[REVIEW] The Spectrum Retreat (Switch)

Suite Justice.

There are games that will charge you additional money just for optional palette swaps. However, in The Spectrum Retreat, it’s the main entree. Dan Smith Studios has created first-person puzzler sharing very similar vibes to the Portal series and adds a mysteriously unfolding story that meshes well with the core gameplay. The game derived from a BAFTA award-winning prototype titled “Spectrum” created by Dan Smith himself who went on to carry out that idea and develop an entire game around it. Released earlier this summer on other platforms after a 5 year development cycle, the Nintendo Switch is now getting its turn. So the 1-man team created a good prototype and now has a game out. Does it have the substance based on its original premise? Absolutely.

You’re waking up to the sound of knocking. You open your eyes, laying in bed, and your first sights are the ceiling, drifting away to the lamp and dresser, confused. The knocking on the door refuses to go away. You open the your room’s door inside the Penrose Hotel only to be greeted by a presence with a request. The game takes place inside of the Penrose Hotel that offers two distinct styles of areas offering different motives. One being the hotel portions which serves as the means to not only provide access to the puzzle portions of gameplay, but to also fill in much of the story involving other characters in order to understand your past which is completely lost to you.

Penrose’s main areas which actually look like a hotel should are very elegant. Vases, plants, marble panels and soft light sources such as chandeliers and wall lamps make the entire hotel look very luxurious. A sense of wonder looms over you the entire time and it’s unsettling, but in a cozy way. The other areas of the game are the main puzzles placed in Portal-like chambers. Here, it’s up to players to manipulate colors in order to create pathways to cross and barriers to pass. Whether it’s in the lobbies or in the chambers, and while both areas look distinct from each other, they sport a very clean look.

 

The player will have a phone on them the whole time and this gadget does more than just take phone calls. In the lower-right corner of the screen is the phone which is actually the common logo of the game and Penrose itself. Players will actually talk to a mysterious woman on the other line who say she’s helping you escape. The phone also displays text. When it comes to puzzles, the phone’s circles will change colors depending on which color the player currently has in possession. Placed in chambers are colored cubes. What starts out as two ends up being three and then four. The basic idea is to absorb and transfer colors between cubes to create a way to the exit. Except it’s not always that simple.

Placing the cursor over a colored cube and pressing ZR will absorb its color and replace the cube with the color your had previously. Players can be as far away from a cube as they’d like, the cursor will pick up any color from afar. Only being able to hold one color at a time, swapping colors between cubes is the major hook to puzzling elements. However, you can only swap between different colors. You cannot exchange a white for another white. Within chambers are colored energy fields that react to whichever color you currently have. For example, if players hold red, all red barriers allow players to pass through them and if players don’t hold red then all red barriers block the way. This can be both to your advantage as well as a disadvantage. An active energy field might provide a walkway to cross a gap, but that same energy field may also be a wall blocking your path. There’s a bit of memory testing and planning when it comes to swapping colors as a you might need a cube to be a specific color and if if you don’t have access to that color and can’t retrieve it otherwise, then you’re out of luck. There are cubes that will always regenerate its original color back after a couple of seconds meaning sometimes you have to plan carefully even more. It is indeed possible to get stuck and have to restart the challenge. The following clip will demonstrate why placing a proper green allowed me to finish.

 

Different chamber sets have a certain number of levels to them. Upon completion, players return to the hotel for further exploration and answers. Minor exploration and puzzle solving such as finding key codes for locked doors pop up. While all this is going on, most of the narrative is there to drive the plot forward. Players will find clues to their past both in the lobby portions of the hotel and the chambers. Documents reveal certain information that may touch home and digitized picture frames on walls fuzzily recap memories of past events. One noteworthy touch no matter where you are at in the game and may look confusing upon first notice is that levels loop, or wraparound, ala Pac-Man style. At first it may look like it’s large, but the levels regenerate themselves and never stops you from having to turn around and walk back. This is especially useful in the chambers.

More gameplay elements introduce themselves the further you advance. For instance, players will eventually be able to teleport by pressing ZL. The same color swapping mechanic applies teleport markers meaning you’ll need to not only have a different color than the teleport marker itself, but also make sure you have the correct color to swap for later use.

The voice acting is done pretty well, especially the lady who remains in contact with you. The musical score is very ambient with strings and a slow orchestral piece sets a dramatic vibe. It’s certainly a background piece, but with a cinematic feel. The whole game can take at least 5-7 hours and runs at a solid 30 fps in both docked and handheld mode. HD Rumble isn’t much of a focus unfortunately, but I can’t really see much use for it really.

Summary
The Spectrum Retreat is a wonderful first-person puzzle game. It contains clever puzzling and a mysterious story involving the past of the main character you play as. It's $12.99 on the Switch eShop, had a 5 year development cycle from Dan Smith himself, and is totally deserving of the price tag. There's an appreciated elegance to The Spectrum Retreat. I'm sure Dan Smith Studios is goin' places and most likely up from here.
The Stellar
  • Elegant visual design.
  • Portal-like puzzles playing with colors.
  • Engaging narrative to go with puzzling.
The Lesser
  • HD Rumble would be nice for color swapping.
  • Movement kind of slow.
8.1
Pretty Good
Gameplay - 8
Visual - 7.5
Audio - 7.75
Value - 9

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