Thursday 17 October 2019

The Spectrum Retreat review: You can check out but never leave

The Spectrum Retreat, (XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 12+

The Spectrum Retreat
The Spectrum Retreat
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

We all know that feeling of waking up in a hotel room, not knowing where the hell we are, what we did last night, and why we're there. The Spectrum Retreat is just like that, only worse, in the most entertaining way.

This narrative-driven puzzler thrusts the player into a Matrix-esque nightmare, trapped in a hotel that obliges you to follow its daily routine while you work on escaping its claustrophobic confines. Riffing on similar puzzlers such as Portal, The Turing Test and Qube, The Spectrum Retreat carefully unspools its unsettling back-story in slices before thrusting you periodically into a colour-coded block-matching maze challenge that spirals in complexity.

It manages to be both intriguing (via the disembodied phone voice helping you out) and frustrating (the block puzzles are entirely logical but a tad abstract). But never the twain meet - unlike Portal, the story doesn't seep into the puzzle challenges, lending them a detached air that fails to advance the thoughtful narrative.

It's worth noting, though, that all of this springs from the mind of the youthful Dan Smith, a 20-year-old who won a Bafta Young Game Designer award in 2016 for his initial version of Spectrum.

Shantae Half-Genie: Ultimate Edition

XO/PS4/PC/Sw ★★★★Age: 7+

A crowd-funded old-school platformer of a type seemingly out of fashion, Shantae makes a pleasing return in this Ultimate Edition that ticks all the boxes for fans of a certain age.

The 2D platforming holds few surprises but not many will be able to resist Shantae's charming art style, appealing lead and her penchant for whipping enemies with her long hair. There's humour in abundance here, an amusing range of powers and a Metroidvania structure that depends on her growing abilities.

Alongside modern gaming's pantheon, it feels decidedly simplistic but that's more or less the point for a whole swathe of nostalgic players.

Danger Zone 2

(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★ Age: 7+

We want this to succeed, truly we do. But the team who formerly produced the sensational Burnout series for EA clearly lack the big-budget support of a major publisher for this latest tilt at their signature crash sim.

Resuscitating the riotously amusing traffic pile-up in which you drive at high speed into a crowded highway junction, DZ2 attempts to flesh out the mode that helped define Burnout. Most components are present and correct - copious vehicles, corkscrewing roads and explosive collisions - yet it never fully gels.

Maybe it's the rookie mistake of unreadable text in the interface or the generous sprinkling of game-breaking bugs. But this is one old favourite that feels in need of a lot more time in the oven.

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