Nine rooms of puzzles and a countdown to disaster to get your team’s minds working and pulses racing.

No matter what you’re looking for in Tokyo, you can find it in the Shinjuku district. Shopping? Dining? A life-size replica of Godzilla’s head? SoraNews24 headquarters? Yep, all part of the neighborhood.

Shinjuku is also where you’ll find Tokyo’s best selection of real escape room games, with the Tokyo Mystery Circus complex offering an ever-evolving selection of cool themed challenges. And you know what’s even better than escaping from a room? Escaping from nine rooms, which is your goal in Tokyo Mystery Circus’ latest offering, the brand-new Escape from the Runaway Train. The game is entirely playable in English by groups of one to four players, and we recently got to try it for ourselves.

Per the game’s backstory, players are invited to attend a viewing of the newly completed Mystery Express, a unique train designed by an eccentric puzzlemaker. But shortly after we stepped aboard the rear car of the nine-carriage train, we heard a shrill whistle, the ground began to rumble beneath our feet, and the conductor who’d ushered us aboard, his voice now gripped with panic, told us that we were hurtling down the tracks and, if we didn’t do something, would slam into the station in 50 minutes!

Of course, with the game hosted on the fifth floor of Tokyo Mystery Circus, the “train” isn’t actually going anywhere. But between clever use of sound, vibration, and the tension of a ticking timer, Escape from the Runaway Train creates a convincing illusion.

So how exactly do you play Escape from the Runaway Train? Before boarding the train, you’re given a tablet. Each of the nine rooms has a number of puzzles you need to solve, with the prompts appearing on the tablet screen and clues hidden (sometimes in plain sight) in the cars’ environment. Once you’ve figured out the solution, generally in the form of a password, you enter it into the tablet, and once you’ve cleared all the puzzles for your room, the locked door to the next opens. The process repeats until you either reach the final car, the conductor’s room, and stop the train or you run out of time and the train crashes.

After you clear the first room and part ways with the conductor, you and your team are on your own. You’re not completely without help, though. In addition to telling you how much of your 50 minutes you’ve got left, the tablet also dispenses hints. Depending on how long you’ve been on your current puzzle, the tablet will display up to three hints to help you reach the solution (if you’re in a hurry or completely stumped, you also have the option of manually winding down your remaining play time to the next hint-unlock point).

If the word “puzzle” brings images of dull, quiet calculation with pencil and paper to your mind, you’ll be happy to know that Escape from the Runaway Train’s brand of puzzle-solving is much more active, frequently requiring physical manipulation of your environment in order to find the solution (no breaking down the doors, though; progression is always linked to inputting the right answer on your tablet). In physical terms, there’s a rewarding rush of excitement as you solve each car’s final puzzle, hear the click as the lock opens, and stride forward into the next car.

Solo play is an option, but playing with a friend (or two or three) gives you an extra set of eyes to search for clues. It also gives you an extra brain to figure out what to do with those clues once you’ve found them, and I was definitely happy to have a partner whose sharp wit was solving puzzles at the points where my contributions to the team were limited to quietly muttering some variation of “Huh?”

As mentioned above, you’re on a 50-minute time limit to complete the game, and the system is smart enough that if there’s still another group of players in the room ahead of you after you’ve solved your puzzle, the countdown stops until the room ahead is clear and you enter it. If you run out of time, there’s also a 10-minute continue option for an additional fee (sort of like with the real Metal Gear Solid infiltration game we covered before, which, like Escape from the Runaway Train, was designed by escape game company SCRAP).

There are a few wrinkles to the time and continue systems to keep in mind. Once you reach the final room, the conductor’s room, your timer will drop to 10 minutes even if you had more remaining. There’s also no standard continue option for the final room, but should you run out of time you’re given a Revenge Card, which allows you to purchase a 10-minute Revenge Ticket for a later time/date which allows you to jump right back into the final room (don’t worry about overcrowding for the final room, as there are actually two conductor’s rooms on site).

Escape from the Runaway Train is playable every day at Tokyo Mystery Circus, with start times between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekends and noon and 8 p.m. on weekends. Discounts are offered for advance reservations as multi-person groups, with prices as low as 3,000 yen (US$28) per person, with online reservation available through the game’s official website here (keep scrolling all the way down to the bottom).

Regrettably, in the end my partner and I were unable to stop the train, coming up just short as we frantically fumbled about the conductor’s room and time ran out. That failure is pretty much the only thing we regretted about the experience, and Escape from the Runaway Train was an awesome time, even if we didn’t manage to escape.

Venue information
Tokyo Mystery Circus / 東京ミステリーサーカス
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 1-27-5, APM Building
東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-27-5 APMビル

Photos ©SoraNews24
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