I’ve been cracking away at a preview build of Rooms: The Main Building for a couple weeks now, and I admit to being more intrigued than I ever expected. The game’s premise is simple: you play as a Victorian gentleman, swept away to a puzzle-filled mansion where you must rearrange the mansion’s rooms to find your way out. You are assisted by a talking book, and you collect helpful items along the way.
The actual gameplay is basically a sliding tile puzzle. Each room is broken up into tiles, and you can only move one if you are standing in it. You can’t just walk between any two tiles either; some have impassable walls, others have locked doors you have to find a key to open. You can move vertically between tiles by using a ladder—you’ll often have to rearrange several tiles to position a ladder tile below the one you want to access.
Certain tiles also contain helpful items. Red payphones will teleport you between two tiles, while wardrobes swap two tiles’ positions on the board. The goal in each puzzle is to reach the exit door, but as the level’s timer ticks down a steel shutter will close over the door, so you can’t waste a lot of time working out the puzzle.
Thankfully the game will give you some help if you’re bad at tile puzzles like me. You can click a button on the grid to get a hint, or display the puzzle the way it’s supposed to look when it’s completed. Each tile will sparkle and chime when you move it into its ideal spot. However, there are multiple ways to solve a puzzle; you can go for a perfect solution where every tile is in the right position, but if you’re having trouble with one you can work it around just so you can reach the exit.
The game also has a hotel filled with sequential challenges, unlocked with items you pick up in the mansion. The hotel has several golden puzzle pieces you must retrieve to finish the game, and I’m sure they have something to do with the magic puzzle that got your character into the mansion in the first place.
In terms of graphics and sound, Rooms has a very homey steampunk style that reflects the game’s Victorian atmosphere. Most of the animations look motion-captured or rotoscoped, evoking feelings of those old CD full motion video adventures like Myst and Sherlock Holmes. My only real problem was how small everything looked; the puzzles are surrounded by a huge border and the details in the tiles are tiny, making it hard to tell them apart sometimes. The music is synthesized overall, but brought back memories of old N64 games and fit the gameplay surprisingly well.
I only played through the demo disc but Rooms looks like a solid puzzle game. Its retro graphical style and simple gameplay belie a puzzler that can get very challenging very fast. For a budget title at $30, we’ll see if the full version warrants a retail release or would have been better served as a WiiWare title.
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