Going puzzling with The Room

the room

I’ve always liked puzzles. Growing up I was constantly buying various types of Rubik’s Cube-esque contraptions to fiddle with. I remember, as a teen, being at the house of some friends of my parents’. They had this little plastic puzzle. It was four interconnected cubes with a big red ball trapped inside one of them. You had to figure out how to release the ball, which could only be accomplished by applying force to three or four different pressure points simultaneously. It blew my mind.

I’ve also always been a fan of secret passages, trick bookcases, hidden compartments and things of that sort. Put them in a videogame for me to find, and I’ll be delighted. Make them a focal point of your movie, and I’ll almost certainly watch. (Remember the 1980 Don Knotts-Tom Conway comedy whodunit The Private Eyes? That thing was chock-full of secret passages, which is probably why it was one of my favorite movies when I was seven years old. Later in life, I visited the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C., where it was filmed. I spent most of that trip trying to slip the gaze of the tour guide so I could look for the telltale signs of a false wall. Sadly, I was unsuccessful.)

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that it feels like The Room, an iOS game from Fireproof Games, was made specifically for me. I downloaded the $1.99 game for the iPad last week, but didn’t getting around to trying the game out until yesterday. It didn’t take long to work my way through it, but the hour or two I spent playing were among the most gratifying moments I’ve spent gaming in a while. The Room is very, very short but very, very worth it.

The game has you doing nothing but solving puzzle boxes — three to be precise. The first is partly a tutorial, and the third is so complex that it’s divided into two stages. Think the box from Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and you’re on the right track, although that thing looks like a simple kid’s toy compared to the boxes of The Room. These ones are filled with hidden levers, mystical codes, secret compartments, MORE secret compartments inside those secret compartments, mechanical contraptions that are missing important pieces and all manner of things that must be discovered, unlocked and properly assembled in order to crack the full mystery of the box. The design of the boxes — all rendered in gorgeous 3D — is beautiful. The controls are perfect. If a latch can be moved in one direction, it’s very easy to make it do so by pushing it with your finger. And the game’s puzzles are solved by thoughtful deduction rather than cheap gimmicks. (There’s no blowing into the microphone or any of that shit.)

There’s a button you can press for hints, but I never pressed it because I’m not a dirty cheater. It’s SUPPOSED to be agonizing when you’re stuck. And it’s all the sweeter when you finally figure out how to get unstuck. Feeling like a genius once you’ve worked through a difficult section on your own is part of the fun in playing a game like this. (See also: Polytron Corporation’s Fez.) As you play through The Room, you’ll likely come across bits that seem similar to games you’ve played in the past. The point-and-click adventure games from LucasArts were obviously an inspiration. And there are a few puzzles that reminded me of the forced-perspective question marks you can discover in Rocksteady’s Batman games. But that’s what’s cool. Often, that type of clever gameplay element is just a nice addition to some other type of game — an RPG or action game or whatever. (And in many cases, it’s not even mandatory to beating the game.) But The Room consists of nothing BUT the brain-teasers, devilish and stacked up on top of each other like so many Russian dolls.

Fireproof promises a sequel is coming. I hope it’s longer. I hope it’s just as difficult, if not more so. I hope the weird sci-fi/horror story that serves as the game’s narrative via notes you can find hidden in the puzzle boxes continues to be more creepy than cheesy. Like I said, it feels like this game was made just for me. And I don’t want it to end.