In the short time that escape rooms have been around, they have exploded in popularity and gone through much evolution as a form of entertainment. Traditionally, small groups are locked in a room for an hour with the objective of escaping, with some sort of incentive to set atmosphere, like fleeing serial killers. The high pressure and time limit lend themselves well to horror or thriller themed games, and other forms of pop culture have made note of the trend. The comedy TV series Brooklyn 99 noably featured an episode where the characters use such a game as a team bonding exercise, and video games Resident Evil 7 also featured a level inspired by escape rooms.
With all that said, the Legend of Zelda Escape Room, Defenders of the TriForce, turn a number of expectations for the escape game experience on its pointy ear. Certain benchmarks remain, such as working in groups and solving puzzles on a tight time limit, but there on in, adventurers are faced with a quite different ball park. Rather than escape – because why on Earth would you want to escape the whimsy and green of Hyrule? – the objective is to find the Master Sword and stop baddie Ganondorf from swathing the land in darkness. Rather than a small, intimate room, heroes are seated at tables in a great hall with a number of stations throughout representing the various regions in Zelda lore. Each area provides puzzles and hints that get adventurers closer to uncovering the Master Sword and claiming victory.
I was seated with a group of five other people and through out the next hour, we put our heads together in attempt to become the next saviors of Hyrule. The puzzles ranged in difficulty to accommodate the diversity of ages and perspectives – and so that, occasionally, you can get a sense of triumph and relief as you progress. While it would be gauche to spoil any of the puzzles or provide undue hints, my table learned the hard way to slow down, read information carefully, and don’t be too proud to seek the wisdom of elders.
The tricky thing about pop culture inspired escape rooms is that it can be all too easy for die-hard fans to overthink solutions to questions, or fall into those achievement-hungry mental traps that gamers tend to have: I don’t wanna ask Na’vi for help, she’s a nuisance! I don’t wanna go to the Deku tree for advice, I want the satisfaction of figuring it out myself! It’s a big ask, trying to get gamers to switch their gears into co-operative problem-solving mode, but the thrill of pulling out the Master Sword and helping heroes Link and Zelda thwart their foes makes it worth the fuss. Though I was seated with perfect strangers, we were gleefully rushing between stations while humming that legendary ‘doot-doot, dun-dun-dun-DA-DUN!’ tune by the ten minute mark.
Although it’s easy to get a hundred or so geeks in a room to use our brainpower and imagine we’re really in the land of Hyrule, some of the production values, while well-crafted, felt minimal. The overall stagecraft of the event, while attractive, seemed designed for long-term use and storage for it’s lengthy North American tour. While being pragmatic is not a bad thing, it did make me wish Nintendo had provided a bit more funding for the sake of ensuring immersive gameplay.
Overall, Nintendo and their collaborators deserve recognition for continuing to provide innovative gameplay that gets their audiences moving, thinking, and socializing. Though less intimate than a traditional escape room experience, there’s still plenty of adventure in store. Defenders of the TriForce delivers with gripping challenges, and a journey that sparks the imagination.
Want to try your hand at saving Hyrule? Check out the official website for dates and ticket information.