Review: Rooms: The Main Building (Nintendo DS)

Rooms: The Main Building
Publisher: Hudson Entertainment
Developer: Handmade Games
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 03/23/2010

I’ve been looking for a new type of puzzle game for my DS. Lately I’ve been playing mostly adventure games and random things like Bakugan Battle Trainer. When I saw the trailer for Rooms, I was immediately interested. Here was a puzzle game that took a classic puzzle type – slide puzzles – and gave it a fun twist that promised to make for some nifty brain teasers. I couldn’t wait.

I’ve played plenty of great puzzle games for portable platforms. Not even counting classics like Dr. Mario and Tetris, there are games like Lumines, Gunpey, Exit, and so on. In particular, I’ve had success with another obscure DS puzzle game in Prysm: Light the Way. (Look it up. You can find it for less than ten dollars and it is an absolute diamond in the rough.) My hope wast that Rooms would be the next game in this auspicious list.

So, did it make the cut, or did it only have a nice concept?

Story/Modes:

The game doesn’t start off very well in the originality department. Mr. X is your average Joe who is bored with his life. Just as he’s wishing for something exciting to happen, he receives a package for his birthday. Whether it was actually his birthday or not, the game never mentions. Personally, I’d like to think it wasn’t, because that makes the whole scenario funnier. Anyway, the package ends up being an unfinished jigsaw puzzle that teleports Mr. X to another world.

That world is one of puzzles. He soon meets and animated talking book named, what else, Mr. Book. Mr. Book tells him that the only way to escape this accursed world is to enter the Rooms Mansions and solve all of the puzzles. A bit tiffed at this whole thing, Mr. X nonetheless toils onward in attempt to free himself from this fresh hell.

The setup is a bit odd, and again, not original, but it at least attempts to put some subtext to the proceedings. There isn’t much of a plot after this, though there is a bit of a twist ending. They try to make the characters interesting with some personality rich dialogue, but it doesn’t really work all that well. It’s nice that the story is there, but you’ll be playing this game for the puzzles.

From the start, you’ll have two modes available. The first is the main story, in which you complete puzzles to advance the plot and unlock more puzzles. The other mode is called “Build”. In “Build”, you can create your own puzzle using any of the backgrounds, tools, and abilities you find in the story mode. The creation tool is rather simple once you know what you’re doing, and it can be a cinch to create something. Where would the fun be, however, if you couldn’t share your creations? While you can’t do so over Nintendo Wi-Fi, you can trade puzzles with another person as long as they have a copy of the game as well. This is a great feature exclusive to the DS version of the game. The Wii version has the creation tool, but no sharing. (Though it does have a versus option that the DS version lacks.)

After you’ve cleared the story, you’ll unlock two challenge modes to fiddle around. One sets a time limit on solving the puzzle, and the other gives you a limited number of moves to work with. The big kicker is that you have to not only reach the exit, but solve a background puzzle as well. Those same background puzzles are merely optional in the main game, so this adds quite a bit of challenge to the game.

Beyond that, you have a trophy room where you can see the awards you’ve earned for your various accomplishments. It’s a pretty good amount of content on the disk, with the challenge modes and creation tool easily keeping the game interesting long after you’ve watched the credits roll.

Graphics:

In the visual department, this game appears to be just a cut down port of the Wii version. That isn’t to say it looks all that bad, though. The game has a strong early twentieth century England feel to it. Mr. X sports a trendy trench-coat and old school phone booths are abundant. The style works rather well despite the limited number of implementations. There are only a handful of backgrounds in the game, and most of the visual flare comes from the various items in the rooms themselves.

There are some nifty animations as well. Mr. X moves fluidly from one room to the next, though his low pixel count doesn’t do him any favors. A nice dust blowing effect occurs whenever you move a puzzle piece, and you get a golden sparkle when something is in the right spot.

Overall, it is a pretty okay looking game, though it is clear it is just a port. If the developers had tailor made it for the system, I’m sure it would have ended up a lot cleaner looking.

Sound:

The music in this game fits the theme rather well, but for most of the game, the same tune plays. It feels weird when the start up screen has a theme, the profile select screen has a theme, but there’s only one song for a whole mansion! It goes on to hurt the game in another way. You’re very likely to tune the music out in your head because it plays on loop. That is, of course, if you don’t get too into solving the puzzle long enough to actually listen to it in the first place.

The rest of the audio is represented by the various sound effects. Of particular note, the grinding stone sound of a room sliding from one place to another never gets old despite the hundreds of times you do it throughout the game. Also, the bells that sound whenever you move all of the pieces in the right spot is not only useful, but extremely easy on the ears. Mr. X himself rarely makes a sound, however. In fact, the only time you’ll hear from him is if you manage to get yourself killed, which is pretty hard to do.

The audio ends up being a great fit for the game in terms of style. It might be a bit tinny coming out of the DS’s speakers, but it’ll get the job done.

Gameplay:

The core gameplay of Rooms is that of a basic sliding puzzle. You’ve no doubt played a few of them in your life. That alone wouldn’t make a worthwhile game, but that’s not all the game has up its sleeve. The goal of each puzzle is to get Mr. X from the starting block to the block with the exit door. To do this, you can slide occupied pieces to adjacent empty ones, move him from one piece to another, and use various tools.

It starts out simple enough. The first level merely has you sliding one room and unlocking a door with a key. New items are introduced regularly. Telephones allow you to teleport to any other telephone on the map. Ladders allow you to climb up or down to new slides. Using wardrobes allows you to switch one room with another while staying in the same location. Candles can be used to light explosives, fire hydrants can move water from one room to another, and fish bowls allow you to travel underwater. There are plenty more tricks than even the ones I just named, but my goal isn’t to throw a huge list in this review.

Everything is done with the stylus, and the controls work great. You’ll rarely come across a moment when you’ll hit something unintentionally. Some items can be a bit small, but most items require you to make some sort of confirmation, so you won’t have to worry. And, apart from the challenge modes, you can pretty much take back any move you make.

Each level has two puzzles. The first is getting Mr. X to the exit. That, however, will only get you a silver medal for clearing the level. In order to get the gold, you must also arrange the pieces so that the backgrounds form a picture. This picture is always a section of the map for the Mansion, so you get a good idea of what goes where eventually. Also, you can check to see the outlines of where all of the pieces will go. You can’t see the picture itself, so it isn’t a crutch, but it can help. For the main quest, your goal is to solve a series of these puzzles in order to unlock chests. In the chests you find items that you must then use to solve simple point and click puzzles in the overworld. These involve getting an animated chest to spit out a puzzle piece or fixing a magical clock. You’ll pretty much need to finish most of the levels in order to get the required items, but there will be several puzzles that are optional.

Overall, the concept works. Sliding blocks and moving Mr. X through the various rooms is fun, and can often be puzzling. When you’ve gotten far enough that the puzzles use all of the various items, things can get pretty nuts, not to mention pretty fun.

Replayability:

If your only goal is to clear the story, the game won’t last you very long. I managed it in less than four hours. The reason is that most of the puzzles can be finished in less than a minute. If you’re not bothering to get gold rankings on everything, it will be an even shorter game.

The good news is that if you’re willing to keep going after the credits, the game really opens up. You unlock a new mansion full of the toughest challenges in the game. You can finish all of the mansions in order to earn new trophies. And, as mentioned, you can play the challenge modes. Plus, if you get into the build mode, you can spend hours trying to create the most devious puzzle for friends to solve, and they can do the same as well.

So, while the story won’t last long, there is plenty of content for you to play around with.

Balance:

One of the biggest problems with the game is that a lot of the levels exist solely to introduce and get you used to the new items. Because of this, most of the levels in the game are extremely easy. By the time it gets challenging, you’re pretty much done with the story.

The game does really kick it into high gear at the end. While it won’t be too hard to figure out how to beat a level, it will become tricky to get the gold ranking. When you throw in the challenge modes, things can get pretty taxing for your poor brain.

Still, seasoned puzzle vets may get bored of the game quickly since it takes so long to get challenging.

Originality:

While slide puzzles themselves aren’t anything new, this take on the genre, where you can only move a piece with a character in it, and using items within the blocks themselves, is rather novel. It is one of things that first drew me to the game. You can’t really find anything else like it.

The creation tool is another rarely taken step for the genre. While there are puzzle games that allow you to create your own twisted monstrosities, there aren’t enough of them, and even fewer of them work as well as the one is this game.

The concept is refreshing and relatively unique, which is something gamers can look forward to.

Addictiveness:

It is very easy to play this game for a couple of hours on end. The puzzles are brief and can be satisfying to complete. That adds up to long sessions of play. It won’t hook you in quite like its gem dropping cousins, but it does pretty well on its own.

That is, of course, unless you get bored of the relative ease of the early puzzles. If the basic gameplay doesn’t hook you in, the lack of a real challenge until late in the game has a good chance of souring you on the whole experience. It really depends on your disposition and important a good challenge is to you.

If creation is your game, you will definitely get a good amount of play out of the build mode. It has enough content and options to let you really flex your muscles.

Appeal Factor:

There are two very big things going against this game in terms of appeal. First, the Wii version has better graphics, a multiplayer mode, and can be bought for the same price. The bigger problem is that there is a downloadable PC version that costs a mere seven dollars! If you’re willing to pay thirty dollars to have a portable version of the game, then this is for you; otherwise, there are better versions of the game available for the same price or even cheaper.

Disregarding the price point, the game is highly recommendable. The novel concept combined with the high amount of content make it a great buy for puzzle fans. It might take a while for the challenge to set in, but the game is still pretty fun even when it is easy.

Miscellaneous:

This game follows an ever growing trend I’m noticing among DS games in that it is offering trophies for accomplishments. I guess the success of achievements on the 360 and trophies on the PS3 have gotten through to even portable developers. I suppose they’re fun enough to work towards, and they encourage players who wouldn’t otherwise go for it to try and master the game.

I really feel that charging thirty bucks for the game was a bit of a stretch. PC version be damned, it would have been much more consumer friendly of them to put this game out for twenty dollars. A lot of puzzle type games come out for that price, and it just feels like the right about for a handheld puzzle game.

My one wish for this game was that it included Nintendo Wi-Fi support. Not even first party games take advantage of this ability, and it is a shame. With an online community to support the creation tool to its fullest, this game would be a must have for all DS owners. As it is, only puzzle fans need apply.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Decent
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: Above Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

Rooms: The Main Building is an enjoyable puzzle game for the Nintendo DS. Above all else, it is fun to play and features plenty of content on top of a great creation tool. Puzzle veterans might find it a bit too easy, and the lack of Wi-Fi is a bit disappointing, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from having a blast with the game. If the price tag is too much for you, look for the downloadable PC version. Otherwise, I can easily recommend this game.

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