Saturday, July 1, 2017

REVIEW: Rusty Lake Hotel (game)

Rusty Lake Hotel is a puzzle/adventure game with a disturbing edge. I believe it started off as a mobile game, but I played it on my computer via Steam.

Warning: my review includes spoilers for a few of the game's puzzles.


[Note: I didn’t find this out until after I’d played Rusty Lake Hotel, but the entire related Cube Escape series of games can be downloaded and played for free on mobile devices. I don’t know what the Cube Escape games are like, but they might serve as a nice taste of what this series is like, if you’re reluctant to spend $2-3 on Rusty Lake Hotel or Rusty Lake: Roots.]

I got this on sale, as part of a Rusty Lake series bundle. You play as an employee (?) at the Rusty Lake Hotel, interacting with five guests at the direction of their host, Mr. Owl. You must provide the guests with food, which involves going into a different guest’s room every night, completing some puzzles in order to gather various ingredients, and ultimately killing that particular guest so that they can be the final ingredient in the meal.

Although this was labeled as “horror,” a genre I’m not fond of when it comes to games, it looked more creepy than scary. Now that I’ve played the game, I don’t know that I’d even label it “creepy.” You sometimes do some very terrible things to the guests before you kill them (or provide them with the means to kill themselves), but the end result was more disturbing or morbidly fascinating than creepy.

Gameplay is extremely simple, and many of the puzzles are fairly easy to figure out. Pay attention to any written information, pick up any items you find, etc. You can’t combine items, but you can use them on other things in the rooms, altering the items in such a way that you can complete puzzles. One particular aspect of the puzzles hurt my impression of Rusty Lake Hotel, however: it was extremely easy to progress in the game without collecting everything you needed in order to make the day’s meal.

A couple pieces of advice: if you haven’t picked up an ingredient that immediately indicates which room you should go to, don’t enter any of the hotel rooms, because once you enter you can’t leave until you’ve killed the guest. Also, don’t kill the guest until you have the other two ingredients you need, because killing the guest automatically triggers the “meal preparation” portion of the game, and you won’t be allowed back into the guest’s room to pick up anything you might have forgotten. Even if you follow those two pieces of advice, there’s still a chance you might miss something and move forward without an ingredient you need in order to prepare a 3-star (top quality) meal. On the plus side, you can absolutely finish the game with lesser quality meals. I think the only thing the 3-star meals do for you is provide you with a code at the end of the game. Unfortunately, you aren't told what the code is for - I learned, via a walkthrough, that it's apparently useful for the next game in the series, Cube Escape: Birthday.

There were two puzzles I really didn’t like and that I needed a walkthrough to complete: the beaker puzzle and the monkey puzzle. It was clear what I needed to do to complete the beaker puzzle, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the right way to pour the water between the beakers to get what I needed. I probably could have figured it out eventually, but only after much frustration. The monkey puzzle was pure laziness on the game designer’s part. As far as I could tell, there were no instructions anywhere in the room telling you which combination of monkeys to activate. Either you literally just clicked random monkeys until you happened to stumble across the right combination (which could have taken ages, since the combination was ten clicks long and there were never any indications that you’d gotten part of the combination correct), or you did what I did and consulted a walkthrough. I was especially irked by the monkey puzzle's bad design because it was basically the same thing as the moth puzzle, which did come with a clue. Why provide a clue for one puzzle but not the other?

My most favorite room was probably Mrs. Pigeon’s and my least favorite was Mr. Boar’s. All of the puzzles in Mrs. Pigeon’s room made sense to me - I was able to follow their logic, unlike some of the puzzles in the other room. One thing I didn’t like about her room, however, was that getting the ingredients for a 3-star meal required you to repeatedly torture a small bird. I wasn’t wild about that. On the plus side, there was some justice in the bird getting to play a part in Mrs. Pigeon’s death. The main thing that bothered me about Mr. Boar’s room (besides his sandwiches) was that it was so easy to miss the second ingredient for the boar meal.

Story-wise, this game made no sense. The guests were idiots. One guest, rather than leaving after you hurt him in the process of creating something he’d asked for, just stayed there and let you poison him. Another guest allowed you to feed him actual poop. Multiple times. Rather than detecting the poop immediately, he finished his entire meal, stayed in the room, and eventually let you kill him with an extremely obviously positioned weapon. Also, none of the guests noticed or seemed to care that the total number of guests kept shrinking. They also didn’t connect the day’s meal with the species of the most recently missing guest.

My favorite things about this game were the artwork and the voice acting for Mr. Owl. The puzzles were okay, but the absolutely terrible monkey puzzle should either have been dropped or a clue for it should have been available somewhere in the room. The game is so linear as to have no real replay value but, unfortunately, if you don’t play the game entirely through using a walkthrough, you’ll probably end up having to replay the full thing in order to get three stars on all the meals. On the plus side, like I mentioned earlier, 3-star meals aren’t required in order to see the game’s ending.

I don’t know that I’d recommend this, but it was cheap enough and had just enough content (about 2 hours of gameplay time, using a walkthrough to get through a couple puzzles) that I didn’t completely regret buying it. However, I do hope that the other entries in the series are better than this one.

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