Room Marine, the latest release from Japanese developer Place of Light, is an uncommonly lovely escape game that is also, for better and for worse, unusually difficult. We've come to expect great things from Place of Light; their previous games, Room Fake and Room Bath, are both excellent and well-executed. With Room Marine, however, they have positively outdone themselves.
First off, the game is gorgeous. Cool, blue and with a hint of a nautical theme, the room in which you are confined is perhaps one of the prettiest in the genre. Of course, looks can only take you so far; in addition to attractive, the game's intuitive controls make the room very easy to navigate. The handy save feature relieves the burden of trying to complete the game in one sitting, and the overall lack of pixel-hunting considerably reduces the player's frustration. All in all, from a mechanical and aesthetic standpoint Room Marine is a joy to play... which is a good thing, because this game is hard.
The first thing you might notice when taking a preliminary gander around the room is the daunting number of locks and bolts, boxes and safes that greet (taunt?) you at every turn. It is immediately apparent that this room is not messing around—it's going to take some serious cerebral calisthenics to crack this baby open. This is exciting, of course. That's the point, isn't it... to stretch your brain, to grit your teeth and think and explore until the insight is finally attained? At the same time, however, such complexity can be overwhelming; it's not easy to keep track of 25 different areas in which one might theoretically use a newly-acquired object.
Complicating this further is the fact that while the majority of Room Marine's puzzles are reasonably logical and flow together well, one or two are downright mean. One in particular quite literally stared me in the face for a full 20 minutes, waiting patiently while I fruitlessly clicked around the room again and again in hopes of discovering some new secret. This puzzle and a few others skirt the line between difficult and unfair, and perhaps even cross that boundary; it's debatable whether they add to or detract from the game's enjoyability.
I don't wish these criticisms to downplay the inherent awesomeness of Room Marine, however (if anything, these are the best sort of quibbles... too much instead of too little, too hard instead of too simplistic). The game is an obvious labor of love, exceptionally clever and creative, and is in many ways the epitome of what a room escape game ought to be: ingenious, beautiful and highly entertaining. While the difficulty of the game can be at times taxing, the reward is more than worth it; if you're a serious connoisseur of escape games, you're gonna love this one. And hey, you don't need the next few hours for anything else, do you?