Wirral, Sep 2018
Many of Clue HQ’s games share a recurring villain by the name of Danny Badd, and Detonation’s premise is straightforward: you’re trapped in a building that this scoundrel has rigged to blow up. Fortunately, he’s a villain with a sense of sportsmanship, and has given you an hour to get out before the bomb goes off.
If the modern setting makes Detonation sound more dull than some of Clue HQ’s other games, that’s misleading: smoke and flashing lights amp up the drama, and of course there’s little as effective as a ticking bomb to build tension. While the bomb you’re trying to defuse isn’t immediately visible, the high explosives theme is used in various parts of the decor and puzzles, to make sure there’s no danger of you forgetting about it.
Clue HQ are a slick franchise with games designed for duplication in multiple locations, and that gives their rooms both polish and a slightly corporate edge, where it feels a little like everything has rubber corners on. For example, several puzzles use written clues, and these are delivered on plastic slabs instead of paper, presumably so that they survive handling from thousands of over-excited players. In this instance, there were also plenty of visible wires connecting up game components and items marked off limits with ‘do not touch’ stickers. Despite that, the game works hard on its special effects and it’s easy to ignore the bits where the artifice shows through the set dressing.
Clues come from the screen that’s also used for the intro video. However, the intro is presented as the bad guy (Badd guy?) speaking to you. Instead of following in the tradition established by many Bond villains and leaving you to struggle unobserved with his death trap, he’s watching you throughout, and when the host sends a hint, that’s also supposedly from him. While that might strain belief a little, this is also used to excellent effect to throw in more than one twist.
Various physical puzzles add welcome variety to the puzzles that resolve to three or four digit codes, and the modern setting lets them use some familiar devices, even if one cute reference may be a bit lost on anyone under the age of thirty. If I were to pick out any specific weak moments, I’d start with one puzzle that provided a set of two digit numbers with no indication of how to combine them into a code; fortunately our second or third guess at the intended approach turned out to be correct.
Comparing Detonation to the other Clue HQ game we played on this visit, Cluetankhamun, I thought Detonation was a little less impressive on its visuals, but had the edge in quantity and quality of puzzles. It’s listed as their easiest difficulty, which surprised me; I’d have said it was the harder game of the two. But there’s enough consistency of style between Clue HQ escape rooms that, chances are, if you like one then you’ll likely enjoy their others as well.