Rooms’ story mode is a tale about a young man who gets trapped in a world he can only escape from by solving slide puzzles. And while traditional slide puzzles are completed by moving pieces around so that they make a picture or form a word, these one see you guiding your character through the puzzle itself (pieces can only be moved when your character is in the square you wish to slide), with the ultimate goal of unlocking a doorway to the next level. Forming pictures is still important if you want to get a “Gold” rating for the level, but it’s not essential, acting as a guide for completion rather than the way to play a given puzzle. That probably sounds pretty dull… and that’s because, well, it is: guiding your character through door after door becomes increasingly monotonous, and each successive stage made me feel more like a videogame Sisyphus than a slide-puzzle mastermind.
Thankfully, the team behind Rooms apparently realized that the small twist of guiding a character through puzzles rapidly becomes a bore, and added a series of twists that help inject some variety — at least for a short while. Throughout the course of the game, additional mechanics are slowly introduced, including teleporters, water-filled rooms, and magic cupboards that switch tiles’ places. These quirks add a sense of spontaneity to the level design; toward the end of the game, these elements often get pulled together within a single stage, creating deceptively difficult puzzles that are downright satisfying to solve. It’s unfortunate, though, that the number of clever, challenging puzzles gets overshadowed by a host of mind-numbingly simple levels that fail to engage for any extended amount of time.
I’d have a lot less to gripe about if I could have just jumped to the challenging levels right off the bat, but Rooms forces you to suffer through a painfully written story alongside the sequential slog. The plot makes a go of integrating some point-and-click adventure game-style stuff into the mix, with a small world that you explore and interact with via items unlocked during the puzzle portion. Calling it “interaction” is actually quite generous, though, as my ability to influence and participate in the world was so scripted that every such task was simplistic at best. The game tries to paint a charming setting, but the dialogue between characters is stale and — like the story — forgettable.
So the adventure game elements are a bust, but Rooms takes a stab at introducing variety with its other modes. The only problem: they’re either fundamentally broken, or locked from the get-go. The Wii version features a battle mode wherein two players compete to see who can reach a door first, but it’s marred by a horrible interface that overlaps with the puzzle, resulting in times where you accidentally wind up clicking “Restart” instead of interacting with the puzzle. Both versions also feature Challenge modes that add timers, or limit the amount of moves in a given level… but these are locked until the story is completed. Even the level editor, which is feature-rich and allows you to craft levels every bit as detailed (or dull!) as those in the game, feels like a waste, as the DS version only allows sharing between two nearby players who both have the game — while the Wii version doesn’t allow you to share at all.
If you’re the type of person who, as a child, couldn’t wait to spend your hard-earned arcade tickets on crappy plastic slide puzzles, then Rooms might be your bag. I mean, if that’s the case, we already know that your idea of gold is the type of “treat” most of us end up settling for.
The few interesting mechanics that are mixed into Rooms’ slide puzzles just aren’t enough to make it entertaining from start to finish, and the coolest modes are locked from the start. The Wii and DS versions may be $30 budget titles, but even that seems grossly overpriced when the same game is available on the PC for less than $10.