This is the Christmas Room you’ve been waiting for!
You are one of Santa’s magnificent elves. You’ve been working all year to prepare for this year’s glorious present delivery. There hasn’t been a workplace accident in 3000 years, and you’re determined to not let it happen tonight.
Preparing for a smooth night ahead…
You sit down at the control station to guide Santa along his flight with a hot cup of cocoa in hand, but then DISASTER STRIKES! There’s hot cocoa everywhere; on everything! The system is fried, things are smoky, and red lights are going off everywhere. It’s pure chaos!
Santa checks in to see if everything is running right on schedule, and of course, you’re going to lie and tell him everything’s good! You have to hurry and fix everything because he’s about to take off!
Even without already being familiar with Improbable Escapes, based in Kingston, Ontario, thanks to playing their Mayan Temple game during a family vacation in 2019, the company have a reputation that precedes them, with both Neverland: Heist on the Seven Seas and Seven Dwarfs: Mining Mission making it to the finals of the 2020 TERPECAs in the online category. After the completely magical experience we had in Neverland, when we heard about The Hot Chocolate Incident we jumped at the chance to play.
As we played Neverland with our friends over at Brit of an Escape Habit, it seemed only fitting to reconvene for The Hot Chocolate Incident. And so, from the comfort of our festively decorated home, and dressed in our Christmas best (and by that I do mean our fluffiest, and cosiest pyjamas), we assembled on Zoom to meet our Elf Supervisor, Jingles for a briefing about our first shift at the North Pole. Although I have to say, we’re not entirely convinced Santa’s Workshop was actually in the North Pole; the internet was just too good.
First things first, yes, this is a full, one (to one and a half) hour experience brought to you as a fully-fledged remote, live-streamed escape game, with a set, and of course, your elf supervisor/avatar, Jingles. As far as I can tell, this game is only available to be played online – and it’s better because of it. The Hot Chocolate Incident is the first online game that I have seen referred to as a “live online theatrical escape room,” but that is precisely what it is: theatrical. And the theatrical aspect is what makes this experience exceptional; this game would absolutely not be the same without Jingles. In addition, the game is able to get away with one or two things that simply wouldn’t be possible if it were a traditional, physical, escape game and still keep some of the magic.
After Jingles checked that we were prepared, technically speaking, she left us to make herself a cup of hot cocoa, and the experience began with the sort of corporate training video intro anyone who has worked in retail or food service is probably familiar with, but with one major difference: it was for the start of our first shift at the North Pole, and we are working for the one, and only, Santa Clause. Of course, the afore mentioned hot cocoa is the cause of what shall henceforth be known as “The Hot Chocolate Incident,” and that’s why it’s up to us to help Jingles save Christmas.
Once we were well and truly underway, The Hot Chocolate Incident unfolded in a very linear manner, progressing from challenge to challenge, with little allowance for deviation from the task in front of us. As the game doesn’t have a traditional inventory, or 360 degree views of the space, that linearity ensures that the entire team is focussed on one task together, and also helps to make the game more immersive, as your attention is naturally focussed on the video feed from Jingles and exploring with her. Although the game doesn’t use an inventory system, or offer 360 views, like so many that we’ve come across, once you find it, The Hot Chocolate Incident does come fully equipped with a repair manuel for your North Pole Navigator. To make your life a bit easier, Improbable Escapes suggest having two devices, or a split-screen available – one for your connection to Jingles and one for this additional information. (A mobile is perfectly suitable as secondary device if you aren’t set up for split screen, or have multiple people using one Zoom connection.)
The story, puzzles, set, and Jingles all blended together into what was simply, a perfect Christmas game: family friendly, but full of humour, with a warm and cosy feel, and yet also still dramatic. The Hot Chocolate Incident managed to continue to build towards a final climax, and ultimately, a really wonderful ending. If I had to pick one fault, it would be that occasionally some in-game audio was difficult to hear, but even this is due to already known issues with Zoom, and Jingles even covered for that by summarising for us after the fact.
I’m not sure if it’s because we always (falsely) expect Christmas games to be on the easier side, due to their generally family-friendly vibe, but Gord and I never seem to get on very well with puzzles in holiday-themed games; they just never seem to click with us, and often result in us (me in particular) feeling less than festive once we finally manage to save the holiday. But that was not the case in The Hot Chocolate Incident; finally, we have come across a Christmas-themed game with puzzles that were not just inventive and clever, but also fair and a total joy to solve.
Logic, observation, pattern recognition, spatial relations, deductive reasoning, a minor bit of searching, and a whole lot of interacting with elements of the set are in store for your Christmas rescue mission. At first glance, many of the puzzles seemed overly simple, and yes, there were one or two “easy” wins, but in actuality, many of the tasks had hidden depths to them, often with multiple layers. I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite puzzle, as each new puzzle we came across culminated in a truly wonderful moment of either humour, or realisation as the solution presented itself (quite literally in the case of one puzzle.)
The final puzzle was a wonderful festive treat (although we did try to shortcut it). The added time pressure of Santa’s imminent arrival made it just a little bit trickier, but it was inventive, and wonderful to be taken out of the online environment, and forced to interact with something real. Don’t forget your scissors!
Poor Jingles, all she wanted was a cup of hot cocoa to get her through her shift training us at the North Pole; who could have foreseen how wrong it would go? Fortunately, Jingles was a delight to work with, albeit a bit clumsy, even in the midst of a Christmas crisis. Earlier I mentioned that this experience is classed as a live theatrical escape room – and that is exactly what it is. At times, it felt almost Pantomime-y, but never over the top. Jingle’s camera work was a blend of talking to us directly and ensuring that we were able to see her, and a first person point of view of what she could see.
Without a doubt, it was the interaction with Jingles that made this experience magical. Jingles’ comic timing was impeccable, and although she was so worried about how Santa might react to this little incident that she was in a bit of a tizzy, had we ever been truly stuck, she would have been able to give us a little help, more so than she already did with the subtle guidance thanks to things that she lingered on in view of the camera.
Does the perfect Christmas game exist? Well, I can’t say for sure, but if it isn’t, then The Hot Chocolate Incident comes pretty close, and I can’t think of a more perfect way to get into the holiday spirit. If you aren’t already booked to play, book now – slots are limited! (You’ll even get a ‘souvenir’ out of it ?).
GOOD TO KNOW
- Number of connections: 2-12 players
- Price: $25.00 (+ HST) CAD per person
- Devices: Desktop/Laptop
- Platform: Zoom
- Inventory: Yes
- 360º View: No (Pictures Provided)
- Time Zone: EST (Kingston, ON)
|Value for Money|
Team: 4 players
Time Taken: 57 minutes of pure joy
*Disclaimer: we weren’t charged for this experience, but this has not influenced our review.