The Natick Mall in early 2021 seeks to welcome Night Shift Brewing and Level99, which will join forces to offer an interactive “world of challenges” designed to get people off their butts to solve physical and mental games while enjoying food and beverages.
The remnants of Sears, whose 180,000 sq. ft. went dark in Natick Mall at the start of 2019, continue to be erased and replaced with anything but old-fashioned retail businesses. Sports bar/arcade Dave & Busters arrived first, about a year ago. The Natick Planning Board this past week heard a pitch from the mall and its partners about Level99, which looks to take mall amusements to a whole new level (though the meeting was really just about the signage).
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Level99 is spearheaded by Matt DuPlessie, whose work through a company called 5 Wits you might be familiar with if you ever visited the now-defunct TOMB interactive space in the Fenway or the 20,000 Leagues or Espionage adventures at Patriot Place in Foxborough. Now DuPlessie & team, via engineering firm Box Fort of Norwood, are envisioning Level99 in 48,000 sq. ft. on the second level of the Natick Mall, which has been looking for non-apparel-based tenants for that space in re-imagining itself. Box Fort’s clients include museums and theme parks, to give you a sense of what you might be in for with Level99.
Level99 is a plan 4 years and $10 million in the making, according to DuPlessie.
The concept, of which a mock-up was shown at the meeting, would include 43 separate rooms, each clustered into small groups and featuring different games that groups of 2 to 6 people will have a few minutes to try to win. You might have to put black and white tiles together in a certain pattern, avoid stepping on “lava” as you solve a puzzle, or sequence colors and sounds, like with the old Simon game. DuPlessie described a diverse collection of themes, from ancient caves to modern art to a candy factory. The rooms will turn red and a buzzer will sound if you fail (you can try again).
Some games will be more public, or arena-like, with the opportunity to compete vs. others or to just spectate. Seventy-plus pieces of art, including works from local artists, will decorate the space and double as items in a scavenger hunt.
The idea is that you’ll pay $20 for an RFID wristband that will give you access to the game rooms. In all, there’s about 30 hours of play available to people.
DuPlessie, who began his career managing theme park projects in Florida, said that Level99 borrows heavily from video game mechanisms that people love to play on smartphones and computers, and transfers it to the physical world. He emphasized it is not a place to play video games or walk around in virtual reality goggles.
“This is get your rear off the couch, get up, get active, get into the space and play,” he said.
While this all might sound like fun, DuPlessie said partnering with Night Shift, the state’s #2 best-selling craft brewery, is what will help lure more people to the venue, entice them to stay a while, and encourage them to revisit. The target audience is young adults, say ages 21-39, but expect some hours that will allow younger participants, too.
For those of drinking age, a taproom somewhat separated from the fray will be accessible. For those who want to soak in the experience while eating and drinking, tables will be located in the middle of things.
Word of this Night Shift project comes on the heels of the brewery scrapping plans to open its “second ‘forever home'” in Philadelphia, a project that would have cost at least $10 million and was 4 years in planning. “It wasn’t meant to be. The COVID-19 pandemic shook our business to the core, and obviously almost everything outside of it. We’re lucky that we’re still in operation and able to see ourselves coming out of this crisis intact,” the owners wrote on their website in May.
Who needs Philly when you have Natick—plus Everett and Boston—anyway?
Back to the overall Level99 concept. Planning Board member Julian Munnich’s reaction to the plan summed things up nicely: “It was bound to happen, Willy Wonka meets Dungeons & Dragons.”