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  • Writer's pictureK Fox

Spending a Night at the Rusty Lake Hotel

I'd never played any of the Rusty Lake games when I saw Rusty Lake Hotel was briefly free on Steam and decided to give it a shot, and boy did I have no idea what I was getting myself into. I decided to stream my introduction to the franchise, and I'm really glad I did. I'm pleased that my shock and awe will be documented for future generations to come (mostly for them to laugh at), and the reactions in my chat were priceless. I'm also glad I didn't look too closely at what the game was really about, because I feel strongly that my surprise and frustration and wonder (and horror!) were that much more enhanced by truly not understanding what I was about to experience.

And that’s why I want to make this what I’m going to call an “inverted review.” I’m going to tell you my thoughts about the game in general—what would usually be my final remarks—right here at the top with no spoilers. Then I’ll get into my experience below, which will contain spoilers for the game. Obviously I’ll give you a heads up so you can stop reading before then, but I do hope you’ll come back and finish after you beat the game yourself!

If you’ve already played or don’t plan on it, go ahead and read through. I have absolutely no doubt you’ll be laughing at me by the time you’re done, and I honestly can’t blame you.

My Overall Thoughts (No Spoilers)

Rusty Lake Hotel is hilarious and horrifying in the best possible way. You think you understand what’s going on, but you'll never be able to predict exactly what's coming. There will be a new curve ball, a new concept, and new surprises on every level. Sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s always rewarding, and it's especially fun to play with friends.

It took me less than three hours to beat the whole game, but I had my stream helping me, so we probably moved through things more quickly than I would have alone. That being said, you can definitely lose yourself in the story and finish in one sitting, if that’s your thing. If not, though, it’s also very easy to break it up into bite-sized pieces.

Overall, I definitely recommend the game, but I will stress that despite the cute, cartoony graphics, it is not family friendly, so yours kids are probably not the best helpers if you're looking to make it a team effort. Otherwise, I recommend turning down the lights, getting yourself a drink and maybe a puzzle-savvy friend or two, and diving in.

Continue reading to wonder at the game's inventive storytelling, to gasp about the things that left me shocked and horrified, to laugh with me (at me?) as I recount my utter failures, and to have several things spoiled for you if you haven’t played before:

Gameplay Discussion (Spoilers Below!)

The premise of Rusty Lake Hotel is that there are five guests staying with you—a boar, a pigeon, a rabbit, a deer, and a pheasant—and you will be serving dinners to them over the course of five nights. It’s your job to gather ingredients for the dinners, and despite the fact that in addition to vegetables and herbs, the recipes called for items such as “rabbit leg” and “pheasant breast,” I didn’t catch on immediately. Maybe you already have.

If you know me, perhaps you're not surprised that I managed to make myself look like an idiot my first ten seconds into the game. “Use the arrows to move around,” it said. So what did I do? Put my fingers on WASD and tried to do something. “Duh,” I thought to myself when nothing happened. “It said to use the arrow keys.”

No. It did not.

For the uninitiated, there are little black arrows on the edges of the screen that you click in order to move from panel to panel in a room. If it took me three steps to figure that part out, I worried we were in for a loooong night. Thankfully, though, I got the hang of things pretty quickly.

But not too quickly.

My first mistake.

If you’ve played before, you know Mr. Owl calls you on the phone at the reception desk before you go upstairs. He says “hello” and then you click through the dialogue for him to give you further instructions. I had gotten the “click for dialogue” part of the game down by this point, so I clicked away… and clicked right off the phone onto an interactive item in the background, ending the call. So, I missed Mr. Owl’s first hint. Which means I didn’t go to the correct first room. Which also means I was off to a great start.

Without Mr. Owl’s valuable guidance, I wandered the halls and chose Mrs. Pheasant’s room at random to begin. And let me tell you, while this wasn’t the correct answer as far as completing a perfect game goes, I think it was the best possible scenario for someone who had never experienced anything Rusty Lake before.

When I saw the game on Steam, I purposefully chose not to read much about it. I very quickly skimmed the description, just glancing for keywords, and thought I absorbed that this was a point-and-click (yes) murder mystery (no).

So I did go into the game expecting murder, at least. I thought one of our guests would be killed, and I’d be figuring out who did it.

Again, no.

There is no figuring out who did it. I did it. Or, rather, I will be doing it... once I can figure out the puzzles. But I didn’t know that yet.

So I enter Mrs. Pheasant’s room, waiting for a murder to be thrust upon me to solve, and it takes me embarrassingly long to get the hang of the game, finding keys behind picture frames, using objects in the room as clues for how to interact with other items, etc. Thankfully, I had quite a few people in my chat who were more than happy to help, and it was great fun working things out together that way. (Plus, sheesh, how long would it have taken me without their assistance? I shudder to think.)

A brief clip of me thinking I know what's going on at this point. Ha.

The object of Mrs. Pheasant’s room is to take publicity photos for her one-woman, er… one-bird play in which she performs all three roles. After more time than I’d like to admit, I finally get three pictures of her taken in different costumes—one for each of her characters. Cool! Done.

Not done.

She wants one more picture. There’s no guidance here for the final photo like there was for the others. There are no more costume pieces, no more roles to enact, and no more clues that I can see. Except I do have an unused item in my inventory: a pistol.

“Guys, do you think I shoot her?” I ask my chat, laughing nervously. But surely not. So I click around some more before finally just giving up and moving back to Mrs. Pheasant, activating the pistol in my inventory, and clicking on her.

And she puts the pistol under her chin.

And then she tells me, for the thousandth time at this point, to take her picture.

So I did.

And this is how I was introduced to death at The Rusty Lake Hotel.

My face when I actually realized where this was going.

I was shocked, but also really enjoyed this as a first look into the dark side of the game. I think this one surprised me more than any of the more straightforward murder rooms would have, so it was really fun to go all-in on the being horrified right out of the gate.

After that first room, I got the hang of things a lot better (though I still needed help from my viewers for sure). While I felt like I understood the nature of the game pretty well after my time with Mrs. Pheasant, Mr. Boar’s room really threw me a curve ball. My chat and I were cracking up as I fed him boar-shit sandwiches (yes, really) and got a contact high from opium (also yes, really).

Still in disbelief. A clip on how not to treat your guests.

Even the lobby wasn’t without a few puzzles and adventures. I always clicked around before going upstairs just in case there were any new clues to be found, and when a shooting star (I think?) temporarily knocked out the lights at the hotel, I got a creepy surprise when a flash of glowing eyes in the upper corner of a dark room clued me into the fact that the bat-concierge was there, hanging upside down in the shadows.

Is that the only way he knew how to give me a clue? Really?


Finally, I ended where I should have began—Mr. Deer’s room.

Mr. Owl would have led me to this room first, but I'm honestly glad I missed that phone call, because I have a gripe about this room: it’s too dang hard! If I had started in this room, the difficulty that comes with not quite understanding the game yet in conjunction with that freaking water glasses puzzle might have made me rage quit. (Ok, not really, but that was easily my least favorite part of the whole experience.)

There were some basic math problems throughout the game and the bug puzzle in Mrs. Pigeon’s room wasn’t my favorite for similar reasons to the water glasses—that is to say, it's not about reading clues or interpreting hints but simply about being able to do it correctly—but the water glasses frustrated me in a way that those other things didn’t. The math was simple, just easy substitution. The bug puzzle was much less challenging and went very quickly. But this one… Maybe it’s because puzzles like this are just not my thing, or maybe it’s because I was nearly two and a half hours in at this point and it was after midnight, but it took me and my chat working together twenty minutes to solve it. Twenty minutes in a game that takes maybe three hours is a long time to be working on a single puzzle.

Here's a clip of me on a not infuriating portion of the room.

What frustrated me so much about the water glasses is what I said before: it wasn’t a matter of finding clues or interpreting hints; it was simply a matter of “figure out this nine-step process out don’t beat the room.”

And here’s the kicker—we didn’t figure it out. The whole chat and I were working on it for all that time, and eventually we all agreed: just Google it. So I did. I cheated.

Mr. Owl would be so disappointed.

But other than the water-puzzle frustration, I had an excellent time playing. And I mean, you know you’re having a fun time with a video game when you have a notebook in front of you that looks like this when you’re done, right?

That’s not even a joke; I had a really great time!

Not only do I want to play again and get a perfect game, I want to play all of the games by the Rusty Lake folks, starting with the Cube Escape series, and I think that’ll be what I’m streaming for the next few weeks!

What’s your favorite puzzle game? Are there any puzzle types that make you rage too? Let me know in the comments.


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