Review: Rotastic (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Rotastic
Genre: Viking Toss
Developer: Dancing Dots
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: 09/21/2011

What flies through the air with the greatest of ease? A Viking. At least that is what Rotastic would lead you to believe. A recent Xbox Live Arcade game, Rotastic tries to take a simple idea, rotating and flinging a character all over the screen, and attempts to make a whole game out of that concept. CarneyVale (an Indie Game) was able to make the most of such a concept years ago so it can be done. The question is whether Rotastic is able to do so, and if so, is the result Rotastic?

Sort of.

In Rotastic you take control of a Viking, for reasons never explained, and get tossed into a level. There are nodes in the levels that the Viking can attach to with a rope, by pressing and holding the A button. Once you let go of the A button, so does the animated Viking. When attached to a node you start rotating around the node, and much of the game revolves around choosing the right moment to let go, at the right speed. The left and right bumpers are also used to help you change direction. The controls are simple and easy to get used to, just about anyone can pick the game up and figure out how to play it within moments. I have no complaints about the controls, only that there were times when I wanted to be attached to one node that I was closer to, and for some reason found myself attached to another when I pushed A. There was also one level in particular it felt like I pressed the A button and it didn’t work, causing frustrating deaths. Aside from very minor complaints I had no issues otherwise with the game controls.

There are seven different areas in the game, and those areas are broken up into 9-10 levels within that area. In the beginning stages the game is relatively easy, you swing the Viking around and try to complete different objectives. One of the nice things about Rotastic is the fact that the game switches up the objectives between different levels. One level you might be collecting a set amount of gems, another you might have to hit switch, another you might just have to try and survive for a specific length of time. There are also levels that require you to follow a certain pattern while swinging, and versus levels. I love variety in any game, and without it the simple swinging idea might have felt repetitive quickly, but the way they switch things up with each level really helps keep the game from stagnating. One of my favorite levels resembled something like Break-Out, and I liked just that one level so much that I wished the game had many more levels like it.

While I liked the variety of objectives, I disliked how area are unlocked in the game. Each level you can earn helmets in, (bronze, silver, gold and diamond) based on a score you get within the level. These scores are determined by points earned from tricks, time, and lives left. In order to unlock further areas you need to have a certain amount of these helmets. The number is surprisingly high, especially for later levels. If you just bronze each level you will not be able to unlock past the third area. While I think it is great the game tries to encourage players for getting better score, some of the requirements of the scores are also high, sometimes to the point of absurdity. There are a couple of levels that need a level of precision throwing and speed that doesn’t really work with a game where you can fling a character.

To get a better idea of what I mean, there are 1100 people on the leaderboard the last I checked. Once I past world four I ended up in the top 150 of the players. That’s a lot of people who are playing the game who are struggling to meet the requirements to just unlock the rest of the game. Checking by achievements, only about the top fifty have unlocked the final area.

Rotastic is an oddity in that way. The game is simple to control and play, and you can easily get a bronze on a level, to the point where you might think that the game is aimed for a casual audience. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. I enjoyed some of the early stages where it was just fun flinging the character around and figuring the best way to get the gems while doing figure eights. Except the game locks areas away until you get a higher score, which means playing the same levels over and over again to just shave an extra second off of time while not dying, just hoping you don’t accidentally let the A button go too early or too late. On top of that right around the middle-late levels of the fourth area the game goes from kind of easy to very difficult. There are some interesting ideas in the later stages, like changing the direction of gravity and so on, but it isn’t fun when you have to be precise with a system of swinging around that doesn’t lend itself to such precision, much less when any mistake means likely having to do the level over again in order to keep advancing through the game.

I wish the game had a better way with rewarding players for doing well instead of holding later stages hostage. A game should encourage replayability without forcing it.

Graphically the game looks nice. All of the levels are set so that the entire level is displayed on the screen. The game uses an cartoon look with bold lines and bright colors that looks great. There’s not many animations for the characters, but given that they’re usually flying around the screen detailed animations would be hard to notice anyway. There are multiple characters to unlock, a bear, an elf and a skeleton. For some reason there are four different palette swapped colors for each of the characters, and every character functions exactly the same, which makes me wonder what the point of unlocking them is. The background are sometimes the best part of a level, in one there was a creepy looking Santa which appeared every now and then.

The background music is campy without being distracting and adds to the lighthearted nature of the game. While the background music is good, the other audio is really, really annoying. There is an announcer who yells stuff out, even when the game is launching, that is repetitive and sounds like a half-deaf meth addict giving you instructions. This is probably the first game where I’ve muted the TV when just launching the game. Given the fact that game requires you to replay levels for better scores, the announcer goes from annoying to rage inducing. Hearing, “DON’T FORGET TO BE ARTISTIC!” for the 3rd time in a row drove me crazy enough to where I wouldn’t repeat a level just because I didn’t want to hear the announcer repeat the same phrase again.

There’s no story to speak of, which is fine, though there’s also nothing that really ties the game together. There’s a viking, a bear, a Legolas rip off, and a skeleton with no connection between them. There are jewels but no reason for them aside to provide an objective. Maybe if the amount of jewels collected could unlock later levels it would make sense. I don’t care if there’s no story, but it feels like there are a lot of just unrelated elements thrown together.

There are about seventy levels, and as mentioned later ones are locked until you do well on earlier ones, so which keeps the game going for longer than it might otherwise. There’s a multiplayer mode, which is local only and can be played with three other people or computer controlled bots. There are two different multiplayer modes, one where you try and get as many gems as possible and another that’s just a straight up deathmatch mode. In the latter in order to kill an opponent you have to try to swing around a node at a closer proximity than the other player, which will cut their line. Unless they manage to hook up to another node they will fall to their death. While limited, it is actually a fun little distraction, if you can find people to play.

It’s a little difficult to figure out who this game is supposed to appeal to. With the simple concept and easy controls you’d think they would be marketing to a casual audience, but the precise nature and brutal scoring of some of the levels would go against that logic. There’s a balance between too easy and too hard and Rotastic fluctuates between these extremes wildly. Even when a level is easy, the score needed to get more helmets so you can keep playing is occasionally very hard to get.

I spent about the same amount of time enjoying Rotastic as I did wanting to throw things at my TV because I missed a jump by a split second and I wanted to unlock the later levels so I could review the game as a whole. I do enjoy flinging a character across the screen, but it’s hard for me to recommend Rotastic, especially since CarneyVale is only a dollar on the Indie Games service and has all the flinging that this game does, with a more cohesive art design and less frustration. Hell, I think the flinging skills I learned in that game helped get me to the top 100 players in Rotastic.

The Scores

Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Good
Audio: Mediocre
Controls: Very Good
Replayability: Decent
Balance: Bad
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Bad
Miscellaneous: Poor

Final Score: Mediocre Game

Short Attention Span Summary: Rotastic is a game about rotating a character and flinging that character. That part they got mostly right and it can be fun to sling a Viking around. The precision needed for later levels doesn’t work with the flinging in an enjoyable way, the method of unlocking later levels means replaying earlier ones until you are sick of the game, and the announcers voice is painful to listen to over time. There are some bright spots, like the level variety and the interesting way it does a deathmatch, but the positives are overshadowed by the frustrating negatives.

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