Rotastic was released on Xbox LIVE Arcade back on September 21st and is due to be released on the PC soon. The puzzle game marks Dancing Dots’ debut on the Xbox 360 and has a concept that is unique to the XBLA platform. Unfortunately, that debut wasn’t incredibly successful and the game sold less than 2,500 units in the first three months of availability. There’s a reason for this and I can only hope that the developer will have worked out some of the issues by the time the game is released on the PC.
When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on
Players take on the role of one of four characters who is unable to walk, and must navigate around the screen using a rope. This rope can be attached to anchor points placed strategically around the level, and players must gain momentum by rotating in a circle around each point before flinging themselves across the screen to the next anchor point. The game only uses two buttons – A to rotate around the anchor point, and RB to change the direction of rotation. Sounds simple, right?
Wrong. The concept of Rotastic is extremely easy to understand, but is fiendishly hard to master. Players have to complete the level objective without plummeting to their death or impaling themselves on menacing traps, usually consisting of something sharp and spiky. At the end of each level, players are awarded a score based on the number of lives and time they have remaining, as well as the “in game” score awarded for collecting jewels and performing tricks. These scores are rewarded with helmets of the bronze, silver, gold and diamond varieties. The game achieves an almost addictive quality as you try to better your score and achieve the next tier of helmet.
There are 68 levels in total spread across seven worlds. Each level has one of four objectives:
Greedy gem collecting levels
Jewels appear in the majority of the levels, but often you are specifically tasked with collecting a certain number of them before the time limit runs out. Collecting several jewels of the same colour results in a score multiplier, so the higher scoring helmets see players collecting jewels according to colour, no matter how much more difficult this is. The easiest jewels are found in tight circles around an anchor point, but in later levels you’ll find yourself having to perform complicated bouncing manoeuvres and swinging tricks to reach those that are just tantalisingly out of reach.
Tricking the ropes
Occasionally players will come across stages that use the concept of the Gem Collecting levels, but add an extra twist. The voiceover at the start of each level adds humour to the game, and as he will tell you, this game is supposed to be ARTISTIC!!!! This is where the game teaches players the numerous swinging tricks that can be formed using a simple rope and anchor points placed strategically. The developers were kind enough to realise that not everybody is going to be able to nail the trick on the first time of asking, so the level actually ends once all of the jewels have been collected. If you want that diamond helmet though, you need to perform that trick exactly as the developer intended, and that means collecting all of the jewels in the process.
Bouncing brick breaker levels
Players have to break a set number of crates or activate a set number of levers before the time runs out. At first these levels seem easy – you have so many targets that it is easier to hit something than it is to miss completely. Later on, though, your targets are placed behind traps and reactivate themselves after a small period of time. Speed and accuracy really is of the essence, but you usually end up relying on a hefty amount of luck too. A lucky bounce really can be the difference between a bronze helmet and a gold helmet.
Sadistic survival levels
Players have to survive for a set period of time whilst avoiding menacing looking contraptions, cannons that use unlucky Vikings for ammo, and some of the weirdest looking monsters that you’ll ever see. Jewel collecting is optional, but they are often the indication of the safest spot at that time. These stages are where those tricks really come in handy, as you’ll find yourself wanting to perform complicated manoeuvres to increase your score while the traps rumble by and you need to move once again.
There are also versus levels that are fairly identical to the multiplayer modes – more of these later.
Know the ropes
At first, the levels are simple and the difficulty curve is gentle. Then you hit world four, and everything changes. The levels become much more difficult, and you’ll seriously start tearing your hair out in clumps. Even the slightest miscalculation will mean that you find yourself in a situation from which you can’t recover and death is the only option. Unfortunately, it is in these latter stages where some of the game’s faults become much more obvious. The game doesn’t always respond to rapid presses of the A button; I failed to latch on to my intended anchor point more times than I’d have liked, often resulting in my character plummeting to his death.
The level difficulty is far from consistent too. One level may cost you many attempts before obtaining the basic bronze helmet. To add insult to injury, the voice track at the start of a level never changes. By the third attempt at a level, the voiceover starts to grate. By the tenth attempt you’ll be reaching for the mute button. However, the next level may see you gaining the coveted gold helmet on your first attempt. Those gold helmets are a huge challenge to achieve on some of the later levels, and only the most persistent of players will find themselves going for the ‘This Is No Lifestic!’ achievement. The rest of the single player achievements are obtainable with a little practice though. If your nerves are easily frayed, I’d suggest giving this a wide berth, as only the most patient and persistent will succeed.
Multiplayer of the manic kind
Up to four players can compete locally in two modes – Deathmatch and Collect. You know that rope that you’ve relied on for so long? You’ll suddenly realise how flimsy it is when you and your friends are battling to be the first person to cause the others to plummet to their deaths on five occasions. Quick reflexes and short ropes are the key to success.
It is at this point where you realise that an opportunity has been missed. Although the four characters have names, the only difference between them is their appearance. Some way of making the characters more individual would have been nice. Throughout the single-player campaign you will unlock these characters for use there, but with no difference between them, you’re likely to find yourself using the character with which you started the game.
Online multiplayer is another missed opportunity. The game lacks any type of online multiplayer and is ultimately likely to suffer for it. Comparing your score to your friend’s score on the leaderboards is the closest that you’ll get to online functionality. Although the option is there to play multiplayer with AI filling in the empty spots, it does make the multiplayer achievements a little more challenging.
Hit: The addictive nature of the levels. Just one more time!!!!
Miss: The repetitive voiceovers. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been told that this is supposed to be artistic. Also the unreliable controls.
Needed: Online multiplayer. This was a massive oversight.