By: Jessica Goddard
The organized chaos and clutter of The Tape Escape endearingly reflects the atmosphere of an old-school video store, though it ought to be marketed more as interactive theatre than an “escape room” concept.
The Tape Escape by Outside the March is a series of three creative and original multimedia puzzles staged in a nostalgic independent video rental setting (full disclosure: this reviewer took part in 2 of the 3 experiences, so my thoughts are based on Yesterday’s Heroes and Love Without Late Fees. The Grown Up’s Guide to Flying was the one I missed out on). Tickets can be bought for one, two, or all adventures; though the antisocial be warned – unless you’re a big group you’ll likely be teamed up with a handful of strangers who also bought tickets for your time slot.
Based out of the former Queen Video, a classic video store near Bloor and Bathurst that closed shop earlier this year, The Tape Escape certainly looks its part. Shelves are lined with authentic VHS cases – grouped together by quippy category – and old CRT TVs with built-in VCRs are scattered throughout the space. Even the front waiting area is a fun tribute to 90s entertainment.
The stories are refreshingly interesting. Love Without Late Fees is more of a choose-your-own-adventure concept, in which participants determine the fate of two individuals looking to be matched through a video rental dating service (there are apparently 32 different ending possibilities). Yesterday’s Heroes takes the more classic approach, involving lots of timed problem-solving and riddles set against the eerie mystery of a child’s disappearance and an old tree. Movie titles feature prominently as clues, but otherwise, standard number and letter-related codebreaking is what’s being served.
While highly imaginative, the problem with The Tape Escape (and reinvented escape rooms like it) is that it rushes participants through its modules, to the point where it’s less of an escape room and more like interactive, immersive theatre. Each experience comes with an in-character guide to help steer participants through the puzzles, but often the guide takes the lead too prominently and it feels like you’re not being given a fair shake at resolving the challenges without help. This comes across, of course, as a need to feed the bottom line. It feels as if the stories are sometimes too elaborate to fit comfortably into their hour-ish time limit, and as a result you’re taken by the hand and directed through each scene. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily, considering the theme. But is it a satisfying escape room experience? Also, not necessarily.
Seasoned vets of the ever-burgeoning escape room scene may have an easier time jumping from task to task, but for the casual visitor, a big part of the fun of escape rooms is figuring out puzzles and riddles on your own, even if that takes time. While all standard escape rooms do impose time constraints, The Tape Escape’s creative team clearly has ambitions that may be too lofty for the tight-turnaround format they’ve chosen.
Hurry! The Tape Escape ejects from Toronto on Sunday, August 25.
Visit Outside the March to book your time slot at The Tape Escape