You know, ever since Portal came out, it seems there have always been those trying to build big metal rods in the sky to try to get that same lightning to strike their game. Some have come close, but none have really reached their ambitions of being on the same level as Portal. The Spectrum retreat is no different in this respect, though that isn't to say it isn't a good game. On the contrary, I enjoyed both the creepy empty hotel full of robots that looked like slenderman and the color puzzle sections that always provided a decent enough challenge without being frustrating. The story can be a bit frustratingly obtuse at times, the controls are just a tad fidgety, and there really isn't any replayability, but I really enjoyed The Spectrum Retreat, but despite that, I don't think there's enough there to repeat my stay.
The Spectrum Retreat is available on the Nintendo Store for $12.99
I'll try to do this without spoilers because this is a narrative-driven experience that is better the less you know.
You wake up in a hotel with no memory of where or who you are. There is a knock on the door, and a robot is there to give you your wake up call and remind you that breakfast is in the restaurant as soon as you are ready. As you eat, you receive a phone call from a mysterious woman named Cooper who tells you that you have been trapped against your will and she is there to help you escape. As she is just a voice on a phone, it is up to you to find out who you are, the history of the hotel, and the nature of the hotel manager who seems to have a bit more intelligence than the other automatons who just go about the daily routine ad nauseum. It becomes obvious very quickly that you are in a computer simulation, so by piecing together packets of data from the creator of the hotel and flashes of memory you have in either section, you slowly piece all of it together, even though it can be a tad difficult to follow at times. Though perhaps that is the idea: to confuse the player just as much as the protagonist.
One of the things I enjoyed most about The Spectrum Retreat is that, though the tones of the hotel portions and the puzzle portions are completely different, the two parts aren't completely discrete. As you progress through each floor of puzzles, you see how you are affecting the hotel. The music changes, the interactions with staff change just slightly, and the whole experience becomes more and more tense leading up to a choice in the end.
This choice does lead me to one of my primary problems with the game. I don't mind there being two options for the ending and they are built up as options. It doesn't come out of thin air, but after you make your choice the game completely resets, forcing you to go through all of the exact same puzzles again just to see a different ending. Either that or you can just go on youtube to find that the other one really is just a different scene with Cooper saying something different in your ear as the screen goes dark. Games with multiple endings typically do so because they are games that are different experiences depending on which ending you're going for. Puzzle games like this have no replayability unless you throw some twist in there like some sort of challenge mode. The concept of a puzzle game in this vein inherently contradicts what is so great about multiple endings, the opportunity to play the same game differently to see what's new. If I were to pick this up again, nothing would be new until the last minute.
This game is divided into two distinct gameplay areas: the hotel walking simulator style and the color puzzles. Each stage begins with you getting your wake-up call from the manager, going to get breakfast, finding a door with the keypad for the next batch of levels, finding the passcode in the hotel, doing all of the puzzles, then going to bed so you can do it again the next day.
When you first enter the game, you have to walk around and your only options are to jump and interact with an item, and, spoiler alert, the jumping does absolutely nothing in this area. Your main job here is to find things in the hotel, and the puzzles given here tend to be very slow paced and atmospheric. They let you take in the ambiance of an empty hotel staffed by nothing but artificial intelligence. After the first few stages, the game cuts out much of the walking around, which was nice because otherwise there would have been too much dead time walking from point A to B with nothing happening in between. These sections frame the game, and nothing you do here will have any bearing on the actual puzzle sections nor vice versa. Everything in these sections is quite linear unless you want to take the time to find all nine of the journals the creator left hanging around the hotel.
Ah, a puzzler.
The brunt of the gameplay takes place in the color puzzles that take place within the inner workings of the hotel. These start simple: you can take one color from a special cube and store it in your phone, then you can swap it with the color from another cube. Having the color stored will allow you to bypass barriers of that same color. The complexity and difficulty ramp up quite well from there by cubes that will always change back to one specific color, teleporters, and a few other twists that keep you learning mechanics up until the very end of the game. Honestly, I don't have many complaints about the structure of the puzzles. The only criticism I would have is that occasionally your aim has to be a bit too precise for the joystick controls and the game turns into "find the colored block", but since you don't have enemies jumping up your nose every second it isn't as though you don't have the time to aim anyway.
Graphics and audio
Since there are two distinct parts of this game, they have two distinct sets of graphics and audio, each one very effective of giving the right feeling for the section.
While you're in the hotel, the soft and casual music coupled with the pristine yet empty hotel do a great job of establishing a nice ambiance with something sinister bubbling just under the surface. As the game progresses and the simulation gets darker and darker, the music grows more dissonant and the staff malfunction and the atmosphere is incredibly tense. My friends who happened into the room as I played had to look away. Even though there are no movement animations in any of the NPCs, we just kept waiting on something to leap out.
Meanwhile, the puzzle segments have an incredibly different feeling. Where the sections in the hotel are tense and mysterious, the color puzzle sections are a lot cleaner and futuristic-industrieat Review, Hey there bal. This is where the comparisons to Portal come in, as the music and the graphics are incredibly similar. The final level has a slightly different feel that I won't spoil for you, but it does a great job of blending the tension of the hotel with the normal feel of the puzzle sections.
I do have a slight issue with something that happens in both the hotel and puzzle sections: sometimes the lighting is a little dark and it makes it a bit difficult to read some optional story documents.
Though there isn't really any replayability, sometimes your aim needs to be a bit precise, and the shadows can keep you from some story documents, I very much enjoyed The Spectrum Retreat. The color puzzles are unique and creative, the story is intriguing, and the ambiance blends well between the unease of the hotel and the cool sci-fi of the puzzles. It's a short game that works well with the limited assets available to it, and that is something I can appreciate. Though it definitely doesn't hit the same notes as Portal, namely the fact that Portal has some hilarious dark humor and the fun of jumping around and The Spectrum Retreat is far more contemplative, I can definitely see a slight stylistic influence and would probably go so far as to say that fans of Portal would enjoy it, just not as much. If you like a sinister story with challenging puzzles, book a stay with The Spectrum Retreat sometime soon.
|+ Fun and creative puzzles||– Controls a bit precise for Switch joystick|
|+ Suspenseful story||– Shadows obscure story documents|
|+ Great ambiance||– Little if any replayability|