The Spectrum Retreat does for colors what Portal did for physics. It’s a puzzle game that presents a series of rooms which must be escaped by figuring out the convoluted logic of colored boxes, bridges, ramps and gadgets. In its first-person view, the player is also part of the puzzle, becoming one of the colors by touching objects and so swapping their hues.
It’s a neat idea that’s mostly executed well. The puzzles don’t have anything like the charm or originality of the Portal series, but they do offer intrigue and satisfaction. It’s the sort of game that’s fun to play for an hour, and then leave for a while.
Although simple at first, the difficulty builds up significantly about midway through the game, as more colors, tricks and devices are introduced. Puzzles are often exploratory, requiring that I make mistakes in order to reveal the true answers. There’s a devilry in this that I sometimes enjoy, but sometimes not.
For example, I often found myself making an error and becoming trapped in the puzzle, having to restart the level from scratch. This feels like a design flaw, but is so prevalent that I’m tempted to view it more as a kind of a sharp in-game punishment. It can be extremely frustrating at the end of a large level, which must then be traversed again and again.
If the puzzles offer a decent challenge, the game’s narrative casing falls short. The Spectrum Retreat is set in a digital hotel gone wrong. I am stuck inside the hotel, with only robotic staff for company. The place is suffering from some kind of catastrophic glitching, which allows for story devices to clue me into What’s Really Going On Here. This device, most especially the use of callbacks to domestic scenes and playroom objects, now feels like it’s run its course in gaming narratives.
A guide, at the end of a telephone receiver, acts as a quest giver. But she’s about as much fun as a call center operative. My time inside the hotel is mainly spent on her tedious fetch quests, rolling up and down dull corridors to search out codes. The story itself has some merits, but it does not sustain this level of boredom.
The color puzzles take place within specific sections of the hotel which make up an entirely new world and aesthetic. It makes me wonder why they couldn’t have been left well alone, to fend for themselves, without this clunky narrative device. It’s a good demonstration of the difficulty inherent in grafting story and character together, so wonderfully achieved by the inclusion of GlaDOS in Portal, but missed here, by a long way.
But for all its faults, The Spectrum Retreat is a decent puzzle game at a reasonable price ($12.99 on Steam and PlayStation 4, and currently $11.69 on Xbox One). A Nintendo Switch version is coming soon.
The Spectrum Retreat was played using a final “retail” Steam download code provided by publisher Ripstone. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.