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Disc Room review

Disc can't go unplayed

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I’d put two thumbs up if they weren’t busy dodging jagged platters of death. Disc Room is Nokia’s snake for those who shrug off mortality. Devil Daggers for people who want to set their FOV to 360 degrees. Anyone who has lived for eons in the seven circles of bullet hell might play it happily and shelve it alongside some good ones. It might even become a quiet favourite. For the rest of us, who dip in and out of “hard games” once or twice a year as if it were a swimming pool in English weather, Disc Room is positively boiling, eye-watering in its demand for concentration. If you told me last night I would be hooting with joy at a video game sight as familiar as disembowelment by saw blade, I would have told you to hang up the call and go have a lie down. But here we are.

You dodge discs. There, I’ve explained it. There are about 50 rooms each with its own slicey disc types and patterns of attack. There are discs that slow you down, discs that phase in and out of existence, discs that follow your movements like a sniper. Nippy discs, wobbly discs, fat discs, curveball discs, discs that explode, discs that leave trails of other, smaller discs, discs with hockey puck slipperiness, discs with magnetic skulduggery, and, of course, horrendous boss battle discs that spit sawblade babies at you with every passing second of survival. Some rooms require you to do a task, like collect pickups as you dodge. Others simply ask you to survive for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, however long the game thinks is fair by default (more on this in a moment).

There is also a layer of secret discovery as concerns these discs. Sometimes dying by a strange new circular blade brings with it a new ability. The power to ghost through discs with a dash, for example, or slow time down. One ability lets you make clones. Another gives you the might of a psychic push that repels all incoming discs away from you, but it slows you down for a tense second. Some of these powers are necessary to solve rooms in a way that turns the twitchy salons of annihilation into contemplative puzzle rooms. If you can be contemplative while avoiding decapitation.

It’s a hyper focused game, and very good at telling you what’s what. At an early point you enter a room with a circle in the middle. The circle glows as long as you stay inside its boundaries. It doesn’t seem to offer any extra benefit but the challenge of having less space to move. But no. You realise soon enough, that your timer doesn’t count unless you stay in the circle. Disc Room is training you. It is pushing you. It will continue to do this for as long as you decide to subject yourself to the scrutiny of round blades.

In short, I completed the game after only three and a half hours of languorous reviewer’s play. But this being the kind of score-centric thumb twitcher with leaderboards, extra challenges, unlockable hard modes, and nope-inducing calls to action (“try completing me with the game speed set to 200%” it suggests joyfully in one menu) you may find yourself glued to it for much longer. In games like this mileage does not so much vary as it scatter graphs. Can you ever truly “complete” the search for extraneous milliseconds?

The speed of play is matched only by the rapidity of its insta-restart. Death and rebirth happen so fast in Disc Room it is possible for the oft-mentioned state of flow (the psychological phenomenon coveted by game designers everywhere) to continue through the point of death and into the next life. This never happens in video games. What the hell is going on!?

It throws down gauntlets like a glory-hungry gladiator. “Complete the game in 15 minutes,” it says in another particularly bloodthirsty challenge. But even without the speedrunner bait, even in the course of normal play, the game sics itself upon you. Think you are good at not being diced like an onion? Try beating your previous score. Try beating the developers score, they lasted twice as long. Try beating the world’s best score, you cannot do it. Try feeding your clones to a mysterious floor mouth. Try surviving while the lights flash on and off. Try surviving for zero seconds or less (what). Try defeating these four disgusting boss discs in a row without failure. Don’t make me laugh, the game spits at you. I would like to see you try.

But that is the head-boiling beauty of it all. This game really would like to see you try. It would like to see everyone try. The options menu is straight out of the Celeste playbook of create-your-own-difficulty level. You can alter the disc speed, the difficulty of each locked doorway’s goal, or unlock every zone right from the start if need be. I played on the default setting but I’m happy to see Disc Room loudly asserting that failure is, quite literally, not an option. Failure is a passageway you carve yourself. Entrails were made to be offered up to speed and practice, whatever that involves.

But don’t take my word for it. Trust in the capacity of your thumbs. If there is a human on the planet who does not like how Disc Room feels beneath their knuckles, who does not feel the wubbing molly-dropping music pulsating right down to their unmentionables, I do not want to know them. I do not want to know the hollowness of their hearts. The discs themselves, so eager for your blood, often seem to have a spirit all their own. And I would have put this down to my own over-reaching habit of personification that sees me finding character in tufts of belly button lint. But I have seen some of this game’s deliciously dark-hearted flavour text. It sits alongside the library of disc types in the game’s pause menu. “These discs are not inanimate,” one entry warns. “They are entities. My dying seems to speak their language.” Ahhhhhh.

The purple horror disc has killed me 50 times. The wide and slow carpenter blade, 35 times. The brain-infused “gatekeeper” disc? Step away from me this moment. I do not want to talk about that disc. These stats are offered in another simple menu in which you collect disc information not by encountering them, but by dying to them, offering your organs to them in exchange for micro-lore. I love it. But I understand for many players, all this flavour is ignorable. You are really chasing the thrill of turning keys in red locks, the pride of surviving 6 full seconds in total darkness.

Disc Room has the force of will to invite such hyperbole as you have found in these lines, so let me calm myself down and say that it is no perfect game, nor will it be a universal thrill. It’s not even super original in conceit (it is essentially Asteroids for woodworkers). There was also a recurring bug that saw my science dodger getting snagged on a wall at what always felt like the most critical moment (because, when you’re performing a mortal obstacle course of sharp objects, every moment is the most critical moment). The restart function is so fast that you sometimes expect too much of it and accidentally navigate to another level, having begun to move your character before the timer even begins. If anything this is the envied design problem of making the player too keen.

The game is also, yes, small in stature, it is one-note, it can be enjoyed in one sitting until you reach the crest of conditioning and competence, if not completion. It is single-minded to the point of being playable with precisely one digit. You might play it for a single day, as I did, have a wonderful time covering yourself with blood, and be satisfied to never touch it again. But if these are flaws they are also proof of focus and refinement. Disc Room might be readily slept on, but if you are the kind of tough game obsessive, a connoisseur of arcade death, or a bullet hellion who cannot resist the call to mastery, these rooms should be approached wakeful and willing and ready to die.

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Who am I?

Brendan Caldwell

List Goblin

Brendan likes all types of games. To him there is wisdom in Crusader Kings 2, valour in Dark Souls, and tragicomedy in Nidhogg.

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