Mobile games get a lot of flack and are often stereotyped as being little time wasters, good for only filling in those moments of the day that would have otherwise been filled with looking up at the world around you. This is mostly an unfair stereotype that ignores a lot of quality games that have been made for the platform and the actual pitfalls of the bad games of the platform. However, it does speak to a growing exasperation when there are so few game designed for the tastes of the traditional player and so few that utilize the specific strengths of mobile gaming.
The Room is the kind of game that speaks to both issues. An adventure game in the vein of Myst, you could also call it a descendant of the classic. The style of The Room even looks like a more shadowy, higher resolution part of that game. The entirety of The Room takes place in the titular room, which focuses the player on the grand Russian doll of all puzzle boxes. You move around the (at first) safe location before it opens to reveal the next puzzling challenge. Each container is opened via an assortment of physical actions that will aid in finding clues and solutions for how the esoteric contraption works.
You rotate around by sliding your finger across the screen, you tap to pick up an object, and you press to grab a hold of an item and either drag or rotate it. It’s very intuitive for all the physical actions that need to be taken in the course of solving the puzzles.
There is an inventory, but you’ll never have more than an item or two at a time in it. You will determine their use more from their physical shape than some obtrusive line of thinking. The thinking is often very straight forward—even if the path to unlocking the box is not. And should you ever get stuck, there is a three step hint system that will slowly reveal the next part of the process. Most of the time, I never needed it, but when I did, often the first hint was all the kick in the pants that I needed to get on the right track. Only once was I ever dense enough to need the game to outright tell me what I was supposed to do. I felt like an idiot afterwards, which is a good mark on the game. I felt the fault was with me and not with the game.
The game’s story, if it can be said to have one, is all about the mystery of the box. In a room lit by a single construction lamp, the game has a very eerie feel that is only compounded as the game goes on. You’ll find a few notes as you open up the boxes from the previous owner and your mentor. In fact, the game is more about a situation than it is a plot. The narrative emerges from the player solving the locks and opening the box, not from knowing where the end may be. The notes provide a little history and background, but it is the atmosphere and your own actions that give the game a sense of meaning beyond the mere physical puzzles encountered.
I finished the game in a day. I didn’t mean to. Really, it took a few sessions spread out over a single afternoon and evening, but when I felt stuck or burned out, I closed the game and walked away. Yet, I kept coming back. I didn’t know when the experience would end, and I never thought of the length in any way mattering. The game drove me to complete it. Like a siren’s song it called me back to play once more. Rest up and play a little more. Crack the safe, open the box, solve the… thing. And when it ended, it left me stunned. Not because I was surprised at the game’s relative shortness or even that a tablet game even has an ending in the first place. It’s that the situations that the conclusion so neatly presented mirrored—a little frighteningly—mirrors my own personal experience with the game. It finally contextualizes the truth of the whole matter that has hidden in shadows and has been locked behind a mystery, like the box itself.
For a game so simple to challenge both its medium and its audience in such a way is astounding. I’m not sure that there is any deeper meaning or idea behind The Room, it isn’t a game about statements. It is, however, a shining example of player/avatar resonance. In that respect, the game is an achievement. It immerses us in its world and into its mode of thinking so much so that we behave, unknowingly, in the manner that we do. It’s a remarkable game full of atmosphere and presence, an love song to craftsmanship. I can’t wait to see what Fireproof Games makes next.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.