Platforms: XBLA (reviewed) | PC & PS3 Versions Incoming
Developer: Dancing Dots
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
We've been very excited about Rotastic ever since we first heard about it - with each new announcement or gameplay trailer revealing new details about Dancing Dots' two-dimensional swinging puzzler. Rotastic promises to deliver an insane amount of addictive content for its 800 Microsoft Points asking price (the PC and PS3 versions are hitting over the next few months, don't panic)... but does the finished article hold up to scrutiny?
Rotastic literally revolves around a beguilingly simple gameplay mechanic. Each single-screen level is studded with grapple points that characters can latch onto using their bungie ropes by holding A. You can swing around them to build up speed, change direction and eventually release your grip to fling your character off in the desired direction - which is hopefully towards another grapple point as opposed to instant death at the bottom of the screen. The objective of the campaign missions is to pick up all of the collectibles before throwing yourself into the exit, and players will soon learn the most efficient ways (and angles) to leap between these grapple points in as short a time as possible.
The early levels gradually ease you into the basics, but the difficulty curve gradually increases by the addition of walls, spiky obstacles and plenty of suprisingly gory traps that litter the later stages. You'll need to master advanced techniques such as wall-bouncing (which ought to be self explanatory) and stunts to survive, let alone to get the best scores. Rotastic is deceptively nuanced and will require a fair bit of practice to succeed.
Netting high scores for each stage (boosted by quick completion times and pulling off poorly-explained stunts such as figure-of-eights) awards you with helmets that, in turn, unlock new worlds, seventy levels and character skins. It's an aggressively addictive progression mechanic championed by successful mobile games, and the urge to beat your times and unlock further content rewards both short bursts of play and mammoth self-improvement sessions. However, it's a shame that the four characters - including a Viking, cannibalistic boar and Death himself - don't offer anything in the way of new abilities or different gameplay styles as opposed to cosmetic sprite designs.
As well as the seventy singleplayer campaign stages, Rotastic offers a local-only multiplayer mode that supports up to four simultaneous swingers. Collect Mode is essentially a competitive version of the singleplayer levels that makes players fight over the limited number of collectibles (and bisect their competitors' ropes to send them plummeting to their doom, and is fairly fun while it lasts. The Points Mode, on the other hand, is much weaker since new players simply won't know how to pull off the advanced stunts necessary to get the best scores. By far the most enjoyable gametype is the standard deathmatch that soon descends into complete and utter anarchy.
The lack of online functionality is both annoying and understandable. On the one hand, there's a good chance that many gamers simply won't be able to enjoy the multplayer at all... but on the other, the online communities for downloadable games like this tend to wither and die after a few short weeks. Rotastic lends itself best to short and fun multiplayer sessions with a few mates and some mandatory alcohol.
Rotastic should, therefore, be a dead cert. After all, seventy levels and three multiplayer modes offers a hefty amount of value. Unfortunately there are a few key problems that hold it back from receiving a glowing recommendation. Presentation is a key criticism, as its nifty hand-drawn backgrounds and obstacles rub shoulders with crudely animated sprites, clunky low-resolution menus and appalling cutscenes. The uninspired art design also stymies what could have been a 'charming' experience. Sound design, however, is by far the worst offender since a tiny selection of poorly acted clips are repeated over and over and over again - to the point where each level is prefaced by the same aggravatingly chirpy introduction. It's an assault on the eardrums, pure and simple.
Finally, Rotastic offers quality and a gameplay experience that's consistent with an app - not a console downloadable release. In fact, its simple one-button gameplay and compartmentalised progression system would be the perfect fit for a tablet game on iOS or Android. Numerous App store titles and Xbox Live Indie games offer similarly accessible game experiences for a tenth of the asking price - and what's more, many of them show Rotastic up in terms of raw quality and artistic flair. The award-winning CarneyVale Showtime provides a practically identical package for 240 Microsoft Points or a couple of quid on Windows 7 phones - all while being much more exciting to look at. Eight hundred points may seem like a small ask, but sadly, your money is equally capable of buying you ten similar indie games.
- Accessible yet deep gameplay
- Seventy singleplayer levels and three multiplayer gametypes
- Addictive progression and unlocks
- Horrible sound design
- Surprisingly uninspired visual style
- Shown up by any number of inexpensive apps
The Short Version: Rotastic is a value-packed and addictive 2D puzzler that never quite provides the level of polish necessary for it to be an essential console purchase. Puzzle fans should definitely download the trial and see what they make of it, but otherwise, you'd be better off bulking out your library with numerous - and better - indie games or apps.