The Room Is a Crazy-Fun Puzzler
Don't worry, The Room isn't a puzzler that's so hard that you won't be able to finish it. At least, I'm guessing most people can eventually figure it out. Sure, I was stuck several times and on the brink of despair, only to find a visual cue to keep me on track. Fortunately, when you're really stuck, a built-in in help system lets you tap a question mark to receive a clue.
This story was originally published on Jan. 21, 2013, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
The Room is an iPad 2 game available in the iTunes App Store for US$1.99.
Sometimes thousands of user reviewers really get it right: The Room has nearly 100,000 reviews in the App Store with an average ranking of 5 out of 5 stars, which is a feat that grabbed my attention. Hence, I promptly downloaded The Room.
Curiouser and Curiouser
But what is The Room? It's a moody, atmospheric mystery puzzle game set inside of a room, set inside of a safe, set inside of a pointy box inside the safe, and so on and so forth. The puzzles come in the form of mechanical levers, secret panels, configurable keys, codes, and even some three-dimensional visual cues that can only be seen from special angles through a special lens.
The puzzles are built on the outside of the safe and interior "boxes," and they yield to your virtual manipulation. You can flick your way all around the safe, for example, looking at it from all angles. To interact with it, you double tap to zoom into an area. At which point you'll find a sliding panel that opens a door that reveals a key that opens a lock that reveals a book that reveals another key that includes a letter that alludes to some astounding new power of the universe. (Of course, these aren't the actual steps -- no spoilers here -- it's just an example.)
Sound complicated? It is and it isn't. Usually you can rotate and zoom around until you pinpoint a likely element that will react to your touch. An innocuous switch or a manufacturing cover plate that slides to reveal a hidden recess and a key. Obviously the key will fit a likely lock, so you use the key to open that lock, which might be on the other side of a box, and boom, you're cracking the case. One step will lead to another.
What if You're Not a Genius?
Don't worry, The Room isn't a puzzler that's so hard that you won't be able to finish it. At least, I'm guessing most people can eventually figure it out. Sure, I was stuck several times and on the brink of despair, only to find a visual cue to keep me on track. Fortunately, when you're really stuck, a built-in in help system lets you tap a question mark to receive a clue to you, which helps encourage you to examine an area more closely.
At one point, I spent about 10 minutes looking and prying and swiping and zooming to no avail. I didn't want to resort to the help clue but finally realized that I had to. The answer? I needed to use the built-in accelerometer in the iPad to physically change the angle of the iPad to get some orbs to rotate and move to activate another secret panel. Because I had the iPad propped up on a table in an immovable position, wiggling the iPad around never even crossed my mind.
The graphics of the devices and boxes and sound effects are all fantastic. If you have headphones, play it with the headphones. Not only will you hear some audible cause-and-effect sounds to help you along the way, you'll get a dose of moody ambiance. Sometimes you'll hear creaking or the wind or the sound of horse hooves somewhere outside the room, and while not exactly scary, you're still emerged in a dark room trying to open up boxes to reveal some vaguely ominous secret power.
As for the underlying story line I keep mentioning, it comes mostly through letters that you find along the way. You have to pay attention, but the plot isn't where you get satisfaction out of the room: It's the puzzles. Each time you do something right, discover something through even a tiny bit of ingenuity, you get a little does of satisfaction. These successes build on each other, moving you into a habit loop of look, examine, poke, swipe, and find to reveal something new. Aren't you a smart one?
That's the genius of The Room. Even if you get stuck, you just get another clue that you have to figure out; consequently, this little iPad game is surprisingly fun to play.
All-in-all, The Room evokes the old-school Myst game but keeps the focus of your attention on or in a box. While I can't imagine want to play through the game again myself, I can imagine giving it to a kid or adult to play while on a road trip or when you're stuck in a cabin with 3 feet of snow on the ground. It really is a five-star game.