but we didn’t find ourselves as immersed as we would’ve hoped. Don’t get us wrong, as we mentioned there’s lots of inside South Park references to keep you laughing and remembering some of your favourite episodes, but our attention and immersive experience seemed to fade in and out throughout the game. Was it the difficult task of transforming a popular 2D cartoon into a 3D world? Possibly. Could it be the difficulty of setting an appropriate scenario that won’t offend everyone like most South Park episodes do, and therefore having to compromise on the spirit of why people love South Park? Also possible. The game itself was decent and had a few moments when we were completely immersed and/or laughing our heads off. And maybe that’s where the disconnect was. It felt more like a cool South Park ‘interactive experience’ than it did an escape room. We’ve experienced this before where a game and room design is so well modelled after the original location, that the game itself becomes less of a focus. We did feel it was an above average experience as a South Park attraction however so it’s important to take these reflections within context of the immersion compared to other escape rooms. The colours, the visuals, the little reminders of the story, and even the hint system… all of it tied together pretty well for a fun interactive experience. If there was one thing we really wished was included in the game’s design however it’s more emphasis on the first person narrative (again a common comment you’ll find from us). WE want to be the active people pushing the story along, WE want to be the people who decide how things will turn out in the end, and WE want to be reminded of how important our role is throughout the game. Cartman’s Escape Room does a better than average job of this, but we would’ve liked to have seen even more of it. We wanted more interaction with Cartman, more effects from our choices, and more suspense and urgency to complete the mission given to us. The best parts of this game are the moments we actually had South Park characters interacting with us, or doing ‘something’ that came as a result of our choices… we just needed more of it, and a little less emphasis on interacting with the set design or puzzles.

That’s an odd thing to say (“we just needed… less emphasis on interacting with the puzzles”)?! Why would we ever make a comment like that? Mostly because the puzzles in Cartman’s Escape Room aren’t specifically designed for the context of South Park Elementary. They’re more like decently designed generic puzzles that got placed in this room. In fairness, it probably wouldn’t be easy to design puzzles that specifically fit into the context of South Park Elementary (and still be family friendly), but it would’ve definitely added to the game’s immersion and helped tie things together. As they were, the puzzles in Cartman’s Escape Room felt like a series of challenges that pulled us in and out of the immersive atmosphere of the game. The puzzle path was mainly a linear two-to-two (at times one-to-one), with the puzzles being mostly suited for one pair of eyes and/or hands at a time. Some of the puzzles were quite clever and required out of the box thinking, whereas others were a lot more trial and error until you got the right solution. Overall nothing horrible, but at the same time, nothing we felt really wowed us. The special effects in-between and/or after puzzles is where the most fun was in this game!

Speaking of fun, how much of it did we have? Well it depends on how much of a South Park enthusiast you are. Those who love South Park won’t find anything closer to a real South Park experience than this room, and therefore game design details won’t matter quite as much because you’ll be laughing and enjoying the easter eggs most of the time. Those who are hoping for more of an ‘escape room experience’ with a South Park theme might need to temper their expectations a wee bit and remember this room is more of a fun ‘experience’ than it is a game. Did we like it? Yes we did. Would we recommend it for everyone? Well… some parents may want to keep their younger kids and pre-teens away because South Park isn’t necessarily the most appropriate form of entertainment, (despite Escape The Room doing a pretty good job of keeping it family friendly). But if you’re 19yrs+, have some familiarity with South Park, or you haven’t played too many escape rooms and you want to know what they’re all about – THIS room is for you! It’s funny, has an immersive atmosphere, and most of all… it’s hosted by Cartman! What more could you want? An ideal group size would be somewhere in the 3-6 range depending on the level of hands on interaction you prefer with the puzzles (more people in your group equals less opportunity to work with the puzzles). The ETR-LA staff are great and there’s plenty of fun photo opportunities with several big screen South Park digital backdrops! We hope the creators of South Park enjoyed their collaboration with Escape The Room LA, because we’d love to see even more at some point!

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

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