Note: This is a review of the Japanese version of SuperLite2500 Crimson Room. An English release for other countries has not been announced. If you’re buying the Japanese version, I would suggest knowing a fair amount of Japanese.
You wake up in an unknown room with little to no recollection of how you got there. All you know is that you need to escape. This may be reminiscent of those days and nights in college, but for the Crimson Room series, it’s the very premise of the game.
The DS’s SuperLite2500 Crimson Room is Success’s port of Takagism’s semi-popular flash-based “escape-the-room” web games. The player is trapped in a room and has to MacGyver their way out by scrounging the room for items to use in a meticulous, detailed escape (hopefully, this is not reminiscent of your college days).
I was extremely pumped for this port because I was instantly reminded of how fun and rewarding cracking this series’ sense of logic could be. However, two large characteristics of these games were buried under the wave of nostalgia: feeling the frustration rise as you click every last pixel in order to find every last clue, and the sheer difficulty solving some of the puzzles. This game could easily have you running for an online FAQ.
The DS really lends itself well to the point-and-click genre, especially a game like this where heavy amounts of random clickery can lead you to a big clue. With the stylus, you can just tap around the room to investigate purposefully or just poke around until you find something (you can also use the D-pad for this purpose, but the stylus is much easier). But what I miss most from the original series is the in-game items menu. You find a lot of random crap to put in your inventory and have an equal amount of crap in the room to test your items on, so having easy access to your many puzzle pieces is key. The flash game did this by providing small icons of the items in a side-bar. In the DS version, you click the items menu button in the upper corner of the touch screen or hit R to access your inventory. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re stumped and are testing out 5-8 items on your surroundings having to click into the menu, click the item (sometimes you need to click around a bit to get to it, too), then click out again, click around the room with the item equipped and THEN repeat until you find a solution can easily spread your patience a little thinner than usual. I realize the DS’s screen is much, much smaller than the average PC’s screen, and don’t know what constraints the developers faced with this, but I can’t help but think the original item sidebar could’ve provided a friendlier interface.[*]
The new navigation set-up also includes an optional thin, white frame around the touch screen that has small arrows pointing in the directions you can turn. The arrows didn’t make things any easier or any more difficult for me, so I usually just turned it off and went about my business.
Like most of the flash-based room games, the DS Crimson Room has no in-game music, and sounds are used as more of indicators for when you discover, unlock or mess something up. Both the graphics and audio are fairly barebones, but interestingly and eerily styled.
One of the nicest added features of the port is that you can actually save your progress, as opposed to angrily leaving the game’s window up in your browser when you go take a break. Each room has it’s own save file, so you can attempt multiple rooms at a time. And, of course, you don’t need to be tied to the Internet to play.
I definitely enjoy playing the “room” games at my own leisure, but being the penny-pinching gamer I am, it’s hard for me to recommend buying a game that is available for free online even if the game has a comparatively low price of $26 or so (that’s about the price it is for the Japanese version; there’s no mention of a release outside of Japan yet). If you are a fan of this series and the idea of having this game on the go appeals to you, I would definitely say go for it. There’s a $26 price to pay for freedom from your computer, and if the pros of the portable version (primarily being able to save) appeal to you, this game would also be a decent addition to your collection. It’s one of those games I enjoy going back to every now and then, especially when the finely detailed answers to the puzzles start to fade from my memory. But, if you’re concerned about the lack of new content in this port and have a PSP, you can check out the PSP version that has 4 new scenarios.
Navigational changes aside, it’s a true port with hardly any extras from what was offered in the online games. If you’ve never tried any of the escape-the-room games, you might want to evaluate some of the online game (or, as I like to call it, the full demo) before you buy and see if you even like the genre, because either way, you’re probably going to be pleasantly frustrated with this puzzler either at your PC or with your DS.
*In fact, I crossed over into super-geekdom for a second and screen-captured a shot of the Crimson Room online game and shrunk it to DS size to see if having the side-bar items menu was a feasible design. A crude test to be sure, but the result did not look terrible.