Review: Rusty Lake Paradise
Rusty Lake is an entire universe unto itself at this point, spanning nine Flash games and three retail titles. Each game is but another window into the twisted machinations of the lake and its inhabitants, and Paradise follows precisely in that mold. Much like Rusty Lake Roots before it, this entry details the backstory of one of the major players in the setting, answering a small handful of questions while leaving plenty more to puzzle over. The strange and macabre tale won’t make much sense to those unaccustomed to the lake’s rituals, but for those who are it’s a fine outing and one with a few innovations to offer.
Jakob Eilander has been summoned back to his home on Paradise Island in the wake of his mother’s passing. The island has been stricken by the ten Biblical plagues of Egypt, and it’s up to Jakob to see his family through this ordeal. They’ll be helping him in some strange and backwards ways, offering cryptic wisdom and sacrifices as a certain auspicious date draws near. As each plague passes Jakob will learn more and more of his mother’s fate, his family’s duty, and what the dark future has in store for him.
If you’ve never played a Cube Escape or Rusty Lake title, honestly I’m not sure what you’re doing here now but they’re creepy puzzlers generally centered on escaping certain rooms or helping along grim prophecies. This one has far more in common with Roots than the other titles, as the principle challenge at any given time is defeating the plague at hand. That always involves finding a black cube, but the method of acquiring changes for each affliction. Sometimes you’ll have to complete a ritual of bone and blood, sometimes leading a monster around to its meal, or sometimes feeding a burger to your uncle so he poops out a magic cube.
There’s a particular attitude Rusty Lake has towards horror, heavy on both the macabre and grotesque that can at times seem at odds with itself. There are definitely moments in Paradise where the atmosphere is powerful, such as the fog that hides an enormous beast and a metamorphosis sequence that leaves a frightful presence on the island. But then there are others like digging through poop to find a cube, or playing animal charades with your bizarre family, or collecting bodily fluids from your grandma. It’s a mixed bag, never truly terrifying and often absurd but the end result is something approaching Lynchian weirdness, underscored by how blase and accepting your family is when you have to remove a member’s heart and replace it with clockwork machinery.
From a purely mechanical standpoint, Rusty Lake Paradise is a fine point-and-click adventure built upon years of refinement. Interaction is simply clicking on things to use, pick up, or apply, and the series has moved past the old pitfalls of having to put a specific item in a random place to combine or randomly clicking over and over to get different results. A further refinement of the formula is how you have the entire island to explore, with some hidden areas opening up during the later days. It’s a nice change from the usual small scope of Rusty Lake games and helps provide clues to your objectives in what changes on the island between plagues. The island itself does start to feel small after addressing a few afflictions, since you have to scour the island ten times, but I give them credit for a few particularly spooky sequences late in the game.
At this point you should probably know if the Rusty Lake games are for you, and if they are there’s no reason to pass on Paradise. If you’re still uncertain, I’m not sure Paradise will convince you but it is one of the better titles to come out of the franchise. It’s a tighter package than most, building towards something in a tangible, inevitable way that inspires just the right kind of dread. Like other games in the series it gets there by way of the gross and the absurd, but there’s no denying the horrors conjured when it needs them most. As an adventure game Rusty Lake Paradise is a fine one colored only by its tone and dependence on its series, but if it strikes the right chords for you then those might be positives to lead you deeper into the mystery.