Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Room Two Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

If The Room was a good proof-of-concept for what a premium game should look like on mobile, The Room Two took that concept and perfected it. Nearly everything about it improves on the foundation that the original laid down. In a lot of ways it reminds me of my impressions of the first two Assassin's Creed games. We had never seen anything quite like the original, and I finished thinking it was a pretty good game; then the second comes along and suddenly I realized that it was the game the original should have been all along.

As in its predecessor, The Room Two tasks you with solving physical puzzles. The original was limited to opening various types of safes, but The Room Two takes it several steps farther. Most of the rooms you find yourself in contain several different objects to interact with. Each provides pieces that are required to solve different parts of the others. That addition alone makes the game five times more interesting. It also means that most chapters are longer than the chapters in the original. There are also several more chapters, so all told it takes about twice as long to complete.
The visuals are also vastly improved. Not only are the textures all high enough resolution to not be distracting, they added little touches like motion blur when zooming from one part of a room to another and little particle effects. I thought the particle effects were a little much, but they never got in the way of being able to solve the puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, I thought they were better designed this time around. There were several times in The Room where I got so stuck that I had to read all of the hints to understand what was expected of me. It may have been the result of already being in the correct mindset, but I only ever had to read the first clue this time around. There were times when I struggled for a while, but otherwise it would have been too easy.
I mentioned the creepy vibe I felt in the original. In The Room Two they took that vague sense of unease and did the best they could to turn it into a horror game. There is only so much they could do given that the player only has the ability to look around a room (don't expect any chase scenes). But they did an excellent job creating creepy environments and using jump scares to keep me on my toes. There were even a few times I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked nothing was there.
I think they have it out for Doctor Who fans.

I got sucked in so much that I sat down yesterday and just plowed through half of the game, which is rare these days. I highly recommend it, and I feel comfortable saying that it is worth $5, though of course it is being sold for less. Go play it on Android, iOS, or Kindle.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Room Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

Out of all the mobile games I have played so far, The Room is by far the one that feels the most like a premium experience. If there is a AAA category on mobile, this is a prime example of how to do it right. Ironically an independent studio made it, which just shows you how nontraditional this space is.

From the title you might expect The Room to be a game where you are stuck in a room that you have to escape from. In fact it turns out to be the opposite. You are in a room with a safe that you have to figure out how to get into. Being a puzzle game, you find everything you need to get in somewhere on the safe itself. The game is divided into chapters: each time you open the container you find another inside that you must open. You start each chapter by inspecting the container to identify the points that you can interact with it. Many of these points will do nothing until you obtain some object (a key, a cog, a crank, etc) from another part of the container. All your interactions are intentionally tactile, making good use of the touch screen.
The puzzles tend to do a good job of walking the fine line between being too hard and too easy. I was concerned at the beginning when it insisted on continuously giving me hints. It soon stopped and I realized that I was sorely unprepared for what I had gotten myself into. Most of the levels were quite enjoyable, giving just enough challenge to result in a satisfying "Aha!" moment. Even when if you get completely stuck, the game gives optional hints. There are usually a set of hints for a particular puzzle. They start general and vague and progress to being so specific that I never had to look online for an answer.
The story is told through a series of notes left by the previous owner of the safe. They had been researching what they call the Null element, and the game soon takes on a creepy old-world mysticism vibe. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Amnesia: the Dark Descent, though of course it is not a horror game. The story tropes, the tactile interactions with the world, and even the visuals all contribute to this feeling. The game was lauded when it came out for its visuals, and they still hold up for the most part. There were a few textures that I would have liked to be higher resolution, and a couple of times I was distracted by jagged edges on objects, but it wasn't a chronic problem. Also if you get the PC edition this should be less of a problem as they touched up many of the textures.

One of the important things in a mobile game is being able to pick it up for quick sessions and put it down at will. The Room manages this by saving after every action, so you are free to leave and come back as often as you need to. I did not find it difficult to remember what I was in the middle of doing when returning to the game.
If you have a choice of different devices to play on, go with the one with the largest screen. I played on my Nexus 5, and there were a few times I felt cramped and had to lean in close to inspect objects. The game is also quite dark, so you will have a hard time playing anywhere near sunlight.
There are five chapters in the game (four at launch and an epilogue that was added to lead into the sequel). It was not an especially long game (took me a weekend of moderate playtime) but it was not nearly as short as Monument Valley. I would say that it is worth a good $3-4, and fortunately because it is a relatively old game you will find it for a lot less. Check it out on Android, iOS, Kindle, or PC.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Duet Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

Duet is the best mobile game I have played since Super Hexagon, which is saying a lot. They both do everything a mobile game should do: simple controls, easy to pick up and put down quickly, and minimal graphics that still manage to be beautiful. Duet does a few more things to make it worthwhile to continue playing, and because of that I believe it is a better game.

In Duet you control the rotation of two spheres: holding down on the right rotates them clockwise, holding down on the left rotates them counterclockwise. The only task the game gives you is to avoid the white obstacles as they fall from the top of the screen. It is much easier to understand if you see it in action, so here is their trailer.

Unlike Super Hexagon, which procedurally generates its obstacles from a set of patterns, each level level in Duet is the same each time you play it. If you hit an obstacle, the sphere that hit bursts and splatters on the obstacle. The game then rewinds to the beginning of the level, and you try again. The splatter stays there, reminding you of your past failure. Once you have completed a level there is a brief pause and the next level begins.
The levels are grouped into chapters, each with a title named after a stage of grief. The beginning of each level has a short quote pertaining to the chapter you are in, and it paints a strange story as you play. Each chapter is based around a new type of challenge. They start off simple and then start combining what you learned in past chapters with what you know now. The pace at which they introduce new elements is challenging, but reasonable. I would sometimes hit a level that seemed insurmountable, but determination and perseverance have won out in the end every time.

The game rewards you with achievements for each chapter you complete. More challenging achievements exist for things like completing a chapter without hitting a single obstacle. You can also comprehensively compare how well you have done to how well your friends have done.

If the story mode were all there was to the game, it would be short. But there is also an epilogue, several challenge levels, an endless mode, and a daily challenge. I have beaten just over half of the static levels in the game. Even after I have mastered all them the endless mode and the daily challenges will keep me coming back for a long time yet. I would be ten times as motivated to push myself if some of my friends on Android picked up the game and gave me some scores to beat.

The premium version of the game costs $3, but you can play the game for free with ads I believe. I got the premium version in a Humble Bundle, so I never played the free version. I certainly think that it is worth a few dollars, but feel free to check it out for yourself before putting your money on the table. It is available on Android, iOS, and soon it will be on Steam so I will be able to crush all my PC friends on the leaderboards.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Luleå 2014: Orientation Week

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at

Apparently I had to go all the way to Sweden to finally start doing normal adult things like grocery shopping, cooking for myself, and using public transportation. I got away with not making my own food for the last three years by living on campus and getting the meal plan that let me eat at the dining hall whenever I wanted to. And now my first experience with them has been done without knowing the language that everything is written in, so I'd say I'm going to be a pro at this adulthood thing by the time I get back to the States. A few of my more amusing mishaps have included buying cream cheese before realizing that bagels aren't a thing in Sweden. I'm also not certain that the stuff I've been washing my hair with is shampoo.

During the week of orientation, the Luleå University Reception Committee (LURC) had tons of events planned for us. Some of them were really simple, like a couple of barbecues where we talked to other exchange students and got to know one another. They introduced us to games like Viking Chess, which involves throwing sticks at blocks while avoiding knocking down the king in the middle.

Once one team has eliminated all of the other team's blocks they can start trying to knock over the king, but they must throw backwards and between their legs.

More important were the tours that they had of the university campus, the shopping area, and downtown Luleå. The tour of the town in particular gave me the opportunity to take a bunch of pictures. City hall has a great view from the roof!

They also had a few events to introduce us to things specific to Swedish culture. Fika is a midday coffee break with pastries, much like fellowship time that most churches I've been to have after service. We also walked up to a nearby ski hill to try out their sauna and hot tubs. It was way hotter than any sauna I have been in before.

One of my highlights of the week was the trip to Storforsen, one of the biggest rapids in Europe. The power displayed in the water was awe-inspiring to say the least. It was a nice day of walking around and looking at nature. There weren't any animals around, not even any birds. I suspect they were scared away by the size of our group because some of the informational signs talked about the wildlife.

The only event that I consciously decided not to go to were the nightly parties at STUK, the nightclub on campus. I have smelled their main hall during the day, and I can tell you that I don't want to be there at night. 

Class schedules here are a little weird. I got confused during orientation week, not realizing that the Swedish Language for International Students course started before September. I missed two days of class, but the professor told me that I can just sign up for the session that starts on September 9th. Apparently it isn't a big deal. My Swedish History course seems to fill up the quarter more like a normal class, but every class period has a second one scheduled immediately afterwords. At first I thought that might mean that they taught the same material twice in a day and I could choose which time I wanted to go to, but the professor seemed as confused as we were when we brought it up yesterday. That's another thing that I got to do for the first time in my life: going to class on Labor Day!