Developer: Fractal Projects
Publisher: Fractal Projects
Reviewed on PC (Steam)
The Bottom Line: While it’s an enjoyable little puzzler in its own right, this parody of a classic survival horror gimmick doesn’t quite lean into the joke hard enough.
If you had access to a computer and the internet in the early 2000s, you almost certainly remember the bottomless pit of Macromedia Flash games. Most of these were janky, boring, or just downright broken, but internet crawlers willing to scavenge the back pages of Newgrounds would always uncover a few ultra-cool games that easily repaid their efforts.
Like many of those Flash games of old, Save Room takes an amusing concept and runs with it. There’s no denying that Save Room is clever, but is it a good game? The answer depends on your expectations.
One Briefcase to Rule Them All
If you’ve played Resident Evil 4, Save Room’s in-game interface will look strikingly familiar. In that survival horror classic, series’ regular Leon Kennedy is tasked with saving the president’s daughter from plague-stricken cultists in Spain. To achieve his mission, he requires quantities of guns and ammo that would inspire Doomguy to weep tears of joy.
Instead of tucking his sniper rifles and rocket launchers into his uncannily deep pockets like most video game heroes would, however, Mr. Kennedy insists upon toting his weapons cache around in a gigantic briefcase. The interior of this briefcase is neatly partitioned into a grid, and you, the player, are responsible for placing all your guns, ammo, and health items in a way that makes optimal use of the space. In practice this ends up playing out like a slow-burn match of Tetris and makes for a silly but fun diversion from all the Ganado slaying.
As you may have inferred from looking at screenshots, Save Room takes this subsystem and makes an entire game out of it, with each level assigning you a selection of gear to cram into the briefcase. Early levels ease you into the mechanics, only requiring you to rotate the pieces to fit, while later levels will ask you to consume and combine items appropriately in order to – you guessed it – save room.
Inventory management was fun in Resident Evil 4 and the developer has recreated much of that feeling here, yet when stretched over 40 puzzles the gimmick wears perilously thin. There are a couple of “Aha!” moments as you realize which items you must combine to pass a level, but slotting everything into the grid tends to devolve into rote trial and error. Furthermore, much of the tension in Resident Evil 4 came from having to make tough choices about which items to keep and which to discard. When you know with certainty that all the items will fit in the case, the tension of inventory management dissipates completely, while taking a sizeable chunk of the fun along with it.
Not Quite a Perfect Fit
As a longtime Resident Evil 4 player who’s enjoyed the game and its extra modes many times over, I had minor quibbles with the interface. For one, in Resident Evil 4, if you had an item in hand, you could click another item in your inventory and swap the two instantly. Save Room lacks this feature, so you always have to put one item down before you can pick up another. It’s a small difference, but one that adds unneeded friction to the experience.
The music also leaves something to be desired. While Resident Evil games are hardly known for their strong soundtracks, they do often have memorable save room themes, and Resident Evil 4 was no exception. Whenever you stumbled into a secluded nook with a save typewriter, the accompanying music, a swirl of synthesized serenity with ominous undertones, let you know that you’d earned a moment of respite. Save Room, in contrast, relies on a looping track of vaguely threatening elevator music. It’s stale the first time you hear it, and by the time you’ve finished the last puzzle you’ll likely have had more than your fill.
Finally, although the puzzles do gradually introduce new concepts and ramp up the difficultly in a logical way, there are no threads tying them together. What if there was narrative continuity from one puzzle to the next? Or at least a few wink-wink clues about how the briefcase bearer’s mission was progressing? While there are descriptions for every item that add flavor and enrich the game’s humor, I can’t help but feel that the game missed an opportunity to develop an environmental narrative.
Then again, perhaps I’m asking for too much. As an amusing 15-minute Flash experience, Save Room would’ve been perfect. As a full game with an hour-plus runtime, it’s still easy to recommend but a bit harder to truly love. Resident Evil 4 veterans will get a kick out of it and gamers looking for a few simple puzzles to solve should enjoy it as well. But because its execution is merely adequate instead of incredible, Save Room feels more like a hazy reflection of fond memories than a game that stands on its own merits.