Escape Room Review - Handmade Mysteries: Poppa Plock's Wonky Workshop

First, a disclaimer: I’m not a fan of the horror genre.  I don’t enjoy horror films or jump scares.  This room was sold to me by a teammate as being set in a toyshop, and technically they weren’t lying to me.  The room is set in the workshop of the late toy-maker Poppa Plock, where he was in the middle of bringing to life his greatest creation, much in the way that Dr Frankenstein was.

The room is filled with carnival music and lights, dolls, puppets and bloodstains.  It’s also filled with quite a few jump scares.  It may be tame for those who are a fan of horror, but it’s scary enough that guests have had to leave the room early or suffered panic attacks, so I don’t feel bad in admitting that it did spook me.

Well great, I’d managed to repress those childhood nightmares up until just now.

The room is designed for those aged 18+, and it’s easy to understand why.  The room is sinister and full of disturbing content, some of it with violent and sexual undertones.  That said, the game does have a sense of humour, if a twisted one, and there are some genuinely funny parts.

The game is billed as Immersive Theatre and it’s a fitting description.  The host is in character from the moment that you’re greeted right through to when you're shown out at the end.  He plays one of Poppa Plock’s previous inventions, a clockwork soldier who was cast aside in favour of newer, shinier toys and definitely isn’t bitter about that fact at all.

The host also acts as the hint system throughout the game.  In most escape rooms, the game co-ordinator locks you in and walks away.  While there is contact with them during the game, which might be via text on a screen or walkie-talkie, they're outside of the game world and there's a distance created between them and the team.  Here, the host was an integral part of the universe that that's been created for you to play in.  Not only did he provide hints, he also managed to contribute significantly to the jump scares almost every time he lurched out of the shadows.

The host won’t be the only source of assistance in your mission to create the doll.  You’re pointed in the right direction by notes and diary entries left behind by the doll’s creator.  One of the other puppets in the room also throws out recorded clues that you need to listen to in amongst the verbal abuse that he hurls at you.  You need to listen hard for these clues, though, as they can be quite difficult to make out in amongst the fairground music.

Psst…want a hint? Just come a bit closer.  That’s right, in choking range.
...I mean whispering. Whispering range. Definitely not choking.

There’s no timer in the room which, along with the hint system, removes another one of the comforting factors which reminds you that it’s just a game.  Even though there’s no way to keep track of time, the company have got the length of the game spot on, as the average team completes it with about three minutes to spare.

The game itself is quite linear, although you may not notice that as you’re guided through.  The room is designed for up to six people, and it’s one of the few UK rooms where a those six places can be booked by multiple smaller groups who then play together, so it's possible you'll be in a larger group than you expected.

Due to the game’s linearity, there might not be enough to involve every member of the group at all points in the game.  The room is decorated with an incredible level of detail, though, so you’ll be able to keep yourself entertained if you find yourself with a couple of minutes spare.  The decoration is almost overwhelming in the amount of possible red herrings that can be found if you start looking hard enough.  

The puzzles don't actually require much in the way of searching the room for hidden clues or items, although you wouldn't know it from the board games scattered around and mad scrawling all over the walls.  One of the puzzles early on didn't require much in the way of logic, either, as it was a carnival game that was reliant on luck to complete.

The argument could be made that it was more based on things like "skill" and "the ability to aim"
rather than luck, but I stand by my point.

When talking about this game, a special mention has to be given to the host.   Escape rooms live and die based on the quality of their puzzles, with the props and decorations in a supporting role.  Here though, the game was elevated by the host. He helps and guides you the whole way, while keeping up frankly maniacal level of energy.  It must be a fine line to walk, having to offer clues and guide players when needed, but at the same time keep up the vague air of menace, but it was a line that he was well practised at walking.

If you’re scared of the dark, or of clowns, puppets or anything of a similar nature, then it’s in your best interests to stay away.  If not, then this is a must-play game.  ‘Game’ is actually the wrong word for it; it’s not a game, it’s an experience.

From a purely practical point of view, it’s absurdly good value for a London-based game of this quality, and as it’s based in a decent pub where you can have a drink to settle your nerves afterwards.  It may be best to avoid drinking beforehand, though, even for Dutch courage – you’ll need your wits about you once you’re in Poppa’s workshop.

Price:  £23 per person at peak time, £20 off-peak (£1 booking fee)
Up to six, can be joined by other groups
Immersion and theatrics, decoration, host
 Difficult to hear some recorded hints, linearity

This review is based on the recently-opened 2nd room at the venue.  There are slight differences in the puzzles and decoration and the second room also has a slightly higher success rate.