Sunday, July 2, 2017

REVIEW: Rusty Lake: Roots (game)

Rusty Lake: Roots is another puzzle/adventure game in the Rusty Lake series. Whereas I was unimpressed with Rusty Lake Hotel, I thought Rusty Lake: Roots was amazing. It had some problems - a few puzzles that were more annoying that difficult, occasional iffy logic, and an abrupt ending - but for the most part it was a wonderful and fascinating experience and a vast improvement over Rusty Lake Hotel.

Rusty Lake: Roots is a family saga with a dark edge to it. You watch over multiple generations of the Vanderboom family as they learn about their family’s magical/alchemical past and work to achieve their goals. You gradually learn more about yourself (it isn’t immediately apparent, but you are playing as a character in the game) and about the motivations of the various Vanderboom family members. Oh, and there’s a little immortal dog.

After my experience with Rusty Lake Hotel, I approached Rusty Lake: Roots with some wariness. The introduction of sliding controls (clicking the screen, holding, and then sliding to move something or adjust your view of the room) seemed like a step backwards. The controls were unfortunately occasionally glitchy. Thankfully, there were still arrows you could click in order to move around the room, if the sliding function was misbehaving.

There were two aspects of Rusty Lake: Roots that won me over: first, the puzzles, and second, the story. In Rusty Lake Hotel, you could easily find yourself moving forward in the game without having gathered everything you needed, which meant you were then left with no way to go back to correct your mistake. Rusty Lake: Roots didn’t have that problem. It was always clear when you’d done what you needed to do in that part of the game. I did see one or two spots in the game where you could potentially make things much harder on yourself if you didn’t do certain other actions in the same portion of the game first, but for the most part the game seemed very well designed.

I did consult a walkthrough for a few puzzles I didn’t particularly have the patience to solve (the first part of the chess puzzle) or that I had trouble following (the weights puzzle near the end - it bugged me that the best clue was revealed after you’d solved the puzzle). I also used a walkthrough for parts of the gold emblem “extra” puzzles and the prologue puzzle. I might have been able to figure those out eventually, but by that point I just wanted to see the last bits of the story.

Which brings me to the other thing I loved about Rusty Lake: Roots: its story. It started off fairly normal, with James Vanderboom inheriting a house and a special seed from his uncle William. Things became a little stranger after that...and then a lot stranger. James met and fell in love with Mary - his proposal to her was written in her own blood (Mary was a bit odd herself, since she didn’t run away screaming at that point). They had triplets (with an incredibly weird birthing scene): Emma, Samuel, and Albert. Samuel was a jerk, and Albert took this very, very personally. Emma, unfortunately, got sucked into Albert’s very dark orbit. Emma had a son named Frank, Samuel had a son named Leonard, and Albert, through some extremely horrifying methods, had a daughter named Rose. Rose, Leonard, and Frank all become determined to see the Vanderboom family’s goals through, for various reasons.

Some of the character motivations were a little confusing or off, but I was so caught up in this utter trainwreck of a family that, once I started playing the game, I had trouble stopping. The creepiness factor was higher in this game than it was in Rusty Lake Hotel, although there were moments that went a little overboard and became a bit ridiculous (Albert laughing as he teased poor Frank, for example). Considering that so much of the game was about collecting Vanderboom family body parts, there were some necessarily gross moments, but there were also a few moments that I felt went a little beyond that, reminiscent of the sandwiches from Rusty Lake Hotel. I was horrified when I learned what was in Frank’s mug, for example.

All in all, I highly recommend this game. The ending was a bit of a letdown, even with the “extra” puzzles and prologue, but the overall Vanderboom family story kept me glued to my seat. The puzzles usually weren’t so difficult as to be annoying, and the best of the bunch served double duty as both puzzles and information about the story and character motivations. Although Rusty Lake: Roots references Rusty Lake Hotel a few times, you don’t need to have played Rusty Lake Hotel to enjoy Rusty Lake: Roots.

Oh, before I wrap up, some advice. Once the family tree branches out between Emma, Samuel, and Albert, you can technically go through the story however you'd like: you can make an effort at following along chronologically, skipping from one branch to the next, or you can pick a branch and follow it to its conclusion. I went with the second option. If you do that, I'd recommend starting with Emma's branch, since I don't think the others bother to introduce/explain Frank in much detail.

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