With the release of Curiouser and Curiouser, our Alice through the Looking Glass escape room adventure, we take a look at why we chose to create a sequel to our original Alice in Wonderland escape room, Imaginarium.
Sequels are a familiar concept to forms of media that incorporate a narrative. The Online Etymology Dictionary attributes the first usage of “sequel” meaning a “story that follows and continues another” to the early 16th century. Plenty of well-known and beloved books are sequels (or “threequels”, etc.): just look at the widespread affection for Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. Three out of the top five grossing films worldwide in 2019 (Avengers: Endgame, Frozen II, and Spider-Man: Far From Home) were all direct sequels; similarly, the other two (The Lion King and Captain Marvel) were a remake and an addition to an established cinematic universe, respectively. Not to belabour the point, but many successful video games fall into this category as well. Red Redemption 2 (technically a prequel, but why split hairs?) was released in 2018 to great critical and consumer acclaim.
So why are sequels so rare in escape rooms?
I can think of a few possibilities, and more probably exist. Obviously escape rooms are not books, movies, or video games—they have their own distinct qualities, affordances, and limitations. For one thing, escape rooms are usually physical locations that, once established, have to remain in place for a lengthy amount of time. Releasing a sequel would require either having the space to run the two games simultaneously (which could be confusing when it comes to booking them!), or waiting a year (or more) to be ready to replace the first one. When it finally comes time to introduce a new game, it’s understandable to want to offer something in a completely different direction from what was there before.
For another thing, the story lines for rooms are often very specific in a way that allows them to creatively maximise their plots and settings within one game. It’s easy for me to imagine an escape room that has players excavating an undiscovered subterranean world in the depths of the Arctic, for example. It’s less easy to imagine what would be left of that idea to turn into a direct sequel—though, now that I’m saying so… Still, it’s far more likely to encounter a set of disparate stories united by a common, overarching theme (say, time traveling), than it is to find a room that is specifically designed as a sequel to another.
The first Imaginarium put TimeTrap in a unique position, one we were eager to take advantage of because there are so few (if any) escape room sequels; the novelty intrigued us. To begin with, the structure of a sequel was baked into Imaginarium’s inspiration—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are already a well-known duology, so it felt like a natural progression to move on to the second story because it offered more to explore in the same universe that was fresh and exciting. Additionally, using Lewis Carroll as the central character for both games allowed us to link the previous experience with the new one by involving a “narrator” who would be fondly familiar to people who had played the first game, while still being a recognisable historical figure to the players who will be encountering him and his brain for the first time. Setting the game inside a brain also provided more than enough material to stretch over the course of two games: there are so many options for how to imaginatively represent a brain through environmental set pieces, and so many different and interesting aspects of the brain’s workings to highlight through puzzles and game structure.
Finally, of course, there was the enthusiasm! Reception to Imaginarium while it was open was full of delight and appreciation for its whimsical theming and broad range of puzzles. On our side, we loved running it; of course we would leap at the chance to keep some form of it around! Curiouser and Curiouser is a completely new game with new puzzles and new props, and you won’t have to have completed the first game to play this one. However, we think it keeps the same Imaginarium charm. We hope you will too!