Tiny Room Stories: Town Mystery review
As the world continues to throw one overwhelming event after another at us, Tiny Room Stories: Town Mystery's offer of simple, well-made puzzles you can actually solve – or at least attempt to – becomes quite attractive. What it may lack in a hugely engaging story or flashy voice-overs, it definitely makes up in the form of these fiendish challenges and that great feeling of satisfaction after completing them. Whilst one of the game's solutions risks being so obscure even a walkthrough doesn't help, for the most part they're logical and entertaining to solve.
You play as a private detective whose father has sent a letter demanding that you visit him at once – but unhelpfully gives no real reason as to why. Sure enough, when you visit Redcliff you find that something very eerie is going on. The road on the way in is blocked off, and when you work your way past and to your dad's house, there's no one there. In fact, there's nobody in the town, full stop.
It's an intriguing premise that sets up the game's basic mechanics. Each new location you visit in your search to discover what's really going on in Redcliff, whether a church, a laboratory or a mansion, represents a distinct chapter. The game's design is isometric, so you view each room of every new area from a bird's-eye perspective and move from room to room by clicking the next room's corresponding door or ladder.
To explore a room on PC (the game was released previously for Android devices as well), you drag the mouse or press A or D to rotate your view and reveal different sides of the room. This is crucial, as there's lots hidden away in Tiny Room Stories – you really will have to click on every object and scour every corner of every room to find out if it's hiding a clue to a code or password, especially as there aren't any hotspot highlighters to show you which objects you can interact with. Most of the game consists of you unlocking doors to previously locked off areas or access to computers in each chapter to get new information that will ultimately lead you to the next.
The puzzles themselves are a mixture of inventory tasks – picking up objects, combining them with others – and logic challenges. A pen and paper is definitely recommended to keep track of all the code-breaking and pattern-spotting you'll be doing! Your character will also keep information like emails considered important to access easily in the game's notes section – but strangely a fair number of details I needed to remember were never saved in notes, presumably so as to not give away that they’re relevant for a puzzle solution.
Whilst there's a lot of finding codes and passwords in Tiny Room Stories, the way you go about it for the most part feels fresh each time, with solutions often tied in with the different environments you encounter. So a church may require you to move pews to a specific pattern to unlock a secret, or an underwater level (don't say this detective doesn't put the effort in) will see you try to crack open a treasure chest on board a sunken ship. And of course, as with every puzzle game worth its salt, you'll have to work out people's birthdays at some point to figure out a computer password. All of these little touches prevent things from getting repetitive, even through fifteen chapters (some of which have several parts – normally a large area split into different themed sections as you explore it further).
Each chapter takes about twenty to thirty minutes to complete – that is, if you're able to solve the puzzles! I won't pretend I was able to do this without any help; in fact, I challenge anybody to not reach for a walkthrough at some point. Thankfully, the developers must have realised this might happen, as they provide a link in-game that will transport you to a YouTube walkthrough of the chapter you're on. There's no English commentary for these videos, perhaps due to the developers being based in Siberia and wanting to keep them open to anyone, but they mostly do a good job of showing you exactly what you need to be doing.
It's a relief, because Tiny Town Stories is no walk in the park. You will really need to think laterally as well as logically, rotating both rooms and objects with your mouse to uncover keys and clues to lead you onto the next puzzle. This only gets harder when the later locations open up further and contain ten or more rooms, each with interlocking puzzles and clues. Most of the time I was quite happy to accept defeat once I'd tried everything I could think of, yet satisfied with the solution once I'd looked it up to find the one missing link eluding me. In one instance with a Sudoku puzzle, however, even looking up the walkthrough didn't help explain how I would've worked it out on my own, making the game's difficulty less of a plus than an irritant. Thankfully occasions like these are rare, and there are enough “Eureka!” moments of solving things yourself to make the overall experience enjoyable.
The graphics are kept simple and clean, which works well as you investigate every nook and cranny of the town. There are some slight animations as you interact with objects, such as screws unscrewing as you apply a screwdriver to them, but little that otherwise brings Redcliff to life. The music for each chapter is pleasant enough background ambience if not memorable, but it can't be turned off or adjusted, which became pretty annoying during a level where on top of the music a burglar alarm was set off for several minutes. There's also no voice acting, though the only dialogue here is from the P.I. protagonist describing objects you click on or new areas you've discovered.
Despite the modest production values, the developers have managed to breathe some character into Tiny Room Stories. There are lots of references to famous adventurers hidden throughout (see a journal you discover from a Mr N. Drake), and also some surprising moments of fun amongst all the serious puzzle solving. A point halfway through the game where you examine yet another locked gate is a relatable and surprising highlight, as you'll expect to have to find some complicated way in, only for the detective to declare “I'm sick of these locked doors!” and drive right through it.
The story itself goes through many twists and turns involving crystals, scientists and mad plans for the human race. The ending, which is likely to take you at least thirteen hours to get to even with a walkthrough on hand, is particularly bonkers. I'm not sure I quite bought it or even really understood it, but seeing as this is a game built far more on its puzzles than its premise, it didn't matter to me quite as much as it would have otherwise. And that really sums up Tiny Room Stories: Town Mystery. It's a strange, entertaining romp with fewer of the cosmetic and narrative bells and whistles of many modern adventure games, but look beneath the surface and there's still an abundance of tricky yet engaging brain-teasers any puzzle fan would love to crack.
Tiny Room Stories: Town Mystery will blow away any cerebral cobwebs with its onslaught of fun, addictive brain-teasers to solve, even if their difficulty will leave some of the most seasoned puzzle solvers seriously scratching their heads.
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