Rooms: The Main Building is the sort of game that often finds its way onto online Flash-based gaming sites, where it can make a neat diversion for a lunch break or two. Every so often, this sort of game gets a full-on treatment that might be significantly more than it deserves by getting pressed onto a disc and stuck on retail shelves across one or more nations. Rooms: The Main Building is a sliding puzzle game that is perhaps best handled on the PC in a Java or Flash applet, but it's been plopped onto the Nintendo Wii, a system that is capable of more intuitive gameplay. The resulting wasted potential combines with a few other issues to mask a core that could have been great, but at least it's somewhat fun.
Rooms casts you as Mr. X, a British guy who has a random present left outside his apartment. He opens the present, which pulls him into a strange dimension, and now has to find his way back through a series of increasingly confusing puzzles. Fortunately, Mr. Book, a talking book, is handy to ... well, he offers advice, but he's also pretty snarky. There are hints of there being more to him. Off in a hallway, there's also a sleeping treasure chest that you must wake up.
The Rooms Mansion and the three environments that follow consist of a series of puzzles. In spite of the name, it's basically linear in structure, with some occasional branching. Each room is a sliding tile puzzle, with the player standing on one tile and being able to shift it around. He can walk between rooms to the left or right, and climb up or down ladders to change rooms, but overall, his movement is very limited, especially when golden walls and locked doors get in the way. Room swappers, telephones, teleporters, wardrobes and more elaborate gimmicks manipulate the field in varying ways. If you enter linked dressers, then the tiles will swap positions. If you activate a grandfather clock, you'll rotate the tile in which it's located, and moving a tile that contains a mirror will cause another tile with an identical mirror to move in the reverse direction.
Some elements — such as gold frames, locked doors and wooden planks — will block your movement on any of the four sides. You can use keys to open locked doors and a candle to light explosives to destroy the planks. Other items that you'll pick up from the game world and keep in your inventory include cell phones, fishbowls and keys.
Almost refreshingly, the game avoids making it simply about reaching a marked exit. You can solve the puzzle in a way that also sorts the tile backgrounds to form an image, or you can choose to just get Mr. X to the exit without matching the background tiles. Depending on the thoroughness and timeliness of your work, you will receive a bronze, silver or gold rating for clearing each room.
The results are simple, but elegant and decently enjoyable, with a nice array of puzzles and a nicely controlled rate of introducing gimmicks. If you select the "Show BG" option on the screen, Rooms helpfully hides the objects on each tile and lets you see the background images. The "Help" button even shows you the spaces that need to be filled so you'll know if you're on the right track. It's a nice hint system that doesn't ruin the game experience by giving you too much information.
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, such as 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. You need to visit these locations because they contain missing puzzle pieces, which are often needed to unlock the additional mansions that you need to explore.
The issues with the interface only seem to get worse as you progress. The game uses Wii pointer controls, which initially makes perfect sense, but in practice seems terribly slow compared to a solution based on the directional pad. It's not just the controls, either; everything in this game is slow, due to the graphical design. If you want to walk between tiles, your character does so in slow, purposeful steps. If you use a teleporter, it rings, you slowly reach out and pick it up, your body turns green and gets covered in a cheap matrix effect and then you poof onto the other side, taking a good 10 seconds. If Mr. Book shows up, you have to click him away as if he were Clippy from Microsoft Office. The results quickly turn a snappy, interesting puzzle into a boring affair.
The graphical style is very much to blame for the slowness; while the interfaces carry a nice post-Victorian English style that remains nicely cultured and all the objects seem to fit, Mr. X himself doesn't. He walks, moves and generally feels like a character from the proto-FMV game, Time Traveler — right down to the long, boring animations. It is rare that graphics completely and utterly make a game; it's rarer still that they break it, but such is the case here. The game's music is similarly boring and slow, and the sound effects are confusingly related to what's occurring on-screen. There's no voice work whatsoever, just speech bubbles and text. One gets a sense that this is an act of mercy on Hudson's part.
Rooms: The Main Building for the Wii seems to be trapped between a play design that's suited to a smaller distraction game and dreams of being a full-scale, widely released, properly realized Wii game. Unfortunately, that trapping immensely weakens it, causing the graphics to be just sufficiently detailed to slow the gameplay, introducing horrendously slow controls that could have been easier and smoother on a PC. The pricing is also well over the cost of what feels like a quirky downloadable game. Few players will get a lot of joy out of the end result, even though the concept is sound.
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