Adventure Beyond the Tiki Bar
Though venturing down to San Pedro may seem like a journey to an LA escape room crowd, Treasure Island at Brain Games holds its own while lying just outside of a competitive landscape. Breaking from my norm, I went to this room with a group of non-Last Call associates celebrating a birthday. The level of detail, dedication to the concept, and overall production quality stand out in this Tiki Bar themed escape room that focuses on the pop cultural legacy of its theme. Though I have some hesitations about the theme itself, and its cultural implications, the puzzles and commitment of the room are undeniably fun, and made for a fantastic night out with friends.
From stepping into the first room, it’s clear we’re entering into a tropical, islandic themed bar. Even at the start, the room already eases us from our own reality into the fictional world, with both literal drinks in a mini fridge and puzzles themed around mixing fake cocktails. This also placed us in the room as pop cultural consumers. As we worked through the puzzles towards the room’s culmination, though, the design cleverly transported us from engaging with the pop cultural by-products of the story into living the story itself. Though never directly commented upon within the room, this was one of my favorite things about the experience. It felt like the type of narrative where an average person gets sucked into one of their favorite stories when the room transitioned us from engaging with the bar to taking in-narrative actions, as opposed to a more typical escape room structure that drops you directly into the story. In doing so, the room created a fun sense of flow from moment to moment, and offered new surprises as we progressed. It also enhanced my sense of immersion in the adventure, by taking me from my own viewpoint to a more outlandish one over the course of the experience.
Specific moments within the puzzle design and production design elevated our engagement with the room. Pirate weapons felt realistic and fun to use during one puzzle, and every bit of the wall space felt covered in themed potential for puzzles. Several puzzles required communication between rooms. Typically, puzzles like this feel almost easier to accomplish by one person just running back and forth, and while these still felt a bit like that, they weren’t so difficult to communicate about to detract from the experience. The only element of the production design that stuck out negatively was a set of curtains in front of windows that led to the parking lot. Since everything else felt like a clue, multiple people in our party foolishly looked behind this cover-up, which perhaps could have had a more creative workaround. On the whole, though, the puzzles provided actions that were fun to take, such as mixing drinks and steering a ship wheel. The room also had at least a couple of dexterity challenges, which I loved as a way to offer a different form of puzzle-solving and physical engagement. The room felt like a reasonable challenge level for a group of people with a mixed amount of experience with escape rooms to enjoy. Our group had around seven people, and experienced players might prefer smaller numbers, but our group enjoyed having some pressure off of everyone to always be doing something.
After going to the escape room, I talked about it with my roommate, and we traded experiences with a different tiki-themed escape room she did. In comparing some of the commonalities in theming and puzzle choices, it did feel like a room like that may lend itself towards appropriating some of the more problematic aspects of its theming. We both were able to recount puzzles that generalized different island nations down to differences of negatively stereotyped props. In one matching puzzle from this room, we were able to communicate the look of one specific poster through just a feminine gender identity. There is an undeniable pop cultural pervasiveness to the tiki bar concept, and this room is by no means the only perpetrator of the negative aspects of the genre. But, underneath the fun of the adventure, lurked unexamined aspects of the gendered nature of the genre and the pervasiveness of colonization. I would be fascinated what a room giving more conscious thought to the continued appropriation of these tropes would look like.
Despite these hesitations, we still had a great time in the room, being whisked away from a tiki bar into a fantastical journey. The puzzles gave us physical ways to play through and engage with the narrative, and the production design enhanced our feeling of living in a tropical, adventure store. For those interested in the theme and an all-around well-designed room, I’d recommend checking it out, and I may return to see what secrets their laboratory room holds.
-Sabrina Sonner, Editor
Editor’s note: This review was written after playing through the Treasure Island Room at Brain Games in San Pedro in April. More information including buying tickets can be found on their website: https://braingamesescaperoom.com/.