Dan Smith was the winner of the 2016 YGD BAFTA award for his prototype puzzle game which has evolved into The Spectrum Retreat, which has now had it’s full release onto Xbox One, PS4, Steam and Nintendo Switch, and published by Ripstone games. The Spectrum Retreat puts your player into a mysterious hotel, staffed by human-like robots, from where you must work out its secrets.
Soon after waking for the first time in the hotel, the player is introduced to Cooper, a voice on the other end of a hidden phone, who informs you that you are being held against your will in the hotel, and that she will help you to escape if you follow her instructions. You then find yourself exploring the limited confines of the hotel searching for clues to get through a locked door. Once the door is opened, puzzles await. These puzzles consist of rooms with coloured blocks and coloured gates. To get through the gates you must hold the correct block and you can only hold one at a time. This leads to much to-ing and fro-ing in order to get your movements in the right sequence, so you can escape and move to the next puzzle. As you proceed the puzzles get more difficult and as you move through the hotel floors some new mechanics are introduced in the form of coloured teleporters and blocks that rotate the game space through ninety degrees. The game is very reminiscent of The Turing Test and Portal, so if you like those titles then The Spectrum Retreat will be right up your street.
The puzzles themselves are pretty good, and fairly self-explanatory, especially as the game doesn’t really offer any tutorials or clues. All your progression is done by trial and error but comes quite naturally. Throughout the puzzles there are glimpses of another, outside world, which tells a story of what could really be going on and allows you to piece together the clues somewhat before the final revelation.
The puzzle are challenging and pretty fun, but there was a niggling feeling that I had throughout, especially playing through the first two floors of the hotel. You see, the puzzle sections are set in what could be a completely different universe to the eponymous hotel and I felt that I had been taken out of the interesting and peculiar world that the hotel provided. I am confused as to why the puzzles couldn’t have taken place within the design of the hotel? Its almost like you walk through a door into a futuristic space station to solve the eight or nine puzzles before returning through the same door back to the hotel. It really does feel like two different games shoehorned together. The final level just about manages this integration a lot more successfully and it leaves you with a feeling of what might have been.
Although the first few levels of the puzzles drag on a little bit, as soon as the teleportation and level rotation is introduced they become much more interesting and challenging. There is a lot of disorientation going on as you try to remember where you’d placed a certain colour before you’d rotated! However, not once did I need to head to the internet to see how a certain puzzle could be solved, but I think some may be glitched as I could spend an age on one puzzle before flying through the next, apparently harder level. My other slight frustration is that you often need to restart the puzzle because you’ve done something wrong, or in the wrong order, and there is no way of doing this other than returning to the menu. It would have been nice to have a way of doing this within the game, as again it took me out of the world. I did enjoy the voice acting from Amelia Tyler as Cooper, who does a great job of gently guiding you along.
The Spectrum Retreat is a good puzzle game which will provide you with a good 8-10 hours of puzzling. A more integrated two halves would have made it a great puzzle game.