Rusty Lake: Roots follows a family from the 19th century into the 20th.

Game review – Rusty Lake: Roots offers a lot of creepy fun while solving mysterious puzzles

It looks like a cult movie and even though underneath the weird exterior it’s just a puzzle game, it’s well worth getting lost in its Lynchian fabric

Rusty Lake: Roots

Rusty Lake

4/5 stars

Like many gamers, I’d heard of the developer Rusty Lake. It’s become a cult favourite for creating a peculiar set of escape-the-room mobile games involving Twin Peaks-like absurdity. It’s also responsible for the awe-inspiring genius of Rusty Lake Hotel. But I’d never thought to give one of its games a shot until Rusty Lake: Roots popped up in my to-play feed.

And I’m still not sure whether I should have. It’s really weird. Like, “Hey, look, bird-face man is walking around the farm again” kind of weird. Like, “there’s a baby hanging by its umbilical cord under my fancy dress, can you just fetch the scissors, please?” kind of weird. Like, “what’s taking so long for pumpkin head to lower that child into the well?” kind of weird.

But it’s also brilliant at the same time, especially if – like me – you’ve never played one of the developer’s games before. It’s a point-and-click adventure game, which I’ve heard makes it the ideal introduction to the company’s work. There’s some kind of story about planting a seed to start a family, and the game involves a series of 30-or-so scenes set across the 19th and 20th century, but the gameplay largely uses gaming tropes of the past.

Rusty Lake: Roots looks weird – and it is weird.

Fetch this, grab some water, bury that, work out this insane conundrum – all of it is frightfully coated in a macabre sense of gothic madness, sure, but get down to the nitty-gritty and it’s just another puzzle game. A puzzle game where you twiddle a dead man’s nipples before squeezing inside his body and exit out of an orifice in his face, sure, but a puzzle game nonetheless.

I can’t really explain the appeal. It’s not that I’m trying not to spoil it – far from it. It’s just that the start and end of the reasoning seems almost circular. How can you explain why movie geeks dig David Lynch and David Cronenberg? How does one start on the fiction of Borges or Ballard? At what point does weird become too weird – or worse, weird for weird’s sake?

I’m not sure, but I still had a lot of creepy fun with Rusty Lake: Roots – and if roses make your nose bleed and a stake through the heart is as good as an eyeball on the table, you will too.