by Nathan Rowland
reviewed on PC
The premise of Disc Room is one without fluff - you’re a scientist in the year 2089 and giant, sentient, serrated discs have started appearing out in space. Now it’s your job to put on your most fluorescent space suit and find out what they’re here for. What does this mean? Getting sliced apart over and over again, for science!
Each encounter with these discs is introduced through a routine progression of ‘rooms/levels’. In these rooms you’ll encounter your standard rotating blades to more quirky, magnetic, sometimes erratic blades which will actively hunt you down and then a little bit of everything in between. These disc ‘enemies’ extend all the way up to boss battles which incorporate unique behaviours and equally unique ways of defeating them. The rooms can range from a practical challenge towards wickedly unrelenting. By design, it is only a question of time as to when you will die as more and more discs begin spawning into each room and the space left for you to evade becomes increasingly smaller. Death is no enemy in Disc Room however, rather, a comforting guarantee. It is encouraged by the act of ‘collecting’ these discs in your in-game catalogue, each one added to your library after succumbing to its sharp edge. It’s an ingenious design which lets you become close and often comfortable in a seemingly dangerous environment. This is no doubt supported by the game’s fantastic, cartoony art-style. This design, as well as the ease of traversing from one room to the next, all supports the accessibility of Disc Room’s play.
The game certainly has a low barrier to entry. Akin to something like Meatboy, it is simple and refined. With a challenge that opens itself up the more patience you can allow yourself to have. The controls in Disc Room focus singularly on movement and its fluidity - unlocked moves/powers do alternate this from time to time, but for the most part, quick & timely evasions are the bread and butter of gameplay. This is helped by the piecemeal introduction of discs and their growing variations, so that you can master them slowly and over time without ever having to worry about a complex system of movement. When later rooms come into play with many different disc types, you’ll have the muscle memory of avoiding their movements down to pat. Just like learning attack patterns in action or fighting games.
Undercutting all of Disc Room’s gameplay is the constant running timer in the top right-hand screen. Goading you to reach for new personal bests with each death in each unique room. Deviously however, the developer’s have included alongside them their own personal bests. I like this addition for two reasons: firstly, it always challenged me to think towards what was possible and to never give up when I knew someone else had lasted longer. Secondly, it forefronted the kind of experience Disc Room’s developers valued - that second by second experience of evading those spinning blades and how they themselves enjoyed this dance of death as much as anyone else who plays Disc Room. The last time I saw this was in the 2016’s Furi. An equally hard, but fair, title which understood time and patience could be the greatest weapon a player can wield.
Only the penitent man will pass
Before you go thinking this will be a picnic however, this game is undoubtedly difficult and sure to please the gaming masochists among us. Some rooms just throw everything and the kitchen sink at you in an effort to kill you. After numerous hours of play, I’m yet to find all the hidden crevices or complete the most difficult challenges that Disc Room offers up. I have a sneaking suspicion the AI for the discs is something similar to the AI in Alien Isolation - where two brains, one acting oblivious to your position and moving randomly, against another brain which is masterminding your gruesome end. At least that’s the sense I get from their malicious indifference to me as they kill me for the 20th time in a row. And yet, amongst all this death, Disc Room is a surprisingly pleasing and relaxing game to play. Its simple controls, understated objectives and clear gameplay challenges combined with a lovingly crafted soundtrack make for an almost meditative experience. It’s been a good year for titles with this kind of nice, ambient experience and Disc Room fits neatly into that roster.
Accessible controls, pleasing level of challenge, relaxing gameplay.
Not enough of it