by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
IT'S ENTIRELY SLIDING BLOCK PUZZLES
It always seems like adventure games, or role playing games, will have a sliding block puzzle hidden somewhere within. You know the ones. You’ll have a tiled grid with some of the squares missing. Then you have to slide the blocks around until you’ve matched up some symbols, or created a path to escape. We’ve all done them, and it’s not outside the realms of possibility that you, like me, hate them. Now, Rooms: The Unsolvable Puzzle is a game where every single level is a sliding block puzzle. Although it sounded like my worst nightmare, the developers have put enough of a twist on the formula to keep things interesting for a time.
You play as Anne, a little girl who has been trapped inside a toymaker’s mansion. In every level your goal is simply to find the exit. You start off in a room, and you can move it left, right, up, or down, as long as there is space to do so. You can move between rooms if there is not a wall blocking it off. Or you can go up to a higher level using a ladder if the room has one. You have a lantern companion which when lit shows you what the vague layout of what the room will be when the puzzle is completed. However I rarely found this to be of any use, since it doesn’t tell you any of the steps needed to get there. These are the basic mechanics, but new objects are introduced as you play through the game.
WITH A FEW EXTRA MECHANICS
For example, if a room has a telephone in it, you can use it to the corresponding telephone in another room. If there’s a closet, you can use it to swap the features of the room itself to somewhere else. You could swap your room with one which also has a closet in order to remove a wall that’s in your way, or in order to gain access to a ladder. As the game progresses, you are slowly introduced to more complex concepts. Such as a magnet that will push or pull adjacent rooms. You can use this to move rooms about, without using up one of your possible motions for each level.
Each level has an ideal number of moves in which you can complete it, and this is shown to the left of your screen at all times. Every time you move a room, it ticks down. If it reaches zero, you lose access to one puzzle piece, of which there are three available for every level. These are essentially your star rating for each puzzle. The more puzzle pieces you’re getting, the better you’re doing. It’s important for you to get as many as possible, because these are the only way you’ll be unlocking the later mansions which contain all new levels. Thankfully, simply completing a level will grant you access to the next level.
SERIOUSLY, THAT'S IT
As I mentioned, new mechanics keep things interesting for a while, but each level ultimately boils down to a sliding block puzzle, and there’s only so much you can squeeze out of that from a game design perspective. Equally there’s only so much you can get out of it from an enjoyment perspective. Each level can be completed pretty quickly, especially early on when you’re burning through the puzzles. But when you come across a tricky one, or one that you simply can’t figure out straight away, this is where it begins to drag. Even after figuring out a puzzle I’d been struggling with for a few minutes, I wasn’t struck with a sense of satisfaction like most other puzzle games would bring, because I knew that the next level would be more of the same.
There are 144 levels in all, which sounds great from a value for money standpoint, but I found the game started outstaying its welcome after around 40 or so. It has a cute, whimsical art style and story, which by now you may have come to expect from a puzzle game which focuses on one thing. It looks good and runs smooth, but the small rooms often seem cluttered, especially when there is more than one object in them. Anne also often gets confused since the same button is assigned to use whatever object she is standing near. More than once I detonated a bomb instead of using a telephone to escape to another room. On a gamepad, the A button is used to move a room downwards, but it’s also used to progress the dialogue between Anne and her handy talking lantern. So I often threw away a move while trying to progress a conversation.
I'M JUST GONNA SLIDE OUT
If you absolutely love sliding block puzzles, there’s probably something in Rooms: The Unsolvable Puzzle for you. For the rest of us, there are a few tidbits to tickle our curiosities, but nothing much else to keep us entertained throughout the huge number of levels. While I hate these types of puzzles, I don’t hate this game. It’s just a shame that the two are unavoidably associated.
Brings some fresh ideas to the sliding block puzzle formula
Sliding block puzzles are the worst part of most games