Operation H.E.R.O. – Can You Escape – York

Present, Spring 2017, were: The Ant, Teenage Avenger, Groot

One of the first things we are drawn to when picking an Escape Room is the theme. Company reputation, location, price, yes, all really important. But it’s the theme, the concept, that really pulls us in. Different teams will have different subjects that press their buttons – Granny and I have a thing for Russian-themed rooms, which is maybe a little eclectic. Don’t judge.

With kids in tow, the theme is particularly important. Some are obvious to avoid: raw, gory horror; explicit ‘adult’ themes; elements of nightmarish fantasy. Others sound deliberately child-friendly: sweetie shops; classrooms; fairy tales; fluffy bunnies; but are either designed to appeal more to nostalgic adults or can provoke a negative reaction in cynical tweens. Other categories can go either way – pirates, dragons, Alice in Wonderland – can swing quite dramatically from family-friendly to comparatively dark and mature content. Theme alone isn’t a guarantee of the suitability of a room at all.

Superheroes sound like a safe choice – caped crusaders are always a hit with the kids, right? I mean, if it’s Deadpool or Venom-themed, you might want to exercise a little caution, but… In this case, the Operation H.E.R.O. brief on the website sounded fun, and the superpeople involved have a touch of cuteness about them – Torus, Hermes, Oculo, and Badger (a great name!). GM intro is in character, and the spiel that your team is helping find the missing heroes by emulating their superpowers is an appealing idea. Teenage Avenger was hopeful of a whizz-bang comic book adventure.

In reality, Operation H.E.R.O. is a curious beast. The main difficulty of any superhero room would be replicating superpowers successfully to achieve that wow level of fantasy – to be able to see through walls, lift huge weights, turn back time. Can You Escape have a couple of nice ideas with this, but it never reaches a child-like sense of wonder. It actually feels quite serious – not sombre darkness of Justice League or dramatic intensity of Endgame, more an academic dryness without enough cartoony flourishes or special effects splashiness. Heroes as homework, maybe.

The game execution is not without wit. The hero and villain files are brilliant and hilarious if you get a chance to read them, but with the time pressure they are too wordy to entertain younger team members. The in-jokes about York are funny, but over the heads of most. And some of the puzzles just didn’t click at all with our then tweenager. The layout of the tasks in the small space made it tricky to work in adult/child pairs, and for him the 5/5 difficulty level felt earned. He didn’t come out of the game feeling empowered.

Just because.

This was such an interesting concept for a room, with some good ideas and so much potential, but I ended feeling it was an opportunity missed. As a grown-up idea of a superhero game it has a lot going for it. From a family-friendly viewpoint, we wanted much more kapow and kaboom. Maybe I am just sore – we did get an unwanted kaboom, as we got locked in, partly due to a tech fail in the last 10 seconds (I know, shouldn’t have left it so late!). But I’m still looking for a superhero room that I can marvel at.

  • Storyline:  Basic concept sounds good, but the logic unravels quickly – why did we have to complete these tasks to stop a bomb?
  • Theming and Set: A small space lacks immersion, but quality props.
  • Searching: None really.
  • Puzzles: Divided by the heroes skill sets – strength, speed, vision and errr, whatever badgers are good at.
  • Physicality: A little, the puzzles aren’t purely intellectual.
  • Scare factor: None, until we got blown up.
  • Company Age Guidance: “children under the age of 10 may find some of the puzzles difficult. However, we are well aware that there are some clever little people so please use your discretion (we have had children as young as five take part – and a baby agent came along once too!)”.
  • Age suitability: Full marks for their general family-orientated company approach, even if this room isn’t as kid-compatible as we’d hoped. Pushchairs and buggies would be a problem in York, and this room isn’t spacious enough for passengers.

Can You Escape website