Game: A Dark Room
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Web, Android & iOS)
Developer|Publisher: Amir Rajan | Circle Entertainment
Age Rating: EU 7+ | US 10+
Price: US $6.99 | UK £6.29 | EU € 6,99
Release Date: 12 April 2019
No review code used. Purchased the game myself.
It took me by surprise. Not once, or twice, but a number of times over. In fact, even before I began playing it, A Dark Room surprised me—with its very concept. It’s a text game. “Who makes text-only games these days?” you may ask. Well, well. Don’t underestimate the power of the word.
Speaking of words, here’s the trouble I’m facing with this review: How do I tell you about the game without giving it all away?
The Fire is Dead
It all begins in “a dark room”.
The fire is dead. The room is freezing.
The only action you can perform at this time: “light fire“.
a ragged stranger stumbles through the door and collapses…
You now have two options: “stoke fire” and “a silent forest“.
And that’s all I wish to say about what’s actually in the game, content-wise. “What a lame review!” you say. Now if you need to know more before forking out several dollars, I’ve blogged on what A Dark Room is about. But I’d rather you didn’t read it and, instead, let me tell you four reasons to play a game you know almost nothing about.
Why Play This Text Adventure?
First, play it for the surprises. Besides being surprised by the presence of a text game on the Nintendo Switch, I was delighted to discover the game wasn’t simply Zork or Colossal Cave Adventure. The mechanics and genre(s) of A Dark Room lean more towards incremental resource management and RPG. Each time the game evolved, mechanics-wise as well as plot-wise, it made me say, “Whoa.”
Second, play it for the elegant, minimalist design and plot. A text-based game doesn’t have to be wordy to tell a story or build a world. In fact, it’s by the spareness of words that A Dark Room creates intrigue. The absence of images (the sort we’re used to) isn’t a weakness of the game. Rather, the game’s plot takes advantage of the fact that you can’t picture the world through your eyes, only through what you imagine from the words.
Third, play it for the (moderate) challenge. The game becomes a little tougher after the opening minutes but isn’t punishing. The text-based nature of the game felt like a throwback to tough classics and yet the difficulty was manageable enough for the experience to be relaxing overall. Whenever I felt I wasn’t doing well, it simply meant I had to change gears and play a little smarter.
Lastly, play to replay. It’s been a long while since I had both the motivation and time to replay a game. ADR gets that honour. Just when I had breathed a sigh of satisfaction after my first playthrough (which took about 6 hours, on the slow side), the credit roll included an intriguing invitation: “Try completing without building huts”.
That got me curious enough to play ADR a second time, and it wasn’t a repeat of the game under more challenging conditions. Rather, the conditions had changed and so had the plot. In fact, my entire strategy had to change if I wanted to play smartly, so that added even more value to this little game.
For this interesting and refreshing experience, I’d like to thank developers Michael Townsend (creator of the original Web version) and Amir Rajan (who developed it further for mobile platforms and Switch). You’re the reason I had friends looking at me with amusement and saying, “Are you still playing that text game?” and me babbling about it excitedly.
I found the plot meaningful, and it drove the game forward despite being doled out in tiny pieces and told in so few words. If you think of regular RPGs as epic novels, I’d say A Dark Room is a short story, one of those 100-words-only “short shorts.” It’s about humanity, sort of. It’s about discovery and survival.
The Switch is a great way to play this game, with either Joy-Cons or touchscreen as options. I much preferred the touchscreen for speed. I enjoyed lying in bed with A Dark Room as much as with any title with fancy graphics.
If you’re looking for an indie title that’s different, give this a go. Light the fire.
Final Verdict: Two Thumbs Up