Running out of space in deadly disc-filled rooms shouldn’t be this much fun.
Top-down action game Disc Room, from Devolver Digital, revolves (devolves?) around a very basic premise: move from room to room and avoid a variety of spinning blades in each long enough to make it to the next room. The number of rooms isn’t all that high, but most of them provide a unique challenge and even a few twists to keep things fresh, almost as fresh as all the bright red blood that splatters out of your character with regularity. The presentation, accessibility options, and solid gameplay turn a thoroughly simple concept into a sharp and satisfying experience, but a few minor concerns prevent Disc Room from being truly turn-key.
A handful of comic-book style panels reveal a brief story about scientists investigating a giant disc in space, and this sets up the exploration of what looks like a space ship with five sectors, each with a different visual theme and gameplay challenge. The middle area features rooms with overgrown plants on the walls and forces you to remain within a circle in the center of the room. As is the case in most rooms on the ship, you just need to survive long enough to unlock adjacent rooms, with an in-game timer counting up or down depending on the room. The eastern area uses red light and darkness to keep the player guessing as to where and how to escape death. Other rooms task you with collecting yellow balls on the ground that deal damage to a larger disc, and in these spaces the damage dealt is how you affect the timer. Disc Room’s 50 stages offer plenty of compelling challenge and enough variety to make the run an enjoyable one.
Some rooms are even unlocked by letting the buzz saws and discs have their way with you. Each time you die, the buzz saw that took you out is added to a list, one that records how many times it managed to get you. By collecting a set number of new saws, certain doors will open up. What ensues is the pursuit of shiny new things bent on your destruction, and in some rooms you need to survive a little longer just to discover a unique saw. At least one door requires that you have survived in every open room for at least five seconds; another asks you to eliminate four gatekeepers, and each of these encounters will really test your mettle.
Along the way, you earn abilities that can be equipped one at a time and swapped out before starting a new room. The first allows you to perform a short dash that makes you immune to being ripped to shreds by a disc; the second gives you the ability to temporarily slow time. Out of the six on offer, the most notable is the power to clone yourself. Every few seconds, you can create a clone of yourself in a different position in the room, and moving your character moves all clones simultaneously. The problem with having clones is that inevitably, they will die, leaving behind severed limbs and pools of blood. The worst part is that the more clones that die, the more the game slows down, almost to a snail’s pace, which can actually make certain rooms easier to complete. That, however, seems like an unintended consequence of the game being unable to handle everything on the screen, so be sure to clone yourself wisely.
Despite its steep challenge, Disc Room offers a number of options and features that adapt the experience to various skill levels. First off, the start menu contains a map where you can select any previously visited room and teleport straight there. The map also displays the goals needed in each room to advance to adjacent ones and marks rooms with discs you haven’t been killed by yet. From this menu you can also access a variety of control, gameplay, and graphics options, but the most intriguing is the Difficulty section. Here, it’s possible to adjust the game speed, goal difficulty, and disc speed; you can even just unlock all of the individual areas of the ship and try almost any room at your leisure. Being able to customize how you enjoy a video game is always a refreshing inclusion, and it’s particularly well done with Disc Room.
The art style lends itself well to a game about being sawed in half ad nauseum, and the clean look of each room allows the gameplay to shine through. The music is a mix of sci-fi electronic and synth sounds, and it feels at home given Disc Room’s setting. One of the tracks really reminded me of Metroid, actually, and all in all the visual and audio elements add to the game’s satisfaction.
Like Minit and Gato Roboto before it, Disc Room is another compact but wonderful title from publisher Devolver. Leaderboards for each room and an unlockable Hard mode give players ample reason to continue playing even after conquering all 50 rooms, which is no small feat in itself. Unfortunately, as of review, one room seems to be suffering from a game-breaking bug, and to roll credits I needed to unlock the final area of the ship in the options menu to proceed, so hopefully that gets fixed at or before launch. Regardless, the meat of Disc Room is more than enough to warrant a pick up, especially if you think flinging a cartoon scientist into sharp, spinning discs is a good way to spend your time.