So our next review this week is for the recent XBLA release Rotastic. Attempting to blend the one-button simplicity of iPhone games with the depth of a console game seems to be this game’s goal but whether it succeeds or not is another matter. While there is nothing inherently wrong with simple one button gameplay there is a reason that stuff generally stays in the realm of bite-sized cheapo apps. When you’re asking for $10 bucks people are going to want something that is a little more engaging. I went into this game with no expectations and I kind of got back from it what I put in, so strap in and let’s talk mediocrity.
We’ll start with the gameplay because it’s simplicity is what really defines this game. The gameplay consists of one action, the grappling and rotating around of anchor points. You have no direct movement control, no specific attacks, nothing any real substance; all you do is press A to grapple and then release to let go. You can also use the bumper buttons to switch directions but it’s not like that adds worlds of complexity. The goal of each level is different but it generally boils down to the same thing, collects gems as fast and efficiently as you can to rack up a high score and earn crowns (read: medals). Sometimes there will other be conditions or obstacles but it all still ends up as this basic formula. Unfortunately the goal of depth is never really achieved and the simplicity never allows for complexity. While it’s obvious by the way their scoring system works and by the fact that replaying levels to get a better score is the only way to move forward that this game wants you to find a fine touch and complexity in its simple controls I sadly never found it. The systems here simply aren’t engaging, it’s easy to see what they were trying to do (a Peggle meets Tony Hawk sort of thing) but I never felt it really quite becomes anything that merits being even an XBLA game. This game feels like it was designed from the get-go for the iOS/Android market space. It’s style makes sense for the “I’m on the go so I’ll play it for a few seconds on the bus” mindset but as an actual “sit down on your couch and focus on it for a couple of hours” experience it simply fails.
The only other real aspect of this game that really can be discussed is that of its odd art style that despite looking very much like a Saturday morning cartoon has a weird edge of gore. The look of the game is bright and full of lots of primary colours and jagged lines which work somewhat with the dark ages/barbarian theme they have going. This is where the gore comes in though and why it chafes me a bit, it works for the theme but not the art style. It’d be different if there was a lot of gore then it would have a feeling more like that of an episode of Itchy and Scratchy but the gore on display is only there on the periphery happening ever so slightly when you die or when you kill enemies the few enemies are present (though mind there is enough that the game has a T rating). The real problem with the visuals though is that they’re boring: lots of wood grain, nondescript axes, and water-colour backgrounds that are never really worth focusing on. The music is the same way as it’s just the kind of renaissance fair pan-flute white noise we’ve all heard a million times before. There is odd preponderance for speech in this game as well but there isn’t really any context for it as there isn’t a story of any sort to speak of here.
This is probably going to end up being my shortest review but it’s because there really isn’t much here to talk about. The ganeplay is simple to the point of mundanity, the graphics are uninspired and just trying too hard to be wacky, and there is no story or context give any sort of reason or want to do anything. As I said earlier the whole game feels like the kind of throw away $1 iPhone app you see a lot of these days but it still costs $10 and expects you to sit and focus on it for extended periods of time. The weirdest part of the whole thing is it’s not like this is some iPhone game that became popular and has now been ported to the larger platforms, this game was as far as I can tell built for and released (or will soon be) on XBLA, PSN, and PC but it just doesn’t seem like it suits any of those platforms. Were this on a portable system and if the price were at least halved this would be a different story but because what it’s being sold as it really can’t be given a good score. There is some fun to be had here but it becomes innocuous so quickly and there is so little to really make you want to keep going that I can’t in good conscience recommend it. So for an experience better suited to a flash game but with the price and expectations of something more, Rotastic gets a 1.5 out of 5 stars.