I remember a time when I had patience for video games. I would spend hours dying over and over again, trying to find the sweet spot so that I could pass the level, feel successful, and brag to my friends. Not many games give you that feeling of success anymore, because no more games are built to challenge players in a way that doesn’t feel cheap. The only game that comes to mind is Demon’s Souls, which was crafted in a way that challenged players’ skills without going for cheap deaths. Each level wasn’t just run through, it was earned through practice. Luck had nothing to do with it.
So now we come to games like Dancing Dots’ Rotastic. To be honest, it’s a tricky games in many ways. It’s tricky to play, it’s tricky to describe, but it’s mostly tricky to review. I’ll try to describe it easily though: with the simple push of one button (the A button, to be precise), players throw out a rope that latches on to one of many latch points that’s floating in the level. Once you grab a point, you start rotating your rope and trying to collect all the jewels in a level. You’ll be rewarded either a bronze, silver, gold or diamond helmet based on how many points you score. Points are also awarded for tricks you do on the latch points (forming a figure 8, completing a triangle, etc.) and how much time is left when you beat a level.
Honestly, it’s a very easy concept to grasp. You literally only have to use two buttons (A to swing, either bumper button to change swinging direction) to play the game. But like most games that are easy to learn, it is extremely hard to master. But for Rotastic, this happens for a very different reason.
The levels are all very creative and throw different obstacles in your way, such as saw blades, burning planks and dragons. The feeling of flying through the air is also done very well in the first two worlds. You’ll laugh at the things the narrator says at the beginning of a level. You’ll enjoy the creative artistic design, especially the characters, who range from a viking to “Death Himself.” But most of all, players will enjoy just how replayable the game is, because the urge to go back and get the diamond crown for every level is just too much to ignore.
The first two worlds of Rotastic are pure, puzzling bliss. I had a lot of fun and was ready to call this “the best game that nobody would play” because of the high-profile releases that surround it. But then I reached the next couple of worlds. Most games have a learning curve that ramps up steadily, culminating in an exciting and difficult climax. Rotastic has more of a learning cliff.
You don’t just start learning more and more new abilities to use as the difficulty slowly rises. Instead, the game just stops telling you what to do and presents you with levels so absurdly hard that you’ll be in need of a fresh batch of controllers. I can’t think of how many times I just eventually turned the game off out of frustration. And to be honest, I’m a trooper when it comes to gaming. I don’t give up that easy.
But after playing Rotastic for hours on end, something in me finally snapped. After a certain point in the game, you will begin depending on sheer dumb luck to beat levels. For example, I encountered a level that featured a cannon on the bottom that would follow me and shoot balls at me so precisely that it would knock me out of flight. That was fine, I could work around then. But after you collect the first 100 gems, saw blades take up the bottom half of the screen, along with the cannon. At this point, you’re screwed if you don’t land the right flight every single time.
And the amount of time I spent screaming at the TV while playing this level is just sad. Luck should never have to be a factor of game, but sadly, Rotastic makes you depend on it. It’s truly a shame that the game goes off the deep end too, because I still want to go back and play through those first few worlds again. I want to replay the whole game, because like I said that’s exactly what the game has in its corner: replayability.
There’s also a multiplayer mode that lets you and your friends try to destroy each other. One mode pits you against each other as you try to cut each others’ ropes and bounce the others to their deaths. The other mode is the same, but the winner is determined by who collects the most jewels. These modes are fun for a while, but you would be hard pressed to keep coming back to it.
So what we’re left with is a great puzzle game that was just built the wrong way. The execution starts off perfectly, and the art style is quirky and fun. I still do encourage people to play this game, because I still do. Despite the difficulty and aggravation I felt playing it, I’m still drawn to it. It’s hard to suggest buying it, because at 800 MS points ($10), it’s hard to recommend something that could have also been an iPhone game. But, if you have the money and time to spare, definitely give it a shot. Maybe I’ll even lend you one of my controllers.