Skip to main content

Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Disc Room review - an arcade gem filled with precision and surprises

Saw you first. - Recommended badge
A fast-paced arcade game with the soul of a puzzler.

Disc Room had me googling those funny spirograph shapes you sometimes get on bank notes. After a while, I guess, I don't see the discs anymore. I see the trajectories. The ways that some swoop, some follow, the ways that some advance and then slow and then boost off again. I close my eyes and there are these luminous spirograph trails in the darkness. Possible gaps in between them if I thread my way though. No discs, just movement, just arcs.

This game is compact and mysterious: I properly love it. On the one hand, it does exactly what it says it will. There are rooms and the rooms are filled with discs. The discs generally move about and if you come into contact with them you are very dead. It's a top down affair: left, right, up and down. Avoid the discs!

And then you die. And this is what Disc Room wants. You unlock new doors to new rooms by dying after having met specific criteria. Survive for five seconds, ten seconds, twenty. Succumb to every kind of disc available. Some of the criteria are really simple to understand. Sometimes it's easy to understand but very hard to achieve. Stay alive for twenty seconds in a certain number of rooms! Unlock more doors, and the connections between rooms grow. Sometimes the criteria is hard to understand! Mysteries. This game is a bit of a puzzle box.

This is my favourite aspect of it, in fact. The different kinds of discs are fun - the followers, the huge spawners that eat up space, the tiny little ones who flock and scatter, the pausers-and-boosters, and that's all from the first few rooms alone. There is a catch-'em-all appeal to seeing every single disc the game has to offer. And the gimmicks that the different rooms offer as you move from one realm to the next - these are good too. One will only count the time you spend within a certain part of the room to your total, say. Another might intermittently turn out the lights. One might have a huge worm that lives under the ground to keep you moving

But the real fun of the game is those puzzles. What do I have to feed four of to open a door? Feed? And what should I be feeding? What's the weird medical terminology that appears in the sandy rooms? And why?

After a while I was avoiding discs while thinking of all kinds of metaphors. Maybe these are cells in a body. Maybe these are lymphocytes and macrophages, the toxic garbage trucks of the immune system. Then I came across a room done up in Voyager gold that seemed to have a model of the solar system on the floor. These are the mysteries that take a clever arcade game and throw in a bit of teasing authorship. They give it more than simply a pulse.

Even so, it is a very clever arcade game. It throws the stats belonging to your friends and the devs at you in every room so there's always something to aim for. It offers an expanding range of abilities of which you can equip just one at any time. Clone yourself - a touch of the Mario Galaxy Cherries to that one - or slow down time, or inhale the old disc, or... Bosses are fun, as are little collectables that change the way a level might play. The game is very happy to flip the rules, actually, trading what seconds mean, balancing out how your special abilities affect the other elements. In one room, where I had to collect those little gold blobs, the clone ability added time to the clock, while the slow-down didn't but didn't allow me to collect the blob until time was running properly again. This is one of those indie supergroup affairs that feels like it's been built by a bunch of indie Nobel laureates. Everything is taken into account.

It's more than just clever, though. Disc Room has a wonderfully simple idea, but it adds smarts and thrills and a sense of genuine intrigue. I played it on PC but I can't wait to race through it again on Switch - all of those rooms in one magical little device. Lovely!