Sven’s Last Secret

5.8 Overall
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Sven's Last Secret

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If you’ve been following EscRoomAddict’s reviews throughout the covid-pandemic, you’ve probably noticed something a bit different… It’s been EIGHT LONNNNNG MONTHS since we’ve had the chance to enjoy doing what we do best… review a ‘real’ escape room! Thankfully, we’ve been able to focus on the crazy amount of in-home escape, puzzle and mystery games flooding the market. And being the socially responsible people we are (and maybe just a tad paranoid), ERA’s members decided it’s also probably best to avoid real escape rooms for the next little while (sigh)… That is until we received an invitation from the good people at ZigZag Escapes!

Why did we accept their invitation when we’ve turned down other companies’ requests for a review during the pandemic you ask? Because they’re located at a resort! Yup you read that right – it’s another ERA first for us. Nestled just outside the main building of Deerhurst Resort in Huntsville, Ontario you’ll find not one, but two, rustic cabins that have been converted into escape rooms by ZigZag Escapes. We couldn’t say no. So we hopped into our individual cars, drove 2½ hours north of Toronto, put on our new customized ERA masks, and conducted our very first covid-era escape room reviews! Was it worth the drive? Did anyone hit a moose on the way up? Were there any beavers in the cabins? Did the team sit around drinking maple syrup while uttering phrases like: ‘Take off you hoser!’ and ‘Let’s get out and about’ (our American ERA members love it when our Canadian members say that!) Only one way to find out…

‘Sven’s Last Secret’ was our second of ZigZag’s two escape rooms during our visit. Most of the team seemed to have some mixed feelings about the first room (‘The Artist’), so we were hoping for a slightly better experience. But first let’s take a quick look at the pre-room experience. To this day we’re still in disbelief some people don’t fully understand the importance of the pre-room experience. We’ve heard it said by some enthusiasts (and even owners) the pre-room experience doesn’t really matter because it has nothing to do with the escape room itself. Our response is always the same: “Oh? You’re sure about that?” (this is when all our ERA members stand back with a smirk on their faces to let our other ERA members with behavioural and team psychology backgrounds step forward). So the ability to find a company’s location doesn’t impact your frustration levels when you’re running late? Or trying to communicate to your teammates where to meet up? How about the availability of parking? In some cases you could be paying $10-$20 more for your escape room just because of where the company is located. Still not convinced pre-room impacts your enjoyment of a room? How about the company’s website… did it leave you with a good impression or did you feel like you were ordering from a local café where they let a local high school kid finish their site for a school project? And after you’ve dealt with those influences in how you’re approaching things, what about the friendliness of the staff? Were they on their phones and had something more important (than you) to focus on when you entered? Did their lobby look like a place that says they care about your comfort, or was it four Ikea chairs crammed into a closet sized room? Was there even a lobby at all? And what about snacks and drinks? Did you receive something complimentary with your booking (a pencil, a mug, a free drink… etc)? How about pre-game entertainment? What about your GM? Did they have to read the story from a clipboard? Did they make the pre-game debriefing enjoyable and believable? …etc, etc, etc. We could easily go on and on. Heck we could teach a course about the psychological impact of how the pre-room is critical to the overall enjoyment of an escape room… but hopefully there’s no need. The pre-room simply put, frames the whole experience. But before we do end up writing a dissertation on this, let’s get back to ‘Sven’s Last Secret’ shall we?

From first appearances, everything was good leading up to the cabin itself. ZigZag’s website isn’t flashy, but it’s decent, Deerhurst Resort is quite easy to find and just off the main highway, and there’s tons of available (and free) parking. The ZigZag staff members were nice and greeted us when we arrived. At the same time, there were a few notable rough spots with our pre-room experience. ZigZag doesn’t have a lobby (nope, no lobby at all) and therefore they also have none of the standard things you’d associate with a lobby (lockers, bathrooms, drinks, snacks, entertainment, shelter, visual stimulus, tv’s, monitors… etc). Aside from the two cabins/escape rooms, there’s a small portable where their office is located, leaving patrons to wait on benches outdoors (or in theory they could also wait in their cars, or the main lobby of the resort, which is about 300-400 meters away). Our GM was nice, but we could tell she was rushed, nervous and/or inexperienced with dramatic presentations. This was most noticeable with how she had her back turned to us while talking, and began sharing the pre-game story inside the cabin before the whole team had entered behind her. Nothing serious, but it did create a disconnection for a couple of our members who didn’t hear everything. We’ll get more into how this impacted the game’s immersion later on. Looking at the overall pre-room experience, although the first impressions of the location, staff and cabin were nice, the absence of a functional lobby alongside some shaky GM presentation made for a bit of a letdown… onwards and upwards though! Let’s not dwell on this too much and look at the room quality of ‘Sven’s Last Secret’.

From what was probably the weakest part of the experience to what is most certainly the best part! We all agreed the log cabin for this game was great! While it may not have been a large space (we’d advise no more than four people), the consistency of theme, construction quality, and mechanical/electrical tech were all great. There were a couple ‘dead spots’ in space usage, but overall we’d have to say it was better than average in how sturdy, reliable, and functional the room was. Most items were appropriately wooden, metallic, or paper-based, and from what we noticed there was only one small fastening wire that needed to be replaced as a safety concern. One of the more notable design drawbacks was the sightline of ‘the outside world’ through the cabin’s windows (resort parking lot, ZigZag’s office, the outdoor waiting area…etc). Some permanent curtains or other ways of blocking these views would help, but again we’ll talk about this when we look at the game’s immersion. One of our members was also concerned with how dirty one of the throw rugs was (each time it got moved, it created a big dust cloud that filled the cabin). We really saw these as minor issues however as they didn’t seem to impact our overall positive impression of the building and design quality.

From the most agreed upon aspect of the game to the most controversial… immersion. To say we were divided in our opinions would be an understatement, so let’s try to look at it from all sides. Again, our team unanimously agreed ‘Sven’s Last Secret’ was the better immersive (and quality) design of ZigZag’s two escape rooms. The theme was well presented, the props were mostly consistent with the theme, and the overall game fit with the surrounding environment. Beyond that, each of us had our own pros and cons with the immersion. One of our team members felt the story was adequate to get the point of the game across, whereas others felt the story and its development was pretty weak. A couple of our team members really disliked the constant sight of things outside the cabin which broke the immersive experience for them (the parking lot, the resort, the waiting area, the office portable… etc), whereas others didn’t seem distracted at all. Two of our members disliked some of the puzzles (and the amount of locks and keys) which made them feel disengaged, but again, others on the team didn’t seem as bothered. And finally, there was one part of the game that negatively impacted all of our immersive experiences, albeit to different degrees. The hint system. We’d usually talk about this in our analysis of the puzzles, but in this case, you’ll see why it needs to be addressed alongside the game’s immersion. Before the pandemic era came along, ZigZag used the old style walkie-talkie hint system where you just called the GM for a clue (a bit outdated, but nothing overly concerning). They wisely got rid of the walkie-talkies to reduce contact touch-points as a covid precautionary measure, and in its place started using a ‘drop-in’ hint system where the staff come into the cabin and ask if you need help every 15 minutes. It seems maybe a bit of inexperience might be the culprit here once again, but it’s been common practice for the past several years that no staff should ever enter an escape room game in progress unless there’s an emergency or something wrong with the game as it completely cripples the immersion. (The best parallel example would be that friend of yours who won’t stop talking while you’re watching a movie together… especially if it’s their third time seeing it!) We could see they were well intentioned, but it became a bit of an issue between the two escape rooms when some of the 15 minute drop-ins became conversations, while being given too many hints and answers (nerves on the part of the staff maybe?) So after the first drop-in at the 15 minute mark, we asked if would be possible for us to just signal to the camera when we needed a hint instead. Our GM graciously agreed and said to let her know when we need her to come back. Which we did at around the 31-minute mark. We waved our arms and shouted to the camera. No answer, and nobody came out of the office portable. Ok, maybe we were close to an answer and they hoped we would figure it out (fair enough). So we scrambled some more… then realized we still needed a hint so we tried at 33 minutes… still nobody. By this point a couple of our members were getting a bit annoyed and started making very obvious waving gestures and help signals at the camera for several minutes straight. It got to the point they also opened the front door and looked towards the office portable and called for help. Still nothing. 18 minutes later (at 48 minutes into the game) the staff finally came in to check on us because we were just sitting there with nothing but repetitive motions towards the camera, while lounging on the furniture. Again, this seemed to only mildly frustrate some of our members whereas a couple others were completely disengaged. The Esc Room Addict team strongly believes it’s not our primary role to be critics, but rather to be helpers of the companies and followers we’re honoured to interact with. In this case it was really hard for our team to not be critical of the immersive experience however… Having said all that, the scores still somehow balanced out reasonably well because there wasn’t a strong consensus on what the weaknesses in immersion were. Contrast that with our unanimously positive impression of the game’s theme and immersive design and you get an average score in the end.

For better or worse, the puzzles in ‘Sven’s Last Secret’ brought us mostly back into the fold with each other’s impressions. We say ‘mostly’ because we were surprised when one of our members had a very strong reaction to a puzzle that required some association they felt was overly vague (or as it’s commonly called within the industry: ‘A leap in logic’). But first let’s look at what’s done well with the puzzles. There were some really crafty puzzles in this game! We liked how most of the puzzles fit in with the theme, and we particularly enjoyed how they were seamlessly blended into the actual design of the cabin itself. For the most part, the puzzles were linear and inclusive (even if they weren’t specifically team building) in nature. On the whole, the puzzles also seemed to be moderately challenging so that both enthusiasts and newbies might enjoy them. Again, the size of the room along with the linear progression and style of the puzzles would suggest this is a good room for 2-3 people (or a family of four if you have kids who enjoy searching). This was visibly true for our team as we frequently had one or two team members taking a back seat to just watch. So what were some needed areas of improvement then? Keys… sooooo… many… keys… Depending on your school of thought (on the whole locked box-to-locked box style of game) you’ll either hate or enjoy the most common feature of this room – there are a LOT (and we mean a LOT) of keys and locks that simply lead to more keys and locks. Some people (like most of us) have come ‘full circle’ on this issue and don’t really mind going through the motions in solving rooms like these, but we know there are some within the escape room industry who absolutely detest this style of game design and have strong opinions about it. But that’s not us so we won’t dwell on it other than to make you aware that you’ll be dealing with a lot of different keys, and a lot of different locks. We had one “Hey that’s pretty cool!’’ moment with one of the puzzles which is always nice to experience, but aside from that, the puzzles didn’t really stand out as overly impressive or disappointing on the whole.

Leading us to our final thoughts and how much we enjoyed the game… Maybe it’s best to start with who we think would enjoy this game. If you have a family with children (ages 7-12) then you’ll probably enjoy the experience because there’s lots to search for, touch, move, and experiment with. People who are completely new to escape rooms may also be interested in trying this room because there’s some strong immersive design attributes that make ‘Sven’s Last Secret’ a good first example of what escape rooms are generally like. And heck, if you’re just someone who’s already at Deerhurst Resort (with many of the resort’s amenities closed due to covid) we’d ask why wouldn’t you visit the only escape room within 60 miles (100km) of Hunstville? At the same time, do we think most enthusiasts or people who’ve done a handful of previous escape rooms would enjoy ‘Sven’s Last Secret’? Unfortunately the answer is probably not. Each of our team members walked away with one or two issues that really frustrated them. Is it a ‘bad’ escape room? No, we don’t think it’s fair to put that label on it, but it is fair to say it’s underwhelming compared to most escape rooms you’ll find throughout North America. The game has some older generation design issues, the staff could brush up on their immersive presentation skills, there’s no lobby (with no lobby amenities), and it’s hard to ignore the 18 minutes of game time where we just sat waving and shouting at the camera for help. A bit of a rough go, but we’re firm believers that good people ultimately make good things happen, so we know with a few tweaks and maybe a little bit of training, the team at ZigZag will make some changes and have people begging to stay at Deerhurst Resort just so they can visit their rooms.

We want to hear your thoughts on this game! 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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