Lab Rat puzzle game demo: Why you should add this hilarious puzzler to your Steam wishlist

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When iconic titles like Portal already exist, it's never easy for new puzzle games to stand out. But when a demo arrived in my inbox for Lab Rat, a new puzzler from Gwen Frey's Kine-making studio Chump Squad, I decided to jump on in.

On paper, the Portal comparisons are easy to see: the player must solve a series of puzzles in a lab, which even has a mostly-white colour scheme, with a sarcastic female voice providing a smattering of humour on the side.

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But beyond those surface-level similarities, Lab Rat is nothing like Portal. For one thing, in terms of gameplay, there isn't a portal in sight. And in terms of perspective, you're watching all of this play out from above.

We ended up having a great time with the Lab Rat demo, and here's why we're now eagerly awaiting the full game...

The puzzle difficulty is just right

There's definitely a sweet spot with puzzle games in general: if the puzzles therein are too easy, the player won't feel challenged and could get bored; but if they're too hard, the player is liable to get annoyed and switch to a more enjoyable title.

The good news is that Lab Rat treads that tightrope between 'too easy' and 'too hard' in a masterful way, with a series of entertaining genre-bending puzzles designed by Lucas Le Slo.

To start with, you might think it's quite simple - your main goal is usually to drag a big block into a pre-ordained position, making sure that the electrical charge on the block matches the requirement you've been shown. For example, you might have a puzzle where the block needs to get from the top-left corner of the room to the bottom-right corner, and you need to make sure the front-side of the box picks up an electrical charge along the way.

But before boredom can kick in, things start to get complicated: how do you move that block and charge it up when there are lasers pointing in every direction? How can you get across the room without charging up the wrong side of your block?

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Suddenly, at some point, you'll find yourself up against a task that your brain can't compute. Surely, you might think, something isn't right here. But there's a huge amount of satisfaction to be had, especially at that moment when it all clicks together in your head, and you figure out the inventive way in which you're meant to beat the level. I genuinely cheered a couple of times.

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The humour is strong

Before and after every level, your character is pulled out of the puzzle rooms by a giant mechanical arm, which then dangles you in front of a couple of screens. It may not sound like a hoot, but this scenario is where most of the game's terrific humour shines through.

The script from Matthew Burns (creator of Eliza) is brilliant, packed with deadpan humour, and the game even gently mocks the player with lighthearted post-level polls that poke fun at your performance.

A special shoutout should also go to Gwen Frey: as well as being the founder of the studio and lead developer on the game, she also voices the AI character who guides/goads the player throughout this entire experience.

Frey's delivery of dry witticisms is constantly entertaining, and it really adds to the overall atmosphere. That blend of tricky puzzles and dry humour makes for a great cocktail.

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I don't want to spoil it for you fully, but there were also a few levels near the end where Frey had to deliver some derp-based gibberish, and those bits really had me creasing up.

It's lucky that you can reset the puzzles, whenever you make a mistake, because that means you don't need to worry when a LOL-inducing moment makes you lose concentration.

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It left me wanting more

The demo is designed to take around 30 to 40 minutes, as long as you don't get too badly stuck on too many occasions. It's not the longest preview experience around, then, but it certainly makes an impact.

Packed into those minutes are plenty of puzzles that are sure to challenge and delight you, but the demo - if you get a chance to play it - will probably leave you wanting more. It certainly had that effect on me.

The further you get into Lab Rat, the more barmy and experimental the puzzles become, which brings extra opportunities for humour to the table. Again, I could say more, but I don't want to spoil some of the surprises. Let's just say that I loved the 'multiplayer' mode.

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But just as I felt like I was reaching a whole new level of appreciation, the demo was over. I needed more. Without hesitation, I put the full game straight onto my Steam Wishlist.

You can head over to Lab Rat's Steam webpage here to add it to your own wishlist. And, although the demo isn't available on Steam right now, you can sign up to be a beta tester through this form right here.

With the full version of Lab Rat due to drop later in 2021, we shall watch this one with great interest...

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