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A Jigsaw Killer doll replica from the Saw movie franchise, sitting in a dingy bathroom
Photograph: Nicola Dowse

Escape rooms in Melbourne

These are some of Melbourne's best and most befuddling escape rooms – can you make it out in time?

Written by
Rose Johnstone
,
Nicola Dowse
&
Cassidy Knowlton
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Melbourne is well and truly obsessed with escape rooms. After the first one opened in 2014, more rooms started opening all over the city. These days, attempting to get out of rooms by solving puzzles has gone from a bizarre concept to a popular pastime. Each escape room revolves around a different theme – and caters to all manner of phobias. Time Out took the challenge of visiting escape rooms all over Melbourne. Whether we got out in time is a different matter.

If you're still up for a challenge once you've riddled your way out, you could always head to a bar with a boardgame or try your hand at mini golf at Holey Moley

The Mystery Rooms
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  • Fitzroy

There's no guarantee of happily ever after

There are four rooms here at the Mystery Rooms, and the fourth, A Grimm Finale, is the culmination of the previous three. You are only allowed to book the fourth room once you've completed the others, and it's in the briefing for this one that we learn what the purpose of those quests was. In the previous quests, we picked up three precious objects, which will help us defeat the evil Snow Queen, the ultimate boss in A Grimm Finale. 

We start off in the Big Bad Wolves' headquarters, temporarily empty as the wolves have gone off to do some sort of evil mischief. There are fairytale objects galore – we spot things from the Three Little Pigs, the Princess and the Pea, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Princess and the Frog, Pinocchio, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rapunzel and Cinderella.

There's a magic mirror on the wall, who will offer help if we get really and truly stuck. Symbols help us determine which clues go with which locks and puzzles (eg the picture of Pinocchio goes with the Pinocchio doll, and really pay attention to where all those frogs are). Often the clues and the puzzles are on opposite sides of the room, so we need to work together to call out what we're seeing. The room has three levels (a main level, an upstairs and a subterranean dwarf mine), and there's a clever communications device to help you talk to your teammates on a different level. 

The Mystery Rooms advises you to bring a warm top with you, and it's advice you should follow. If you escape the wolves' lair you'll end up in Narnia, which has been taken over by the Snow Queen. And, well, they don't call her the Snow Queen for nothing.  

Outcome: Success! (Well, technically we were one minute, 35 seconds over, but what's a few seconds between magical friends?)
Atmosphere: 5/5
Creativity of puzzles: 5/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Fun: 5/5
Best quote: “What do I do with all these frogs?”
Our tip: Try all the buttons, doors and objects when you first get in – the whole room could be useful, and you need to know what you can open before you begin.

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  • South Yarra
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Beware the screaming painting

Real talk: Its Nightmare is genuinely scary, so if you can’t make it through a horror movie without wetting yourself then we suggest trying another of Rush Escape Games rooms. There are six after all, with themes spanning everything from regal medieval halls to superhero hangouts (a favourite for kids). There’s even a super tough room available that was so hard (it had a 5 per cent success rate) Rush had to modify it slightly.

But back to 60 minutes of puzzling, R15+ terror that is the Its Nightmare, the escape room. Time Out's bravest decided to review. Led down a dark, glowing red corridor our intrepid escapees are informed that not only do many people receive bad news shortly after exiting this cursed room, but that even the CCTV is said to cut out occasionally (though we had plenty of assistance when needed).

After making our way down an even darker hallway (with bonus creepy crawlies at our feet) we emerge into the set of a horror flick, complete with bloody handprints and possessed paintings. Genuine screams occurred more than once as we picked our way through the room’s puzzles and tried not to freak out when we had to pat down faceless, creepy child mannequins (anything for a clue).

The flow of each escape room varies at Rush. Its Nightmare is a more intuitive room where you enter with little instruction or direction – a choice that adds to the overall unsettling environs. Read all notes you find carefully for clues, and don’t be afraid to stick your hands into strange holes – if you want to escape alive, that is.

Outcome: Success!
Atmosphere: 5/5
Creativity of puzzles: 3/5
Difficulty: 3/5
Fun: 5/5
Best quote: “I like that room because of the aircon, but I don't want to be in there because I don't like all the screaming.”
Our tip: Double check everything, some clues are easy to overlook due to your sheer terror.

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  • South Melbourne

Dive deep into a war veteran's fractured mind

There are three different rooms to be done at this venue, and we are trying our luck at Fractured: Remember Me. Players are trapped inside the mind of Robert, a World War II veteran who has suffered from PTSD and is in a coma. The object of the game is to make connections between his memories, wake him up and reconnect him with his family. 

We are initially brought into a small room with white walls and little adornment. A plinth in the middle contains a sepia-toned photo album and a one-sentence instruction on a piece of paper. On one wall is an old-fashioned radio, another contains a military jacket, hat and canteen, and a spooky video projection plays on the main wall.  

That's about it, but the deceptively simple room holds some pretty cool secrets and a very impressive reveal. It's a race against the clock (70 minutes), but more than that, it feels like a race against Robert's potential death. It somehow feels like a very personal story, and we are emotionally invested in bringing Robert out of his coma and reuniting him with his loved ones.  

Outcome: Success! But, dear reader, we must confess. We cheated just an eensy bit. Four different puzzles delivered four different numbers for a lock, and we got three of them and their order. Rather than do the last puzzle (which was multistage and was eating into our time), we locked in the three numbers we knew and used trial and error to find out the last number. Our deception was immediately noticed – the walkie talkie we had for hints crackled to life, and our host said, "Um, how did you get that open?" We do not condone cheating. But we're just saying, it can be done. 
Atmosphere: 4/5
Creativity of puzzles: 5/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Fun:  5/5
Best quote: “God, old-timey people are super creepy.”
Our tip: Pay attention to the audio as it plays. It adds to the story but will also help you solve your puzzles.

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First things first: despite the name, you will not die if you fail to escape in time at Escape or Die. Though Evan Raif, the creator and head of Escape or Die, says people have definitely called up asking just that. And having worked our way through the escape room, the great storytelling means that there are definitely moments where you feel like your life is in peril.

Escape or Die pitches itself as a little different to your average escape room, but the core concept is the same. Your team enters a room and you have a set amount of time to escape from said room by solving puzzles. Where Escape or Die differs is in how it’s more story-based, and your ability to follow the story plays a big role in your success. 

The premise of the room is that you and your mates are new employees at a haunted house, and you’ve just started your first day of work. What first appears as a delightfully hammy attraction, however, soon becomes increasingly sinister as you realise all is not right with the haunted house’s staff. There are quite a few video interludes between puzzles (think of them like cutscenes in a video game) which really do place you right in the narrative, thanks to some clever techniques featuring pre-recorded audio and video. The videos are varied too, switching from advertisements to found footage to quirky (yet disturbing) animations. 

Escape or Die doesn’t have the hardest puzzles we’ve encountered, but they are creative and require a healthy dose of lateral thinking – and some teamwork – to solve. Again, you’ll be rewarded for paying attention to tiny details and for not disregarding items at face value. We loved the fact that while the game starts out pretty normal and unthreatening, by the time you enter the second room there’s absolutely no time for chit chat as you race to escape from what might be the goriest escape room we’ve tried. At times we had to remind ourselves “it’s only a game, it’s not real, it’s only a game.”

Outcome: Success!
Atmosphere: 5/5
Creativity of puzzles: 4/5
Difficulty: 3/5
Fun: 5/5
Best quote: "I think he just blew his eye out... and presumably his brain."
Our tip: Pay special attention to the story – even when things get a little hairy. Doing so might just save your skin.

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  • South Melbourne

Log on to help out

The original Escape Room has launched a very 2020 room, called, appropriately, Isolation. The room is entirely virtual, but that does not mean it's a videogame. The experience takes place entirely over Zoom, and as we log on, we have no idea what to expect.

After a video introduction, we realise there's someone else on the call, and that someone is not doing very well. The man with us is Dr Logan Kaye, an astrophysicist stranded in a remote research station across the globe, and he really needs our help. He's suffering from amnesia, and we soon discover that if we don't recover his memories quickly, he's not going to ever leave the station. 

The physical escape room is in Logan's room, and solving it means getting him to find clues, try combinations, match numbers and complete other tasks that escape room participants usually do themselves. That means there's absolutely no way to cheat, and Logan himself is both puzzle and guide, making gentle suggestions to lead us to the right track but also gamely trying countless variations until we hit upon the right one. 

He's not the only interactive element of the game, with the Zoom chat function used to send us numerous password-protected clues, which each include a bit more information about the overall storyline. There are numerous visual puzzles for us to solve, and we sometimes have the ability to move pieces of papers around, flip things over and otherwise manipulate clues online. Each breakthrough helps Logan get a bit closer to his missing memories – and us a bit closer to the answer. 

The room's storyline mirrors much of the world's experience during 2020, and the sense of being alone, of needing help, of relying on strangers on the internet, is something with which we can all relate. The format of the room also means people from all over the world can play together, which was not something we considered possible at the start of 2020. Maybe we're not so isolated after all.

Outcome: Success. Things looked dicey for a little while, but we made it through 
Atmosphere: Hard to say? As atmospheric as your laptop can be?
Creativity of puzzles: 4/5
Difficulty: 3/5
Fun: 5/5
Best quote: “Can you please double-check? If my maths are wrong, this guy dies.”
Our tip: If you get stuck, you can ask Logan to describe his surroundings and tell you what he remembers. He might know more than he's saying. 

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  • South Melbourne

A mother lode of intrigue

Months after creating Melbourne's first escape room in Flemington in 2014, Owen Spear and Ali Cheetham opened a second one inside a converted factory in South Melbourne. The couple meets us out on the street, then leads us down a dark corridor. We stop at an unassuming door, grasping torches and a walkie-talkie. Deep breath – here we go again.

The door clicks shut behind us and instantly we’re transported to the control station of an old mine. Low, yellow light picks up a typed note sitting on a desk, warning us that there’s been a blockage inside the mine: our mates could be inside. We must locate the source of the fault – or else. At times our three-person team ponders puzzles alone, but at others, we’re huddled over a rock, a jar, a map, waiting for that moment when the answer comes to one, two or all three of us at once. We encounter audio-based clues, physical challenges and strange symbols. Eventually, it all comes down to a final code that we’ll need to save the mine. With sweaty palms, we punch in the numbers for the third time… and we’ve done it! We’re safe, and our puppet masters enter the room with smiles on their faces. These guys have as much fun watching us as we do solving their puzzles. 

Outcome: Success!
Atmosphere: 4/5
Creativity of puzzles: 4/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Fun: 4/5
Best quote: “These rocks are trying to speak to me.”
Our tip: Look outside the box. Look outside the room. Look… outside.

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  • Hawthorn

A gory escape room not for the faint-hearted

Saw, arguably, is the original escape game. Heck, the film franchise’s Jigsaw Killer even infamously says “I want to play a game”. So it makes perfect sense that Rush Escape Game drew inspiration from the classic horror film to create an escape room for its second venue. 

Hacksaw is the first escape room built at Rush Escape Game’s second venue in Hawthorn (the original Rush is still open for business in South Yarra). As with the movie it’s inspired by, you’ll start Hacksaw chained up and will have to solve some very creative riddles if you want to escape alive (don’t worry, for legal reasons all guests do escape alive). 

The set design in Hacksaw is genuinely creepy and true to the feeling of the films, with the whole room built by hand. The escape room takes place inside a shed decked out to resemble a dingy bathroom complete with a shower and toilet (which, as we’re gently reminded, does not work, so please pee beforehand). Steel yourself if you’re irked by dirt, blood, needles, dead bodies or small spaces, as the room pulls no punches in creating its eerie atmosphere. 

Teamwork is key to solving the puzzles, but for the average escape room player, we would suggest a max of four people so that everyone can feel involved. Rush also informs us that the gory escape room is also popular with couples looking for an alternative date idea. Nothing brings you closer than trauma, after all. There’s a smidge of math involved too, so keep that in mind when deciding who to play with. 

Outcome: Success!
Atmosphere: 5/5
Creativity of puzzles: 5/5
Difficulty: 3/5
Fun: 5/5
Best quote: “Have you checked under the dead body?”
Our tip: Don’t forget about clues at the start – you may need them again later.

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  • South Melbourne
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Try not to scream...

If you’re not a fan of horror movies, then you might want to steer clear of the ‘Leaper’ escape room at Woodbury in South Melbourne. If you are a fan of horror movies, then you might still want to consider whether you really want to take your enthusiasm to the next, immersive level.

‘Leaper’ is the fourth in Woodbury’s series of rooms, and the highest on their ‘Difficulty’ and ‘Fear’ scales (their other rooms span the wild west, abandoned toys and island mysteries). Buoyed by recent escape successes, our team decided to take it on. After all, the concept is brilliant: we’re detectives in the future who can ‘leap’ into the minds of criminals using experimental crime-fighting technology. The only problem is, if we don’t get in and out in 60 minutes, we could stay trapped in his mind forever.

Filled with nervous tension, the four of us are blindfolded and led, sweaty palm to palm, into the room. The timer begins, the blindfolds come off, and we realise that we’ve been separated into teams of two. We’re locked in separate rooms, and in the gulf between the rooms is a (mannequin) woman bound to a chair. For a moment, we feel as helpless as she looks. Quickly, it dawns on us that to be reunited, we’re going to have to solve puzzles by yelling verbal instructions to each other. Once we find our way out and into the next room, we realise that things are only going to get scarier.

It’s one thing to fill a space with creepy props and fake blood; it’s another to create genuine, heart-stopping tension. ‘Leaper’ packs plenty of horror movie freak-out moments (always when you least expect them), and cleverly saves some of the biggest reveals until last. Challenges are surprising and varied and more plot unfolds as minutes melt away. Some particularly fiendish puzzles mean that we’re left scratching our heads for a bit too long – and when our time is up, we’re informed that no one has successfully escaped the room in time. Still, as far as escape rooms go, ‘Leaper’ is the biggest adrenaline rush we’ve had yet. Try it, if you dare.

Outcome: Failed
Atmosphere: 4/5
Creativity of puzzles: 5/5
Difficulty: 5/5
Fun: 4/5
Best quote: “I don’t want to get trapped in his evil mind forever!”
Our tip: Communication is key at the beginning – you won’t get far without finding a way to contact your lost teammates.

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Escape Hunt Melbourne
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  • Melbourne

Not your average trip to the museum

There are now so many similarly named escape room venues in Melbourne that these days, what really sets them apart is the creativity of their themed rooms.

So imagine our excitement to discover Escape Hunt: one branch of a huge global company that changes up its four rooms every nine months on average. In the majority of rooms, willing captors are cast as detectives, hired to solve everything from the thief of a secret beer recipe (‘Secrets of the Brewery’) to the murder of our colleagues (‘Law and Disorder’).

This time around, we decide to go for ‘Odditorium’ – an experience set in a spooky museum. In the comfortable waiting room, our friendly hosts informs us that our four-person team has been hired to find out why employees of the Odditorium have been mysteriously disappearing. The current curator Oliver has begun acting strangely; how long will it be until he vanishes?

We step into the small, dimly lit space, and begin to let our eyes adjust to our surroundings. We’re surrounded by bookshelves, with shelf after shelf filled with statues, books and other oddities. So far, so normal (if a little bit creepy). It’s only until ten minutes later that we realise that this room is just the beginning of a much larger journey.

As consummate puzzle-masters, Escape Hunt know how to weave a devious plot through the entire experience. Slowly, the mystery of the Odditorium unfolds, and it’s much darker than we imagined. As we venture deep into the occult, there’s a thrilling feeling that anything could happen – not to mention a genuine sense of growing uneasiness. The farther we go, the more often we need to ask for clues through our walkie-talkie; the combination of visual, logical and mathematical puzzles means that we’re constantly on our toes. Unfortunately, a major prop in the centre of the final room turns out to be a red herring; not intentionally, but because the game-makers have shifted things around, and it’s no longer part of the game. It’s the one disappointing point to an otherwise devilishly difficult escape room that is full of surprises. When the Odditorium changes guise and a new room opens, we’ll be there.

Outcome: Success!
Atmosphere: 5/5
Creativity of puzzles: 4/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Fun:  4/5
Best quote: “These dolls are going to haunt my nightmares.”
Our tip: There’s a lot to get done if you want to make it out before time is up. Sometimes, you’ll need to split up and work on several puzzles at a time.

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  • Melbourne

Navigating through a space station isn't as easy as Star Trek makes it out to be

Trapt’s ‘SPACE’ room teleports us into a futuristic space station far, far away from Earth. After signing a waiver to submit ourselves to inter-galactic travels, the five of us were ushered into this spacious, futuristic room with an array of electronic displays in front of us. It was like entering the USS Enterprise, except there’s no trusty Captain James T. Kirk around to help us. We had 50 minutes to escape from this suspicious space station, before it self-destructed and annihilated planet Earth.

The staff said this was Trapt’s most challenging escape room, having technically two “escapes” combined into one. You reach a point in the escape where you have the chance to finish and exit through your exit door, or you can choose to continue to a second, more difficult challenge in a separate room. It’s suggested you only start the second part if you have time to spare – those who have done many escape rooms will likely want to challenge themselves with both parts.

The room had an intricate mix of numerical and interactive symbol-based puzzles sprawled over the first two areas, which we managed to unlock with great effort. We punched in a lot of numerical combinations, yelled at each other across rooms about codes that barely even makes sense, and even accidentally forced open a cabinet just because we were that enthusiastic in finding clues.

Although some of the props were a bit flimsy (and there were a few red herrings – beware!), it was still an exciting experience overall.

Also at Trapt, the biggest incentive for beating the clock is getting to the cocktails in the adjoining bar. The low-lit basement bar is a speakeasy-style den; all exposed brick walls, dark wooden columns and leather couches. Cocktails are sorted by each escape room theme, which is cool. Take your time when deciding what to order; the menu offers page after page of classic cocktails, as well as an impressive selection of whiskies and a mostly local range of craft beer and wine. Sticking around for a meal? While Trapt doesn’t do food, they’ll let you order a Crust pizza from upstairs to eat in the bar.

Outcome: Success (we finished the first escape room, but didn't have time for the second, more challenging part).
Atmosphere: 3/5
Creativity of puzzles: 4/5
Difficulty: 4/5
Fun: 4/5
Best quote: "Is this lady saying ‘Omina’ or ‘Omega’? Her accent’s really weird!”
Our tip: Don’t use it to cheat, but we suggest bringing your phone or good torch in – the one they’ve provided isn’t strong enough and you will definitely need it to see in darkened corners of the room.

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