Racine, WI: Seven Keys to Escape – Critter Craters

Seven Keys to Escape in Racine, WI has a special distinction for me and my dad- their “Nana’s Room” game was the first escape room the two of us lost together within the United States.  Nana’s Room was filled with loads of content and it was tough for a team of two to get through all of it, but we were still itching for another try, and we finally got that try when Seven Keys opened their new Critter Craters room.  A visit to Seven Keys to Escape made sense as the perfect birthday gift for me to give to my dad.

I always appreciate it when a room has a unique theme, and as I draw closer to 400 escape rooms completed, this is the only pest control room I’ve seen.  Players take on the role of a humane pest control company that stuns and captures unwanted critters, including everything from bees to skunks to cockroaches to porcupines.  The puzzles all make sense with regards to how you first need to stun, then capture each of the animals en route to fully clearing out a chic restaurant.

One special note to make about Seven Keys to Escape is that even though they reused the same physical space for Critter Craters, the space was entirely redesigned and built up from scratch such that the layout and design bear zero resemblance to the previous room.  I was truly impressed with the amount of customization that went into the space. The layout of the game was integral to many of the puzzles, and there was plenty of technology and physical puzzling worked into the design. It’s a little bit saddening that Seven Keys only has enough space for one room at a time because, while I am excited to see what they come up with next, Critter Craters is a unique, well-designed room that deserves to stick around for the long haul.

We appreciated the variety of puzzles in the game.  Critter Craters was full of puzzles that were both physically interactive and mentally challenging.  There were a few surprises that were unlike anything I had ever done in an escape room, and one of them was something our group kept playing around with after solving the challenge, just for fun.  The game had some truly delightful moments that made the night especially memorable.

Seven Keys went wild taking advantage of their unique theme to make unique, clever puzzles.  How do you disable / capture a skunk without killing it? Porcupine? Bee? The designers here clearly had a lot of fun designing physical puzzles from scratch and the theme worked very well with this kind of game.  It was easy to see what you ultimately had to accomplish, but difficult to see how exactly you get there.  

As the room progresses, there’s also a fun narrative that unravels to keep players engaged throughout.  It’s pretty simple but it’s enough to keep players excited to pick up the next clue and to communicate subtly how much more of the game remains.  I liked how the narrative tied the game together and explained the backstory without forcing players to halt exploration.

This time around we managed to finish within the time limit (maybe Christina was the difference, since she wasn’t with my dad and me at our first loss).  With the variety of puzzles, each one of us had at least a few moments to shine. I find my favorite experiences are the ones where everyone gets a chance to contribute, and Seven Keys excelled in this regard.

Racine may seem a little far for visitors to either Chicago or Milwaukee, but I recommend making it up this way.  There’s a nice stretch of one-of-a-kind escape rooms between Chicago and Milwaukee, with Seven Keys as a highlight, and fans of puzzle games owe it to themselves to make this journey at least once.

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