The last time I visited Escape.exe, in April 2021, Neon Tokyo was coming soon. After the experience I had in the first room, Site: 117, Neon Tokyo was a must-visit, and the next time Christina and I needed to drive to the east coast, we made sure our path took us past Escape.exe.
I wont fully recap the whole reason behind why we were so excited to try Neon Tokyo after Site: 117 (that can be found HERE). The short version is that Escape.exe’s first game balanced a very polished, challenging, compelling escape room with some incredibly unique aspects of choice. Neon Tokyo promised to take the element of choice even further by offering two completely different routes through the game based on an early choice players make.
I can count on one hand the number of escape rooms I’ve done where players are given a meaningful choice. Every other instance I’ve done puts the big choice right at the very end of the room, influencing the game’s epilogue but nothing else. Needless to say, Escape.exe is breaking new ground with every room.
Stepping back a moment, it’s not just the elements of choice that make Escape.exe special. For both games, the experience starts when you enter the business. Escape.exe is not just the escape room venue, but it’s also an organization within the context of the game’s story. Your game master has a role in the room’s narrative. It’s a cool way to get players started and build a cohesive experience.
Entering Neon Tokyo, I got flashbacks from a trip I took to Tokyo. I stayed in a district called Ueno in a little hotel tucked away one block off a main street. The hotel was nestled behind a little counter-service restaurant, a quaint shop selling wooden carvings, and a bathhouse. My hotel room was small, smaller than the cabin on a cruise ship, and my roommate and I had to stay organized to avoid tripping over our things. The setup of Neon Tokyo was spot on, capturing the feel of a Japanese sidestreet to a tee, with lots of small, intricate businesses tucked into every corner. Perhaps my favorite touch was the vending machine- deluxe vending machines are ubiquitous in Tokyo, with dozens of unusual choices at every one.
The set design is meticulous in Neon Tokyo. Everything is solid and well-made, and the sets really sell you on feeling like you’ve been transported to a small backstreet in Tokyo. The lighting, the construction quality, and the overall feel of the environment are perfect.
The choice in Neon Tokyo happens early. We elected to continue on the “Resistance path,” playing against Escape.exe to sabotage their grand plans. This continued the story from the decision we made in Site: 117, but we weren’t locked into the choice and could have switched sides to see what Escape.exe had to offer us.
Our “Resistance path” had us partner with the AI “K-T” to sneak around the streets without catching the attention of Escape.exe security. Every puzzle in the game fit into this general theme – everything you look for is a clever detail that could be plausibly passed from one operative to another. The puzzles are fun and tactile, and they reward looking high, low, and everywhere in between.
I was also impressed with the level of intricacy in the puzzles, with every element woven into the game’s narrative. One particular puzzle around midgame stood out to me for having multiple layers that all reveal key details about the “what” and the “why” of the room, combining a ton of context clues from around the room into the pieces we needed to solve a multi-stage puzzle. We learned the story through solving puzzles- that’s a high mark that many escape rooms strive for and few achieve. I also really appreciate that all big text clues had a “TLDR” version allowing us to hone in on only the parts we needed to solve our puzzle.
Christina and I enjoyed the variety of puzzles, especially the ones that required us to stay organized and communicate well. The game tested our ability to stay on the same wavelength, and while we stumbled a few times, we felt very rewarded once we cleared each puzzle.
As we got further and further into the room, the secrets of the story slowly unraveled, leading into a neat reveal at the end to get us excited about the next room. We finished with a few minutes to spare, eager to come back another time to try the other path through the room. We had played the Duos variation of the room; Escape.exe offers an additional fifteen minutes to groups of two to offset the lower number of teammates to explore and contribute. We took over an hour, so I’m glad we had the extra time!
One of the most remarkable things Escape.exe accomplished in this room was building two entirely different experiences into the same space with zero overlap and without creating any red herrings for one game vs. the other. Not a single time did we waste time on an object, button, or lock that wasn’t for our game. I can’t emphasize enough how impressive this is. Many escape rooms end up having unintended red herrings for rooms that don’t involve more than one game! The only other venue I can think of that has multiple games existing in the same space at the same time is Museum of Intrigue, and that uses extensive labeling on all key props to avoid wasting players’ times. The fact that Escape.exe accomplished a seamless experience without needing any warnings or labels is a tremendous feat.
We had the fortune of chatting with Mark, the owner and designer of Escape.exe, after our game. He shared some little details about the game that frankly blew my mind – the level of thought invested in the game is incredible. I mentioned before the Japanese vending machine in the room- Mark took extra steps to make sure the machine not only looks accurate but that it SOUNDS accurate too. If you visit any real vending machine, you may notice the faint hum of the condenser running to keep the drinks cool. The vending machine in the game was meticulously adjusted until it sounded just like a real machine.
Mark also gave us a few tidbits about the “Escape.exe path” through the room, the version of the room we didn’t play. He crafted each experience around a distinct playstyle. While the “resistance path” has players crawling around corners with flashlights and reading hidden memos, the “Escape.exe” path makes players feel powerful, with ample outside support to hack, break in, or otherwise impose your team’s will on the game’s environment to wring out the secrets it holds.
I’ll be very interested to hear more about what choices players make as they start Neon Tokyo. We opted to continue on the same path from Site: 117, but the other side is very compelling, as well. I have to imagine that most players who complete one side of the story will return quickly to explore the other half. It’s worth understanding each path from a story perspective, too- the “Escape.exe path” is a prequel to Site: 117, while the “Resistance path” is a sequel. Each of the games fits together into a complete narrative adventure.
Escape.exe really pushes the idea of what an escape room is. Neon Tokyo is a journey by way of puzzles, and everything fits in cleanly to allow players to experience a well-defined vision. As an experienced escape room player, I really appreciate all the little touches Escape.exe puts in place to provide customers a complete, exhilarating experience. New players may not notice those details, but they’ll still appreciate the complete overall package Escape.exe provides.
Check out Escape.exe’s site here.
Puzzledrifter.com has no affiliation with Escape.exe and our team was not compensated for our visit or for writing this review. The expressed opinions are solely our own.