Waiting Room, by Japanese designer Ikutama, is without doubt the newest member of the elite "so sweet it'll make your teeth ache" escape game club. Melodic, tinkly soundtrack? Check. Cute, colorful graphics? Check. Sentimental and slightly sad story involving lost love? Double check. Don't let the game's charming trappings deceive you, however; Waiting Room has real substance and some formidable puzzles. The extent of the efforts needed to complete the game, which includes searching the internet, might turn off some casual gamers; those who persevere, however, will surely be delighted by this quirky and clever escape game confection.
Waiting Room begins with your arrival at a train station in the middle of the Japanese countryside. As the game's slightly confusing introduction explains, things seem a little odd—a little old, to be more specific. It's as if you have stepped back 20 years! Perplexed, you enter the station's waiting room, and are confronted by a beautiful but downcast young woman. She is searching for a ring, and asks for your assistance. Seeing as you are mysteriously unable to leave the room anyways, why not give her a helping hand?
There's more to the story, of course, but in order to find out the details you'll need to make your way through some pretty tricky puzzles. Oh, those puzzles... I have some mixed feelings concerning them, actually. On the one hand, the majority are really quite good, and they do follow a certain logic. At times, though, some of the connections between clues seemed somewhat abstract; that is, I sometimes felt that the necessary links to connect document X with code Y, or whatever the case was, were not terribly obvious. This could, of course, just be a failing of my own intellect. However, if you're like me, you might find yourself engaging in more than a little bit of trial-and-error. Furthermore, one of the puzzles does (unless you randomly have the specialized knowledge required) necessitate searching the internet. Some players hate this, some aren't bothered by it in the least; in this case, I did find it to be mildly disruptive to the flow of the game. Still, despite these potential flaws, Waiting Room on the whole delivers well-crafted and entertaining puzzles (and two different endings!). Be patient, don't be afraid to try everything with everything else, and you'll make it through.
Waiting Room's neat, detailed graphics are very appealing, colorful but not cartoonish. The sweet, slightly melancholy soundtrack nicely enhances the game's ambience without excessively distracting from the gameplay. While the game has a multitude of hotspots, some of which are not immediately apparent, the cursor changes when mousing over a clickable area. This, happily, eliminates most pixel-hunting. The inventory system is clean and user-friendly, and navigating around the room is simple. The game's main technical weakness is the lack of a save feature, which is a serious no-no; Ikutama does, however, get points for including a volume control feature. Not perfect, but all in all a good job.
A damsel in distress, a missing ring, a room full of secrets and a sad tale to set right: the perfect recipe for your mid-week escape game indulgence. It's not easy—but really, what fun would it be if it were? Enjoy!