Date played: Thursday, July 26, 2018
Number of players: 2
Max number of players possible for this room: 12 (I think)
Public or private game: Private (only because no strangers booked with us)
Outcome: Escaped / Did not escape
This is my first review of what is technically a non-escape room experience. According to the website, 5 Wits is a “live action immersive adventure” and I think that’s probably the best way to describe it.
I had varying impressions of 5 Wits before I went. First, I heard rave reviews and it made me want to check it out. Then I heard that it was more geared towards kids and I wasn’t sure. I watched a promo video on their website and it seemed like it would be pretty neat, so in the end I decided to go for it. There’s nothing else really like 5 Wits around the Chicago area so I figured if I was going to be in NY, I should take the opportunity to see what it was all about.
The space in West Nyack is inside a nice mall, the Palisades Center. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived but the entire mall is huge, so 5 Wits definitely wasn’t hurting for space, and it looked clean and enticing.
We were allowed to bring our purses into the rooms (I assume, because the employees offered to keep our things in a cubby if we wanted.) We both opted to leave our items in the lobby with them.
Groups are admitted into the rooms on a rolling basis, so every 10-15 minutes they will let in a new group waiting in line. There are multiple rooms inside each adventure, so as soon as one group advances to the next room, they will start any waiting group in the first room behind them. My main concern was that we would be able to play alone, and luckily we were able to play all 3 rooms privately.
Before entering the rooms, we were given a short breakdown of the rules (outside the rooms, always a plus) and we were shown an intro video to start the stories, also done outside the rooms.
I’m going to start with my overall comments about the experience, and then I will provide specifics about each separate room.
First, the immersion in the rooms is top notch. This to me is what all escape rooms should be. When you enter the tomb, it feels entirely like a tomb. There are high ceilings and everything looks and feels like stone and it’s not just a regular room; it was clearly built to be exactly that. I would say this was the best thing about 5 Wits. You step into these worlds and the immersion is pretty total, and it’s great.
Second, the puzzles. 5 Wits is definitely designed for kids around ages 8-12. The puzzles are easy in design, but not always in execution. There were only 2 of us playing and it would certainly have been much easier at times if we had at least 4 people in our group, if only because some of the puzzles had us literally running around like crazy. But in general, most of our difficulties came from a lack of time/manpower, and not from problems figuring out the puzzles. Still, even with “easy” puzzles, we enjoyed completing them. I did keep thinking about how much I would like to bring my nephews there to play, because they would love it, but as an adult it was still plenty fun.
In general, we did not enjoy the timed experience of 5 Wits as much as an escape room. There are multiple rooms inside each themed experience and the rooms will usher you along after a certain amount of time, regardless of whether or not you have completed the tasks set to you. We had at least one moment of being seconds away from completing a puzzle, only to have the room “solve” it for us to move us forward, and it was SO unsatisfying. I think I would have rather had a set amount of time to get through all of the rooms at our own pace… but then there was at least one point where we could not find what we needed to finish one puzzle, and without hints we could have been stuck there the whole time. The rooms did offer automated hints along the way, and I thought that was really great. I just wish there would have continued to be more and more hints until we were able to solve things ourselves. I’m sure more escape rooms would love to set up automated hints this way too.
Another downside to the timed experience/rolling basis of the rooms was that at one point we could very clearly hear a group behind us. Not their voices, but the sounds as they worked in the room we were just in. That took away from the immersion aspect of things, because it reminded me that my adventurous quest was being played over and over again and that it wasn’t just for us. Also in that same themed experience (this was in Drago’s Castle), we were sure they would be able to hear OUR room when we were further along, and we both said it would stink if you were in that group and possibly had something spoiled for you beforehand, just by hearing the group ahead of you experience something first. I understand why it makes sense for them to operate this way, especially on very busy days, but it would be so much nicer to have enough time allotted to be able to do the whole experience with no one else adjacent to you the whole time.
A few minor details: the audio in all the rooms was VERY loud. Not so much that it hurts your ears or anything, but definitely enough that it is pretty much impossible to talk over (and sometimes even think over.) I wouldn’t have minded having the volume turned down at least a little… but then again, maybe that volume added to the immersion, with the sound literally filling up the whole space. I think it might be giving 5 Wits too much credit to say that they designed things this way on purpose, to make the rooms more challenging as you try to communicate and solve puzzles over the noise, but that did factor in for us at times.
Another minor detail: the temperature in the rooms. We were there in July and it was a very humid day outside, so that affected things. For the bulk of the experience it wasn’t an issue, but there were distinct times during The Tomb and Deep Space that I wished the rooms had A/C. ESPECIALLY with Deep Space. Even before doing anything, I walked into a room in The Tomb and immediately wished it was cooler. But this obviously depends on the outside weather and may not be an issue at all for people if they visit at different times of the year.
We did encounter at least one glaring technology issue with a puzzle that just wasn’t working correctly. There was a button we needed to press in order to make something happen, and we would press the button over and over again with no result, and then eventually for no reason, one time it would work. So that was frustrating, especially because it would make us complete the puzzle incorrectly when it didn’t work.
And now, the rooms themselves…
We decided to start with The Tomb. The story for this room on the website was:
“Prove your worthiness and survive to tell the tale!
Enter a 3,000 year old tomb with only a flashlight and your wits to guide you! At an archaeological dig, you find yourself deep in an Egyptian tomb, trapped, the ultimate escape room… and face to face with the spirit of an ancient Pharaoh! Are you brave enough to make it out alive?
The only way to survive will be to beat the Pharaoh at his own game and prove your worthiness… but watch out for traps along the way! Test your skills in this amazing adventure thousands of years in the making!”
I really liked this room a lot. One of my favorite memories from all 3 rooms happened at the beginning of this room, and I still feel like I can’t get over how cool it was. I don’t know how it was done, but it was surprising, exciting, and just GREAT. Especially since it was the first room we were playing, it floored me. That’s it – that’s the experience you play these games for. When a room can create an experience like that, they’ve done it.
I liked the setting of the tomb and I liked the puzzles a lot. We beat this room and successfully escaped.
The second room we attempted was Deep Space. The story:
“Ever teleport to an abandoned starship?
After no contact for years, there’s been a distress signal from the abandoned starship, Nebulous! You have just 30 minutes to teleport aboard the craft, figure out what happened and get back safely.
But be prepared to battle an asteroid storm, rewire the engines, refuel the power supply and stop an evil Artificial Intelligence in time to save the world!”
This is the room I was the least excited about. Something about space themes just doesn’t interest me that much, and it ended up being my least favorite of the three rooms. I think my favorite part of the room was the very beginning, since they incorporated a cool effect, but then I quickly lost interest. There was a lot more technology and more video game type puzzles in this experience and I always want more tactile things. I also felt like the puzzles at the end of the game just went on for FOREVER. This was one part where having only 2 players meant we that we got a legitimate workout trying to solve things, so maybe I was just physically tired, but I also just truly wanted to stop playing at one point because it felt repetitive and boring. I think we might not have successfully “beaten” this room but I can’t even remember.
We saved this room for last because it seemed that universally people agreed that it was the best of the three at this location. The story:
“Your medieval quest begins now!
We’ve opened the drawbridge on Drago’s Castle — an epic live-action adventure! But the dragon has escaped. And the princess needs your help recapturing him.
See if you have what it takes to escape the dungeon, solve ancient riddles, discover secret passageways and chase down the giant dragon! Otherwise, there may not be a storybook ending…”
First of all, the pre-room story for this room is SUPERB. It was magical and charming and has still left me with feelings of “How did they do that??” It’s worth raving about because the things they do are simple but still just SO cool. I want escape room owners everywhere to have to come and see this so that more places can do things like this.
This room made me want to play a really good medieval-themed escape room. Each section of the experience had a cool feel to it, and overall I felt like the combination of rooms was the coolest out of all 3 themes. It’s such a great setting for a themed experience like this and it was fun to see what they created.
They also really went for a “Wow” ending with this room. I don’t want to say that as if I wasn’t wowed by it, but I was confused, and that took me away from the experience. We concluded later that the room must have needed to prod us along too much throughout the experience, and that must have caused us to “lose.” So even though in those final moments it seemed like we had done what we needed to do, we still lost, and it made everything not make sense. While still in the room I said, “That’s not the end… There’s gotta be more…. Is that it?” Before playing the Deep Space room we had seen another group exiting Drago’s Castle and I heard the music playing from the room, so mostly because of that, I realized that our game had definitely ended differently. I think it’s amazing that they even have the possibility of different endings, so kudos to them, but it was not very clear at the time what had happened.
As a side note, if anyone has played Drago’s Castle and won, would you please email me at nothingbutthesleuth (at) gmail (dot) com? I would love to know what happens during the “winning” ending, and since I live nowhere near the area, I may never get to know!
Once the games were over that was pretty much it. All of the employees working the front desk area were very friendly, and they answered our questions and talked with us for a few minutes before we left.
My feelings since playing these rooms have fluctuated over the past week. At first, I felt some regret, since we had QUITE a trek taking public transportation from NYC all the way out to West Nyack and I was afraid that it was not worth the experience that was mostly for kids. But as a few more days went by, I felt more like I was glad I had experienced it. There’s really nothing like 5 Wits near Chicago and there are a ton of things that they do really well. I feel hopeful about the future of escape rooms after visiting, and all the things that places could do. And even though I felt that 5 Wits was more for kids, I know we still had fun and had a different kind of experience.
What I really want to will into existence is 5 Wits, but for adults, with longer time limits. If I could take their wonderfully immersive sets and awesome technology, keep their automated clue system but with the volume lowered a bit, and add in harder puzzles with more time for each space, that would be perfect. These experiences are like junior escape rooms, so if they could make harder versions, I imagine they would be super successful in the ER market. It’s exciting to think of what could be!
Play This Room If…
-You have a group of at least 4 people
-You have kids around the ages of 8-12 years old in your group
-You appreciate highly immersive scenery over puzzles
Skip This Room If…
-You play escape rooms for the thrill of solving puzzles
-You plan on visiting on a very hot day, as I think it would get too hot inside the rooms
-You don’t have access to a car and would need to take public transportation there
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5
Company website: http://www.5-wits.com