Don’t take the just-slightly-above-average score we’ve decided to give Rooms: The Main Building as a sign that we felt only lukewarm about the game. On the contrary: Rooms is one of the most interesting, unique and challenging puzzle games we’ve seen in a while. It just takes a while to grow on you due to some design quirks that are too significant to ignore.
Rooms: The Main Building‘s shtick is slider puzzles – and lots of them. Slider puzzles, for those unfamiliar with the term, are those puzzles where an image is segmented into tiles and then scrambled, and you have to recreate the image by sliding the tiles around until they all fall into their proper places.
The game’s first major twist is that there’s a little person who can walk from tile to tile as well, so in addition to sliding the tiles to recreate the background image, you must move them in such a way as to create a path for the person to arrive at the special gate tile to escape the level.
Furthermore, you can only move the tile (I’ll call them rooms from now on) that the person is standing in, and he can travel between two adjacent rooms provided there’s no wall or barrier separating them. The game will gradually introduce more complex challenges like ladders, locked doors, barriers that can only be destroyed by setting off explosives nearby, teleporters that transport you from one room to another, spinning clock rooms, and even rooms that are filled with water that must be pumped out.
The concept is brilliant, but admittedly we didn’t warm up to the game right away. The setting is strange and confusing to say the least. There’s the slider puzzle portion of the game, which takes place across four mansions. But then there’s also a series of two-dimensional point-and-click adventure challenges that take place in other buildings around the central hub of the game universe, which is called Rooms Street. Some of the challenges you’ll face here include how to wake up a sleeping chest, and how to stop an enchanted mirror from crying hysterically, using items you’ve collected from chests in the mansion levels. The overall goal is to find four golden puzzle pieces that serve as your ticket out of Rooms Street.
The game doesn’t do a stellar job of laying all this out for the player, leaving them instead to piece it together themselves. Players might find it especially hard to get the hang of where to go and when. It also took me a while to realize that in order to access the mansions from Rooms Street I had to click on the "map" button, which isn’t exactly intuitive.
Tutorials could be better as well. Your mentor is a talking book, which is odd in and of itself, but more pressing is the fact that each time you encounter a new gameplay element, you have a split-second to click on a tiny lightbulb icon to get your explanation, otherwise you’ve missed it.
Given that Rooms: The Main Building is clearly a thinking person’s puzzle game, the time limit imposed on each level is truly annoying and stressful; however, later versions of the game have added an option to play the levels untimed – we suggest that you do it that way.
Players who are willing to work around the quirks will be richly rewarded. Rooms: The Main Building isn’t the most accessible puzzle game, and it’s not the kind of title you’ll breeze through. By the same token, though, its thoroughly unique concept and absolutely ingenious level design are impossible to ignore. Expect lots of head-scratching and restarting of levels and feelings of exasperation before you’ve finished – but the challenge is also what makes conquering a level that much more rewarding.