Torment and murder your family tree: You should be playing Rusty Lake Roots

What is it? 

A point and click adventure game that puts puzzles into a fresh, weird context. 

Play it if you like...  

Rusty Lake Hotel, the macabre, inventive puzzles, brain teasers on the go 

  • Format: iOS, Android, PC, Mac
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release date: Out now

You may recall that I encouraged you to seek out a deliciously mean-spirited game called Rusty Lake Hotel, in which you invite animals to a hotel, kill them, and serve them for dinner. Its follow up, Rusty Lake Roots, is better in virtually every way, offering more puzzles, an actual storyline, and lots and lots of familial violence. During your time with RLR, you will, among other things, propose to your intended with a note written in blood, torture your nephew, gouge out your sister-in-law’s eyes, and carve out your relative’s heart. Gruesome as it sounds, Rusty Lake Roots visuals’ are tame enough to play in front of anyone, allowing you to luxuriate in its clever puzzles guilt-free.

Rusty Lake Roots begins with James Vanderboom planting a seed in the yard of the house he’s inherited; from there, his literal family tree sprouts, with each branch offering an encounter with a different family member. You can play these episodes in any order you like, either following a single branch through to its conclusion, or hopping between stories to see how they intertwine. Each photo you unlock leads to its own discrete puzzle area, so while the stories intersect, the puzzles are self-contained - perfect for short play sessions. 

In classic adventure game fashion, RLR’s puzzles are built around acquiring items and using them correctly. And that is where the similarity between Rusty Lake Roots and anything else ends. Yes, there is some code-breaking, but you use it to escape the well where you’ve been trapped for most of your life. You’ve perhaps encountered something similar to the color-based flower puzzle you’ll find in RLR, but I’ll bet it wasn’t so that you could conceive a child despite your spinsterhood. Even when the mechanics of a puzzle brush up against the familiar, their context is so outlandish that they can’t help but feel fresh. None of the puzzles are too overly difficult per se, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out exactly what you’re meant to do. I mean, obviously you can’t get engaged until you find a way to unlock the severed hand (duh), but the clue to solving a puzzle involving a dancing couple was so subtle that I missed it for a very, long time, despite the puzzle’s environment being fairly small. 

Puzzle fans tend to seek out pretty much any game offering decent brain teasers, with the lamentable side effect of running into the same stuff over and over and over again. I love Professor Layton as much as the next girl, but if I have to arrange one more matchstick, I might use it to burn everything down. Rusty Lake Roots scratches that cerebral itch without relying on overly-worn constructs, and also doesn’t force you to spend too much time fiddling with inventory. The satisfying complexity comes from the setting and creative application of puzzles, not trying to use this bit on every bob you find. 

Rusty Lake Roots is ghoulish and weird, but it’s never gross or uncomfortable. It’s quite cheerful in its depiction of a family cutting itself to pieces over the years, an Edward Gorey picture come to life. It’s strange to think of a game involving quite so much dismemberment as lighthearted, but you will come away from your time with RLR smiling rather than dreading the onset of nightmares. If you’ve played Rusty Lake Hotel, you’ll be pleased to know the guests have a nice little cameo, too, and Mr. Crow drops in to be his creepy, unsettling self. If you haven’t given Hotel a spin, it’s a more compact introduction to Roots’ style and tone, but of the two, Roots’ is a much bigger and more satisfying experience.

You Should Be Playing celebrates innovative, unexpected games that belong on your radar, with a new game every Monday at 0900 PST / 1700 GMT. Follow @gamesradar on Twitter for updates.