You can file this one in the "better late than never" folder with Blek [$2.99]. A Dark Room [$1.99] released several months back, but due to a horrific accident in the TouchArcade break room involving the microwave oven and a can of non-dairy powdered cream, it fell between the cracks. Well, I stuck a piece of chewing gum to the end of a stick and pulled this interesting little game out of that crack. I also found my keys. I'm glad for both, since not only can I get back into my home, I also got to enjoy a really unusual and entertaining adventure. It's one of those games that you finish and want to talk about almost immediately, and so, here we are.

There's just one problem with talking about this game, though. A lot of the enjoyment is in the surprising turns it takes, and even telling you that much feels like I've gone and spoiled something. The description in the App Store offers very little information, and just one screenshot that offers about the same. I've talked before about games that focus on giving you an experience, and this is very much one of those. If you want to enjoy the experience of it in pure form, please click the link in the first paragraph to buy the game, then hit the back button in your browser and don't come back here until you're done playing. It's definitely worth the asking price.

Photo 2014-06-01, 10 57 18I'm going to assume if you're reading from here that you're not the type convinced by experience alone and you want to know more about what kind of game this is, or you've already finished the game and are just reading this because reading stuff on the Internet is fun. Either way, I'm going to go into gameplay spoilers a bit from here, but nothing specific about the story. This is your last chance to turn back and enjoy the game as it was intended.

A Dark Room gives you virtually no instructions. When you start the game up for the first time, you are presented with a black screen that offers only one choice if you want to proceed: lighting a fire. With your fire lit, you're now able to see the room around you. To keep your fire lit, you'll need wood, and with your newfound visibility, you're able to make your way out to a nearby forest and collect some. Once you have enough wood, you're able to build new structures that open up more building options, and the whole game starts to feel a bit like Cookie Clicker. That's not a bad thing, but it's also nothing special. Keep at it a while longer and you'll have an actual town forming, with the citizens providing their services to help resources flow. Occasionally, there will be events that either give or take away some of your resources. Keep on accumulating and growing, and eventually a shopkeeper will sell you a compass, allowing you to leave the safe confines of your village and make your way out into the world.

At this point, things take on a decidedly RPG-like tone. You explore a map, enter mini-dungeons, fight battles, and collect resources. Somewhat similar to the old Ultima games, you have to take care that you don't run out of food or water on your trip, and you can only haul so much at one time. Each cleared dungeon becomes a safe resting spot for future journeys, allowing you to refill your water and food so that you can head out just a little bit farther. Should you perish one way or another, you'll find yourself back at your town, minus everything you were carrying when you died. Explore around and bring back treasure from these trips, and you'll unlock even more new stuff back home that will strengthen you for future trips. Just don't forget to feed your fire whenever you're back in town. There are a couple more gameplay twists, but I want to leave some surprises.

Photo 2014-06-01, 10 57 23The story weaving through the whole thing is pretty cool. Like many elements of the game, it's very minimalistic, but it establishes a nice mood, leaving you in the perfect state of mind for the bigger plot moments to have the maximum impact. Your first time through the game will probably take at least a few hours, though it's certainly possible to do it a lot faster once you know what to do. With so much of the game's enjoyment riding on experiencing its unpredictable story, you might wonder why you'd ever play it again after you finish it, but the game does provide some incentives for at least a second run.

As for the graphics and sound, the game sort of doesn't have any. Sure, you get an ascii-style representation of the world map when you're wandering outside the town, and there is one other part with some interesting, although rudimentary graphics, but other than that, the game is presented entirely in text. I think the basic visual style works well for the game, giving it the feel of an early PC game. Things were a lot less guided in games of that time, and the confusion that A Dark Room deliberately invokes was more or less the norm. I'm not sure if I'm so keen on the game's lack of sound, however. I think having music playing all the time in the background would be a bad idea, but some kind of ambient effects, even a beep or blip here and there, could add to the atmosphere without disturbing it. I suppose you're at least free to listen to whatever music you like without worrying that you're missing out on something in-game.

It's a strange little thing, to be sure, but I'd definitely recommend A Dark Room to people who appreciate off-beat RPGs, fans of experience-driven games, or really anyone looking for something a little bit different from usual. It's confusing and weird, but in a good way. If it doesn't click, you'll probably hate it, but if it does, there's not much else out there quite like it. The full range of emotions and impressions can be found in the thread in our forums, but you really should just go and play the game yourself before reading anything more. Peeling back the layers yourself is a big part of the fun.

TouchArcade Rating

  • Mj1ggy

    I had this game on my device for months before it shot up the charts. Once I started playing I could not put it down until it was finished. The less you know going in the better, so nicely written review. For me this was a five-star mobile experience, easily, because it was so engrossing. The developer posts in the forum here; congrats to him on the game's success.

    • Atomos

      Exact same experience. I got this ages ago when it was free for a day or two, but I only ended up playing it a few weeks ago. I ended up having to play the game in one sitting, and then again in another sitting when I beat it the first time. I had never been so intrigued by a game this minimalistic.

      • Nick

        Huh, I did as well, and had no clue what I had clearly.

        Guess I need to get my butt in gear and play this.

      • VarshaMoretoniss

        but last my buddy's sister makes $87 every hour on the
        internet . She has been unemployed for 6 months month her payment was $19402
        just working on the internet for a few hours. go right here M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  • sirbond

    I love games like this it's just basic and easy

    I wish there was more like it *unless it is*

    Bought it a long time ago and not played much but I'm going to today

  • Ernest Szoka

    Had a chat with the guy who made this (the web version), it was quite interesting. He basically took Candybox with his world setting in mind and just kinda winged the story out as he made it. Never expected it would catch on

  • Paulo1105

    The perfect background music to play with this game is, in my opinion, the theme from Dwarf Fortress...

  • orangecan

    Absolutely one of the best games I've played on the iOS, picked it up when it was on sale having no idea what to expect I loved it to bits. It's a perfectly designed mobile game ideal for that 5 minutes on the bog or it can suck you in for three hours on the train.

  • thiagovscoelho

    totally expected a text adventure, from the cover and all.

  • trazer

    I too picked this up when it was free. Somehow or another I was still charged .99 cents for it, but I liked this game a lot so I'm glad the dev got my little bit of cash.

    I too almost played this through in one sitting, but I ended up getting three fourths done and finishing the next night. It was awesome, I'd love to see a future version continuing the story.

    Makes me want to find some good text games to play on my device now,

    • Apricosomoso

      Oi det høres ikke bra ut

  • daniel schroeder

    I bought this after the second paragraph of the review, and while I can't give it my full attention while at work, I've easily already gotten a buck's worth. Gotta get the wood, gotta check my traps... oh no, my village was decimated!

    • Dueler

      Well that's another good thing about the game is that it doesn't require your full attention.
      At least going by what the developers said its your supposed to be coming back to it every so often, I was like what? come back? I couldn't put it down.

  • anabolicMike

    Woah this is awesome. Good game. My style of game. I'm glad you found this. Gives me ideas and it's a whole lotta pointless fun! Oh noes stoke the fire it's getting dark! I love being reminded how you don't need graphics of any kind to enjoy a game.

  • Papa Deuce

    Kind of seems pointless after 15 minutes of play..... I can't keep up,with the wood; the number is dropping like crazy. I have built all the buildings..... Guess I need more traps and huts. Still, I am intrigued.

  • Tomate Diseño

    Like so many others, bought it and went through it in almost one go after being sucked in. The initial "Is this a remake of a ZX81 game?" belies some extraordinarily great story telling. Once finished I immediately dived back into taking the "hard route" which is taking considerably longer to get through, just to see how the story plays out.

  • Morgan Leecy

    Try completing the game without building any huts. I dare ya! And yes, it can be done

  • Papa Deuce

    After about 2 hours of play, I deleted it. Then I went to YouTube, and watched how the game ended, and it made me glad that I deleted it.

  • Pheebers

    I completed it, and found it really unsettling. After listening to all of the developer commentary I realize that was the point....

    Not exactly a light Infocom text game, but worthwhile nonetheless.

  • PleasantGuitar

    Awesome fresh take on text adventures. I recently had tried out Zork but couldn't get into it. This game makes this genre accessible to modern players and will stay in your memory as one of the most original games on the App Store. Also it's inspiring for wanna be game designers to see what can be done with minimal graphics. Highly recommended!

  • kristoffer

    Any suggestions for great text-based adventures on iOS?

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Off the top of my head, Lost Treasures of Infocom has a bunch of great pure text adventures in it.

A Dark Room Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4