This game really brought back memories
It’s Christmas Eve 1995 and Santa’s doing well! He’s delivered most of his presents in record time and the cookies and milk are tasting good! After arriving across the Atlantic he suddenly feels the top of his head is getting cold! Oh no! His magical hat has gone missing. It must have been left in the last house he delivered to. However he hasn’t got time to double back and retrieve it! He needs to call in the National Elf Service! A crack commando team of Elves stationed in each country ready to be called into action at the “drop of a hat”. Can they retrace Santa’s steps, find the hat and save Christmas?
It’s been a while since we’ve played a game at Lock and Code, but a Christmas game with a limited run is always going to get our attention, especially when it’s set in the 90s (my second favourite decade after the 80s). So a few weekends before Christmas we decided to get ourselves booked in for their newest Christmas game, National Elf Service.
Although they class this as their Weston-Super-Mare location, it’s actually quite a way out of town and is just off the motorway, which is perfect if you’re just passing by. As we’ve now been to this venue a few times, we didn’t miss the turning into the business park which made a nice change.
When we arrived we were greeted by the owner of Lock and Code (and our GM for our game), Matt. We had a nice little chat about life and escape rooms in general before it was then time for us to save Christmas (once again). Matt gave us the health and safety briefing downstairs in the reception area before leading us up the stairs to the retro-bedroom. Once in the room, we were given the room specific briefing and then left alone to find where Santa had left his hat.
In terms of set design, I think it’s safe to say that this game is quite basic. However, almost everything felt like it could belong in a child’s bedroom from the 90s. This is one of those games where you could just solve puzzles and complete your mission, or you could literally spend the entire time reminiscing about lost childhood toys and playing with the authentic relics of the past that are contained in this room. Matt has done a cracking job of getting together various 90s toys and I for one had a great time playing with some of the items.
Before Matt left us to our mission he pressed play on a CD player in the room which meant we had some festive music playing all the way along – a must for a Christmas room surely? Couple the music with the pack of mince pies and we were in full on festiveness.
If you grew up in the age of games consoles like the Sega Dreamcast or Mega Drive then you are in for a treat! While we were sitting in reception downstairs, I could hear noises from up above, noises that reminded me of Christmases past – yes, I could hear Street Fighter 2! This game actually has a working Mega Drive and if someone on your team isn’t feeling the puzzles, they can literally just play games – win win!
For some reason, anytime we play a Christmas themed escape room we seem to have a bit of a mental block and struggle to solve even the simplest of puzzles. At various points in this game it felt like we certainly experienced that block. One fail was on us, because something seemed very simple, we instantly discounted it and this seemed to throw us off any potential rhythm.
Once we did get going, we found there were lots of observation puzzles, some wordplay, logic, searching, ‘physical’ tasks, and some involving maths. For the maths puzzles we were told (by Santa) that we could use the calculators on our phones. With no writing implements and our mental arithmetic skills being poor, we had no choice but to use our phones. We’re not fans of using phones and a simple fix would have been to simply put a 90s era calculator in the room.
Signposting of puzzles felt a bit hit-or-miss to us, some puzzles were very well signposted while others were not. One puzzle in particular was technically quite well signposted but it had us going something that felt very wrong in an escape room, so we hesitated to do it until Santa gave us approval.
Sometimes the best puzzles are simply using something in a new and creative way, and I’ve got to give credit to Lock and Code for how they made a couple of 90s gadgets/toys into puzzles for the game. Both were fun, but one was particularly clever and I like a momentary genius while I solved it and Liz was left baffled.
Clues came over walkie-talkies that we were given before we entered the room. If we needed a clue at any point then Matt Santa would chime in and help get us back on track. Equally, if Santa saw us struggling (he sees everything) then he would send a little help our way – we’re not the best at asking for help.
There was a timer in the room so we knew how long we had left. It was a shame that the TV it was on was a modern one as it was the only thing in the room that felt out of place. It would have been great to see the timer displayed on a retro CRT TV in the corner of the room, but this worked.
Because of the short lifespan of Christmas rooms we can understand companies not making them as refined as their other rooms. Saying that, National Elf Service had a decent story, authentic 90s set dressing, and one or two puzzles that brought a smile to our face – and that’s what it’s all about.
Team: 2 players (escaped in 45:10 minutes)
Address: Unit 11, Ivy House Farm Business Centre, Banwell BS29 6LB