The Cranial Carnival

5.9 Overall
Room Quality
Puzzle Design
Fun Factor
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The Cranial Carnival

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Located a few minutes south-west of LA’s famed Beverly Hills district, you’ll find Escapedom. The entrance is found at a recessed street front archway, with stairs leading from the back of the unit to the upper floor. The appearance can be a bit intimidating at first, but don’t worry because once you get inside you’ll find yourself in a small but interestingly designed waiting room. It reminded us of the red room from Twin Peaks (floor length, scarlet, velvet curtains covering all four walls, along with a couple small tables and dark coloured lazy boy couches). It was eerily quiet as the thick curtains dampened the sound from everything inside the room. The only things missing were the zebra-striped floor tiles, and of course the dancing little person talking backwards to us. “Ok ok, we get it, it’s a well designed David Lynch waiting room… what about the rest?” Parking is limited to the surrounding streets which may or may not work in your favour depending on the time of day. Our host was welcoming, kind, funny, and had a touch of nervous energy allowing us to help him be at ease as we enjoyed our surroundings. Drinks were available for purchase, and there were a couple small table puzzles and things to look at. When our host started the pre-room video we could see there was rehearsed interaction, with well timed jokes, and just the right amount of campy humour to our liking. We appreciated this and had a good laugh even though we were later informed the timing and wording was a bit off. No harm done. Then something interesting happened… the host walked to the corner of the room, pulled back one of the curtains and revealed a secret ‘gateway’ (door) to our escape room. It was a really nice transition, and minus a few things like parking and external building appearances, it was a fairly decent start… And so it began… We were off to The Cranial Carnival!

The room quality at first glance seemed great. A well themed, well designed, old style carnival inside the mind of our victim… err… patient. It was complete with carnival style games, imagery, and attraction booths. Sadly that’s when little things started to creep into our experience. A couple tech issues with the audio, lighting, and feedback response on various games started to leave us a bit dismayed as we traveled further into The Cranial Carnival. We could almost hear the morale of our hosts sinking as we encountered one tech issue after another. In the end a small list of things didn’t work (but for reference and in fairness, when they were reset, they DID work but we sadly didn’t get to see them in proper fashion until after the game). It was just one of those days where the tech and the mechanisms didn’t want to play nice with us. Aside from that, the build quality itself was solid, and we appreciated the unique design work and layout of the room. It was also nice how they used all the space given to them in a way that surprised us (and we don’t tend to surprise all that easily anymore). So on the one hand the tech issues did bring our spirits down in sympathy for the Escapedom team, but at the same time the build design and solid components helped balance it out.

The ERA team has a tried and true saying that goes something like this: “As the room design goes, so too does the immersion (in most cases).” This was one of those times. Much like the room quality issues, our immersive experience was a bit of a carnival ride (ok, slight pun intended). Each time we got into the spirit of the game, we’d encounter another audio, visual, or reset issue that took us out of the experience. At one point, we spent about 10 minutes working on a puzzle that couldn’t be solved because of a tech issue, but our host unfortunately wasn’t able to see it from his vantage point on the cameras, and without any intervention we just kept trying different ideas until we could find the solution. Both the host and the owner were very apologetic in the end, and it’s always hard to mention these things when the people behind the experience seem genuinely nice and wanted us to experience the ideal version of the room. All we can give as a word of encouragement here is that it seems our experience was an isolated one because when talking to other enthusiasts, it didn’t seem they had as many tech and reset issues. Just in case, we’d suggest asking your host in advance of entering The Cranial Carnival if everything is working in peak form because this is a room that heavily relies on things working properly.

And the puzzles? Yes… the puzzles! These were a nice highlight of our experience. We really enjoyed the amount, the variety, and the skills used for the puzzles. They kept perfectly in theme, while at the same time subtly reminding us of why we were there and what our mission was. The initial room was a nice 3-to-3 puzzle path, and each puzzle was fairly inclusive by nature so that even when a puzzle didn’t work properly we were able to work together on another puzzle. If you ever wondered what it would look like to have a modern day escape room designer wake up 50 years ago in a small county carnival… this is it! A very nice blending of tasks, puzzles and scenic interactions kept us thinking and engaged with our surroundings. The hint system was a bit dated with old style walkie talkies (perhaps there’s a cool way to have Zoltan or another carnival attraction deliver the clues), but in the end it didn’t really bother us too much. Again, we can’t really ignore the tech and reset issues, but when talking about the puzzles in general the pros greatly outweighed the cons in our opinion!

Did we have fun? Yes… then not so much… then yes… then… etc (you get the idea). In the end we did have a decent amount of fun, but we couldn’t help but think of how much more we would’ve liked the game if we only got to see it in its full glory without the glitches. Again, we’re thankfully experienced enough to know (after 1200+ escape rooms played in North America), sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Even though we’re honour bound to relay our personal experiences, we’d be doing a grave injustice if we didn’t mention The Cranial Carnival has the potential to be really fun, immersive, and interesting escape room. Who do we think would enjoy it the most? You’re probably going to want a group of 3-6 people, and depending on the level of puzzle solving experience within your group, a mixed crowd would do fine. There might be some portions of the game a bit too scary for kids, but it’s equally likely they’ll find themselves laughing and being oddly fascinated just as much as we were. Our hope is that as time rolls along the amazing team at Escapedom will be able to make little tweaks here so that The Cranial Carnival becomes a fan favourite for everyone.

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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