How time flies! The Room was first released on iPad back in 2012 and the moody, touch-based puzzler struck a chord on the platform. Back then Apple’s tablet played host to many awkward ports of ‘proper’ console games, but developer Fireproof offered a bespoke experience that took advantage of the touchscreen in novel and natural ways – you’d rotate keys in locks, drag and drop dials into place and press buttons to open hidden panels. The unnerving atmosphere and mechanical puzzle-solving was a great success and spawned three sequels on touch-based devices. Six years on, it’s making its console debut on Switch, and in many ways, it’s a perfect fit for the system.
As the player, it’s your job to follow in the footsteps of a Victorian scientist whose research led him into otherworldly realms. Intricately constructed puzzle boxes appear and you must explore every nook and cranny, poke at panels, spin dials and align glyphs to unlock each object’s mechanisms and proceed to the next challenge. You’ll find letters that reveal your predecessor’s thoughts and things quickly turn supernatural with the discovery of a strange eyepiece that reveals hidden markings and glimpses of the ‘null’ element; the hidden fifth of the four 'Classical' elements.
It’s all deliciously atmospheric and it channels the Lovecraftian horror of games like Eternal Darkness, albeit without the demons and the gore. Half of the satisfaction of solving a puzzle comes from the great audio work – the mechanical clicks when a dial rotates into place or when cogs wind to reveal a concealed panel is superbly effective at making these contraptions seem like physical objects, even when certain puzzles turn abstract and unreal.
The Room translates very well to Switch. The touchscreen controls haven’t changed, but now you have the option to play on the telly with a single Joy-Con. After lamenting the lack of pointer controls in so many of the ports we’ve played, it’s heartening to see the effort that’s gone into them here. ‘R’ centres the pointer and ‘A’ or the ‘Z’ trigger select components and drag the camera around the puzzle box. You can zoom in and out with ‘X’ and ‘B’ or the analog stick of whichever Joy-Con you’re using. The touchscreen is still arguably the best way to play, but a single Joy-Con frees up your other hand for a cup of joe or some head scratching.
Not that the game requires too much of that. After around 30 seconds a ‘?’ appears in the top right corner offering you a clue, normally reminding you to use the eyepiece or examine an object in your inventory more closely. They’re generally vague enough to maintain that feeling of accomplishment when you do finally suss things out. They pop up a little too quickly for our liking, though, and we’d advise avoiding the temptation unless you’re really in a pickle.
If, like us, you played the original back in 2012, there’s an odd nostalgia in returning to The Room now. Planned obsolescence and the nature of app marketplaces often means these games exist either as a licence sitting on a ‘Purchased’ list somewhere – hopefully retrievable, assuming they’ve been updated for your latest device/OS – or they’re forgotten on some old hardware in the bottom of a drawer packed with old tech and tangled cables. Ultimately, Switch's ecosystem is no less ephemeral, but it’s still comforting to see The Room ‘preserved’ on a dedicated gaming platform. Not long now until that initial wave of touchscreen games are officially ‘retro’!
There is, however, an elephant in The Room on Switch. The game is quite short, offering around two-to-three hours of brain-teasing across four chapters and an epilogue. It’s very much a ‘one-and-done’ affair and knowing that three sequels have come out in the interim – and that they’re all available at very reasonable prices on a variety of touchscreen devices you probably own already – it feels a bit cheeky when the closing text teases more ‘rooms’ to come and shunts you back to the title screen. Yes, the sequels will surely arrive, but we can’t help thinking that a compilation of the four existing games might have been a better fit for a console edition, especially after all this time.
The quality of The Room and the atmosphere it conjures is undeniable, and it’s certainly worth checking out if you haven’t played before. It’s a pleasure to see some well-implemented pointer controls added to a classic touchscreen title, and the fact that this seminal release is now available on a dedicated gaming device is cause for celebration. Be aware that it’s a slight offering by home console standards, though – it’s crying out to be part of a compilation release with its three sequels. Perhaps one for the Wishlist, then, but it’s a winner while it lasts.