Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PC
You kind of have to appreciate a game that goes for hyper-simplicity. Plenty of games are able to succeed by doing a lot with a little. Disc Room, the latest offbeat action game published by Devolver Digital, is based around simplicity. It succeeds, for the most part, in delivering a quick and fun arcade action game. That said, barring some great difficulty customization options, it's a bit shallow.
Saw Blades Everywhere
Disc Room is all about frenzied, bloody death by saw blade. The object of the game is simple: You enter room after room and try to survive as dozens of saw blades big and small spin your way. That's it. This isn't quite a bad thing, because there's a lot there to keep you engaged. For example, though the first few rooms start out simple enough, your objectives change. Eventually, in order to progress, simply surviving isn't enough. Maybe you'll have to collect a certain number of orbs or stand on a designated location for a set amount of time.
The way the challenges shift in Disc Room adds a tiny bit of variety, encouraging and challenging the player to press on. That's if you dig the core gameplay, though. Sure, you'll be tasked with some neat challenges, but ultimately, the bulk of what you're doing is dodging saw blades, dying, retrying, succeeding, going to the next room, and doing it all over again. This makes for a gameplay loop that can hook you, but only insofar as the amount of enjoyment, you'll actually get from the overly simple premise.
Though you can only equip one at a time, you can unlock abilities in Disc Room, typically by getting killed by specific saw blades. There's an ability that lets you dash through blades without getting hurt. Another skill lets you push nearby blades away. Then there's the copy ability, which lets you create a new clone of your character every few seconds. With this ability, you'll only lose once your last onscreen character is killed, so you could potentially see five or six clones on the screen, mimicking your movements, but you'll only restart once they're all wiped out.
Disc Room attempts to further change things up by introducing different types of rooms. Some rooms are fairly standard, while others have jarring red lighting. These rooms in particular are especially challenging as the lights completely blackout every few seconds, so there are moments when you won't know if a saw blade is about to get you.
Though it's fun dodging discs left and right, it can get pretty repetitive after a few levels. Yes, Disc Room is going specifically for a "one more try" approach to gameplay, and it does its best to mix things up, but ultimately, all you're doing is trying to avoid saw blades. Even in rooms where the objective is to walk over panels or collect orbs, you're really just dodging discs. That's it. It's fine, but that's all it really is. It's super arcade-y and fun in short bursts, but it's not exactly deep or captivating.
Myriad Difficulty Settings
Where Disc Room absolutely shines is in its difficulty settings. Other developers would do well to take note because the variety offered here is excellent — you can literally alter every single aspect of how Disc Room plays using various sliders.
If a challenge is too tough for you, tasking you with collecting more orbs than you can before getting cut into bits, you can tone down the challenge difficulty, which will lower the requirements. You can also lower disc speed, slow down other deadly hazards in rooms, and even lower the entire game's speed. Of course, if you're up for the challenge even after you've completed the game, there's an unlockable hard mode for only the most sadistic players.
A Bloody Good Time for a Little While
In terms of its visuals, tone, and atmosphere, Disc Room emulates the look and feel of old school Newgrounds titles. This almost seems like it could've been one of Edmund McMillen's earlier games. It's cartoon-y, violent, and gory. You're treated to comic stills that move the game's ambiguous story forward. These are fine, though they don't tell you much, which seems to be the point.
The music in Disc Room is pretty catchy. You'll hear creepy synth beats that sound like they came out of a late '80s or early '90s sci-fi or horror film. Composed by Doseone, who’s previously worked on awesome music for Sludge Life and Nidhogg 2, the soundtrack here is strong and fits the game’s bloody themes.
If you tone down the difficulty of Disc Room too much, it’s completely possible to get to the end within a couple of hours. If, however, you really want to challenge yourself even moderately, it could take you upward of six or seven hours to beat the game. In any case, what’s here is good, but in short bursts mostly. The game’s compelling difficulty options are where it shines brightest. Still, though it isn’t stuffed with gameplay variety, there’s some fun to be had as you dodge saw blade after saw blade in each of the game’s 50 levels.