Published on September 26th, 2018 | by Lee Davies
Review: The Spectrum Retreat (Switch eShop)
Format reviewed: Switch eShop
Other formats available: PS4, XBox One, PC
Developer: Dan Smith Studios Limited
Publisher: Ripstone Publishing
Website: Official Website
The Spectrum Retreat is a challenging, first-person puzzle game set in the near future. You awake at The Penrose hotel, a peaceful yet unsettling refuge from the outside world. As a valued guest, your existence is embedded into the corridors and guest rooms of The Penrose.
Exploration of the striking art-deco hotel will begin to uncover the mysteries of both The Penrose and the uncertainties surrounding your current stay. Your desire to unearth the truth is obstructed by an array of colour coded puzzles, mind-bending physics challenges and the growing fear of exposing your true intentions.
Dan Smith, of Thomas Was Alone fame, comes back in style and elegance on the Nintendo Switch. The Spectrum Retreat takes place in a seemingly futuristic hotel whose mystery is resolved early on into the game via blue cubes that divulge hotel employee logs of the actual purpose of the Retreat, a simulation coded in VR.
Each floor of the hotel 1-5 and the R(oof) requires you to find a door with a keypad positioned next to it. Once located the female voice over helping you progress through the story will ask you to look for something strange in the vicinity of that door. Upon finding that, she’ll point you to somewhere else in the hotel, invariably a room, previously off-limits, and situated on the 1st floor (ground floor for UK readers). This newly opened area, e.g. the Ballroom, has an incredibly easy puzzle to solve which gives the numerical 4-digit code for the keypad back on the floor you left, so it’s time to head back upstairs via the elevator, and enter the key-code.
Movement is slow as you guide your character through the hotel and puzzle levels with the left analogue stick, but smooth and done to keep the feel of the hotel surreal and ethereal in equal measure. A floating feeling adds to the elegance of the 1920-30s opulence of the decoration, art deco, furniture, etc.
The true purpose of the hotel is shrouded in a mystery that is slowly opened up via reading medical bills, memo’s, loan requests, medical insurance invoices, newspaper snippets, and memories that point to a life changing event that involve a boy named Robin. I say ‘mystery’, but it’s pretty evident what is going on from the first few memos read. As you progress further through the story, the hotels sentient inhabitants become more aware that your behaviour is something that requires monitoring, and paranoia and doubt creep into your perceived goals, along with the falling apart of reality/VR.
Anyway, opening the keypad barred door, leads the main character through to the bulk of the game. Colour puzzle mania. Anyone familiar with the Wii U game QUBE will be right at home here. Your data-pad (cellphone) is capable of collecting and storing a single colour. At the start of each level, you’ll be resigned to white. Targeting the onscreen cursor by looking around, with the R analogue stick (a twitchy affair that is bettered by turning down the sensitivity, which in turn slows down turning speed) and pointing at a colour block, it’s possible to capture that colour by pressing the ZR shoulder button. This will swap between the two colours on offer, so a blue block will turn white, and your data-pad turns blue. The game starts off nice and easy, but quickly builds to a maximum of 4 colours to jump between (white, red, green and blue).
Whilst holding a particular colour the corresponding translucent hued doorway now becomes accessible for transit. You shall pass. So, by manipulating the colours around a level you’ll be timing and progressing through the level to the end doorway to progress onto the next colour conundrum. There are between 8 and 10 puzzle levels on each floor and whilst Floor 2, the first of the puzzle rooms, is based on learning the mechanics of colour swapping the subsequent floors introduce new mechanics and ramp up the level of difficulty, not quite to brain storming intensity, but the sheer length of later levels may well test your resolve. It’s all too easy to end up in a situation where you cannot progress any further and can’t retreat, just like painting yourself into a corner. The only exit, then, is to reset and start the entire level once again.
Floor 3 introduces the use of the ZL shoulder button. This ZL button press, combined with the new circle pads, allows your character to teleport jump all the way to that circle pad, as long as the colour you’re holding is exactly the same as the one in the middle of the circle. Floor 4 introduces yet another mechanic, by pressing floor and wall mounted panels the centre of gravity changes and you’ll be walking on walls, ceilings, etc. Couple all this gravity defying stuff with the teleportation pads, and colour swapping, and the game gets very complex indeed when you reach the later levels/floors. Especially, upon reaching the fifth floor where you need to utilize everything that you’ve learned so far, and put your skills to the test in a sprawling level based on an underground and its 6 stations. A single slip-up here can result in having to redo the entire sprawling complex.
Puzzles are never too difficult, but with some puzzles’ reliance on trial and error, some with well hidden pathways, and the repetition of long segments upon being trapped or falling to death, the game feels less like a delight and more like a chore towards it’s conclusion. At least the extreme use of a single blip of rumble while changing colour will keep you awake. So intense!
A nice tense atmosphere pervades the hotel, and one or two moments of story driven anxiety push you to want to complete the game, even if the story is a little simplistic, which should be expected of a 5 hour play-through. The sense of paranoia whilst in the hotel sections is amplified by the great discordant, jarring noises, and the HAL inspired sentient butlers. It’s a shame that during the puzzle rooms the music is instantly forgettable, and the sound effects are merely functional. The only thing really holding you back will be the level of difficulty in the colour coded puzzle rooms, which become overly long, elaborate and require some trial and error at times to plough through. A nice distraction, but not winning any game of the year awards.
The Spectrum Retreat (Switch eShop)
Summary: A worthy distraction for puzzle gamers with well thought out puzzles, bar a few, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Drop by, and spend a night at The Spectrum Retreat.