The Soda Jerk in Phoenix has a secret. At first glance, it is an ordinary milkshake parlor. However, hidden behind an inconspicuous freezer door is The Nemesis Club, an immersive collection of escape room games meant to thrill and amaze players. This club is anything but ordinary.
Owners Dustin and Kylee Smith, who have been consulting with companies like Disney for nearly 20 years, wanted to bring their take on escape rooms to Arizona.
“We are from Arizona and wanted to bring something fun and unique here,” Dustin says. “As we started poking around, we saw how big escape rooms had become and thought that we could do our own twist on that concept. We wanted to elevate them, make them cooler, more exciting, more interesting, more technological and more impressive.”
The Nemesis Club is a wonder in itself, invisible from the outside and impressive on the inside. Upon entering, guests can check their belongings at a spy-themed front desk, creating an atmosphere of mystery from the beginning. The dimly lit lobby fosters intimacy, fitting for the secret society theme that inspires the club. The scenery sets the mood far before the games even begin. The Smiths did this with intention, wanting the transition from lobby to game to feel natural.
“One of the things we noticed early on about many escape games is that too often when you’re coming into an escape room, you’re starting in a bland hallway that looks like a doctor’s office and then suddenly you’re in Egypt or something. It didn’t feel natural, so we wanted to avoid that.” Dustin says.
The inspiration behind The Nemesis Club is whimsical — built behind the theme of heroes and villains working in tandem, instead of as enemies. The club invites people of all ages to join these heroes and villains in different pursuits.
“We want an overarching premise to the building, and that’s how The Nemesis Club came to be,” Dustin says.
“It’s all about heroes and villains, spies and double agents, mad scientists and robots. Instead of fighting each other, when they are here, they all put down their weapons and play games. The whole theme helps ease players into the game before dropping them into a more surreal experience.”
Each game is an adventure, with independent settings and objectives. As of right now, only one game is running, but several more are slated to be opened for play by the end of the year.
The first game, named “Evil Robots,” looks straight out of a Disney movie. Featuring a large, animatronic, realistic robot, the game is truly mesmerizing. As the Smiths describe, the retro-futuristic activity is centered on a rogue robot who is powering himself on and threatening to take over the world. Team members must work together, solving clues to power off the robot and take back control. The goal is not so much escaping as it is to complete a storyline. So why call them escape rooms?
“People call them escape rooms because the objective is usually to escape,” Dustin says. “We stick with the name escape room because in many ways The Nemesis Club lets you and your friends or family escape reality for an hour.”
Unlike many other escape rooms, the fun continues when the game ends. The Smiths say they wanted players to have an outlet to chat about the game while enjoying tasty snacks to create a more complete gaming experience. This was how the partnership with The Soda Jerk began.
“We wanted to make entertainment that goes all the way through, from start to finish,” Kylee says.
“We found that after escape rooms we were always talking about the game in the parking lot. It was an incomplete entertainment option. We wanted to have something delicious for people so that they could commiserate or celebrate after their game and talk about it. With ice cream being our favorite snack, we thought it was the perfect marriage.”
What makes The Nemesis Club special is the attention to detail and the sheer effort that went into its making. With all of the interior and graphic designing done in-house, the Smiths look over nearly every aspect of The Nemesis Club. The games are among the most technologically advanced in America, using over 5 miles of wiring to power lights, sound effects, animatronics and projections. A custom score was produced specifically for each game to heighten the emotion where it is needed within playtime. It uses technology to pinpoint what part of the story players are working on.
“We wanted it to feel like a movie you are living,” Kylee says.
Another detail that sets The Nemesis Club apart from other escape rooms is the adaptive difficulty feature within each game.
“If you are playing well, we actually increase the difficulty of the game so that everybody has to get right to the last minute. It makes it more exciting,” Dustin says.
“We’ve played games where we’ve beat them in half the time given to us, which isn’t as fun. We like to push everyone right to the end for the optimal experience.”
In April, a second game, called “Mogollon Monster,” is set to debut. This spooky game places players on a campsite, looking for proof of the Mogollon monster in Arizona. The game features moving sets and dark lighting, creating a fun but intense and surprising story. The game is not made for the weak of heart, though it is still family friendly. Dustin and Kylee say that although all the games that are part of The Nemesis Club are perfectly appropriate for kids, they will be most enjoyed by those 16 and older.
The couple started the design process more than a year prior to the pandemic. Making the tough decision to continue with the project and begin building, they have been able to stay on track. As it turns out, escape rooms are one of the safest activities to do outside the house in 2021.
“We only provide private games, so you’re never playing with strangers,” Dustin says. “We sanitize and follow social distancing procedures, making it a really safe option in the coronavirus world. It wasn’t how we originally planned to open, but it’s been working out well.”
The Smiths are excited to continue to open games and welcome in players. Their hope is to have five escape games open by the end of 2021. The ambitious and complicated games will take time to build, but they are looking forward to the results. They think that something like this is important for people to have as the pandemic continues.
“It’s fun to get away and have this challenging, social experience, and people need that right now. This is a safe way to have fun with your friends and family and then enjoy a delicious shake. It’s a unique experience,” Dustin said.
The Nemesis Club
5350 E. High Street, Suite 109, Phoenix