Rooms: The Main Building is a puzzle game from developer and longtime publishing giant Hudson Soft, and it revolves around the concept of sliding puzzles, which gamers probably have more experience with than most people. If you're not entirely sure what I'm talking about, sliding puzzles tend to crop up in games like Resident Evil or other third-person adventure titles, wherein you'll come across a picture that's typically missing one piece. The puzzle is all out of whack, and you need to slide pieces along a set board to get everything back in order. These can be some of the most frustrating puzzles you'll come across, but I know that it tends to be a piece of cake for quite a few people. Rooms takes this concept and builds an entire game around it, and for the most part, it works pretty well.
It's not just about sliding pieces around on a board, though. With Rooms, you're actually controlling a character who sets off on an adventure through Rooms Mansion, a place that he's unwillingly teleported to after receiving a surprise birthday present in the mail. The present came from a talking book that's aptly named Mr. Book, who announces himself as caretaker of Rooms Mansion. For whatever reason, Mr. Book has tasked you with figuring out each puzzle spread across four different mansion scenarios, totaling well over 80 puzzles each. If you enjoy puzzle games, you'll spend plenty of time with this one.
While the core game mechanic involves sliding pieces around on a small grid that's missing two or more pieces, you're doing this simply to get your character from point A to point B. It's less about worrying what is matching up with what, and more about clearing a path for your character to reach the exit and make it to the next puzzle. There is some incentive for doing it correctly, so if you do want the puzzle pieces to match up, you'll be rewarded, but in the long run, you can get away with a couple of shortcuts and come up a little short on the medals. The game doles out gold, silver and bronze awards for each puzzle, and with an in-game trophy system that keeps track of your achievements, players who care about secondary awards might find some fun in going back and making sure they achieve a gold award on each and every puzzle.
To get to your end goal, you have a little bit of help along the way. Mr. Book offers up some hints, and every time you encounter something new, the in-game tutorial does a good job of letting you know what to do. The pacing of puzzles is handled well; it doesn't toss new mechanics at you too quickly, so you have plenty of time to get acclimated to each new feature and how it works. At the same time, it's not so slow that you get bored or feel that it's too easy, and by the time you're finishing up the first of the four mansions, you'll have to put on your thinking cap to get past some of the situations you encounter.
There's also a helpful feature that allows you to view the background, unobstructed by the doors and keys that usually block your view. Even though your end goal is getting toward the door for the exit, the best way to achieve this is by following through on the puzzle aspect. This means that if you match things up the way they're supposed to be, then you should have no trouble clearing the stage. At times, getting a good look at the background is absolutely essential, so you know if you're on the right track without having the solution spelled out for you. If you need a little more help, you can tap this button again to get a shot of the puzzle and whether you have any pieces in the correct position. This is a little less helpful, though, since the very manner of a sliding puzzle means that you can have pieces in the right place but they may need to move later on. Either way, it's a nice hint system that doesn't ruin the game experience by giving you too much information.
There are a few tools at your disposal to help you solve puzzles along the way. Most blocks of a puzzle have a wall, ceiling or floor that's impassable, meaning you need to shift your pieces around so you're able to travel between them. That's pretty basic, but the rest of your options are a little more outlandish. For instance, some puzzles will make use of telephones, allowing you to instantly travel from one spot to the next, even giving your character a "Matrix code" effect like the films. Another mode of instant travel comes in the form of wardrobes, but these swap the puzzle pieces instead of moving the player. As the game continues to make use of these different elements, you'll come across some pretty challenging puzzles. It's not overly complicated but just enough to keep you engaged without getting frustrated.
Aside from the main story mode, there's a challenge mode that can be unlocked if you feel that the main story isn't presenting you with enough puzzles. The challenges are certainly difficult, and they were actually a little too difficult for my taste, so I was glad to see they were optional. Within the main story mode, you have a little more to do than just the puzzles in Rooms Mansion. There's a hub world called Rooms Streets, and from here, you can access a couple of other areas that you'll need to visit in order to finish the game. These are the subway station, Rooms Hotel, and antique shop. These locations are locked when the game begins, but as you advance through the story, you'll come across specific keys that open them up. The reason you need to visit these locations is because they contain missing puzzle pieces, which are often needed to unlock the additional mansions that you need to explore. I appreciate the developer's attempt to tie a story to the game, and while I don't think it's too compelling, it's far more interesting than simply moving from one puzzle to the next. This mechanic of finding keys and items to help you advance makes it a little more involved than I'd originally suspected, and I think that's definitely a good thing.
Honestly, the only thing I don't enjoy about Rooms: The Main Building is the way it looks. Your character is a 3-D model, but it's really low-res in appearance and looks pretty ghastly against the bright gold backgrounds. Even the pieces and puzzles that you navigate are a little bland and boring, and the objects you can interact with stand out in a way that doesn't really mesh very well with the design of the pieces. I understand they're meant to stand out and be obvious, but it'd be nice if they were integrated a little better into each piece of the puzzle. The music isn't bad — it's initially downright catchy — but every tune starts to feel the same after a half-hour of gameplay.
Overall, the gameplay of Rooms: The Main Building trumps the presentation issues. It's fun, and it's easy to pick up and let go at a whim, making it a great portable title. I'm not sure how well the Wii version compares to the DS, but if you've been looking for a decent puzzler to pass the time, I'm sure you could do a lot worse than Rooms: The Main Building. Goofy name aside, it's a challenging effort and definitely unique on a system that already has its fair share of puzzle titles, and that's really saying something.
More articles about Rooms: The Main Building