By DAVID DIXON | La Mesa Courier
Over the past few years, escape rooms have been a growing fad both domestically and internationally. The venues consist of one or more interactive themed rooms, where players are timed and have to solve various puzzles, in order to escape from the room.
An escape room that strives to be different from the rest in San Diego is Nightwalker Caverns.
At the Caverns, teams generally consist of four to 10 players (and they are not suitable for children under the ages of 14), working together for about 90 minutes to find solutions to different puzzles.
Nightwalker Caverns is owned by Shane Watton, and his daughter, Tiffany, and is located just across the La Mesa border at 6760 University Ave. in San Diego.
Shane Watton became inspired to create an escape room about five years ago. He was originally working at Nightwalker Caverns Haunted House, which humorously poked fun at television shows and movies.
Due to positive audience feedback, Shane hoped that there was a way to make the house a year-round attraction.
“In late 2015, we started visiting some escape rooms, and began formulating the plan for what we wanted our escape rooms to be like,” Shane Watton said. “We began designing and converting our haunted house sets and reopened as escape rooms in late 2016.”
Shane builds the different rooms, while Tiffany paints the spaces. Together they work on the games.
The main games now available are “Clownatorium – 2 Upside Down,” which is a creepy experience with a horror-themed carnival atmosphere; “Tut’s Rut,” a game influenced by the Indiana Jones film series and the 1999 “The Mummy” movie; and “Fah-King Grail Game,” an adventure that pays homage to “The Goonies” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
Part of the reason the quests are 90 minutes in length, is to make sure that all players have enough time to properly participate in the adventure.
“We try to have the biggest and longest escape rooms in San Diego,” Tiffany Watton said. “It gives people extra time, and there are five or six rooms they are trying to get out of as well in each game.”Nightwalker Caverns consists of fourth generation escape rooms, which is described by the owners as a “non-traditional escape game that is adventure based with Hollywood-style special effects.”
Some of the unique features include props, water effects, creative lighting and live performers as well.
Although he hates clowns, Shane Watton plays one in “Clownatorium – 2.”
“I’m a nice clown,” he said. “I’ve been told I’ve helped people get over their fear of clowns, because I’m so nice.”
Since the puzzles keep on changing, returning players are not able to solve the rooms in the same way twice.
“Every month, locks will be different, combinations will be different, and we’ll be adding rooms as well,” Shane Watton said.
The two owners want each of the rooms to be fresh ones that encourage visitors to not turn off their brains.
“You need to have a unique mindset to come up with new puzzles that people haven’t come up with before,” Tiffany Watton said. “The hardest part of building these rooms is figuring out what people have not done before in their rooms.”
At the same time, the owners don’t want the games to be overwhelmingly difficult.
“We’ve had groups that have escaped from over 40 rooms and others that have never participated in a game before,” Tiffany Watton said. “We’re gonna make the rooms easy for both of them.”
“The answers are always right in front of you,” Shane Watton said. “You just have to use common sense to figure it out.”
Although Nightwalker Caverns is already open, there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, Dec. 11, hosted by the owners and the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce.
Don’t expect this event to be just a traditional celebratory occasion. Attendees will get to play in the different escape rooms. And the ceremony is going to feature the reopening of “Clownatorium – 2.” You can make a reservation at email@example.com.
Other special events in the not too distant future will include reopenings of “Tut’s Rut” and “Fah-King,” which are both guaranteed to have exciting new updates.
With more than 20 escape room venues to choose from in the county, Shane Watton and Tiffany Watton’s outside-of-the-box thinking helps keep things exciting and unpredictable. Regardless of skill set, the games appeal to anyone in the mood for something different than a typical game night.
For tickets or more information on Nightwalker Caverns, visit nightwalkercaverns.com or call 619-280-7029.
— David Dixon is a San Diego-based freelance arts and entertainment writer.