Ok, so there’s a Viking and a kind of Norse-based theme here but that doesn’t really matter because there’s also a boar, a re-animated skeleton and, for some strange reason, an elf. Rotastic is a game in which sense counts for little, story for nothing and Viking mythology’s a simple excuse for themed visuals and a fantastic mix of cutesy character design and violent death animations. Like Castle Crashers before it, Rotastic successfully mixes bright, cheerful cartoon visuals with buckets of spilled blood. It has a charming aesthetic that pleasingly frames an addictive and extremely challenging action-based puzzler. Its unforgiving level design is sometimes a little too harsh for the slightly loose controls, but there is a lot of fun to be had with this swing happy XBLA release.
With each stage being played out on a single screen, the aim of the game is to swing your angry little Viking from one attachment to the next, collecting as many gems as possible before finding your way safely to the exit. The controls for this couldn’t be easier. By pressing and holding A, you fasten your swinging device thingy onto an attachment and swing a full 360 turn, letting go at the correct time and trajectory to collect jems, smash blocks and avoid obstacles. Special moves such as figures of eight will grab you bonus points, but other than that, it’s a pretty basic set-up. The only other input is from the bumper button which switches your direction. It’s a simplistic system but one that masks a very serious challenge.
While the initial levels will provide plenty of space, a healthy time limit and little in the way of obstacles, the challenge soon ramps up with pin point timing and aim needed just to complete many of the levels, let alone to aim for the Bronze, Silver and Gold medals up for grabs. The swing mechanic feels smooth, responsive and when chained together, very rewarding. The levels, however, while smartly designed, requires more precision than the control scheme allows. Individually, the control scheme and level design are fantastic but they aren’t a great fit for each other. Infuriation can set in quickly and, while you will be capable of moments of brilliance, repeating those moments will prove all but impossible thanks to the timing and accuracy required. Despite some very interesting ideas and some individually fantastic mechanics, success in Rotastic, especially in many of the latter levels, feels more dependent on luck than on skill, which inevitably steals the game of much of its long term appeal.
Still, if you can live with the occasionally random nature of success, Rotastic’s cool swinging mechanic, pleasing visuals and plethora of challenges makes it an appealing prospect. With 70 stages making up the main quest, medal collection and a limited but rather enjoyable set of multiplayer options, Rotastic is still an enjoyable experience when played in short bursts. But that’s another of its problems – Rotastic feels like it could be easily ported to iOS and sold at a fraction of the price. This is a game that would probably benefit from the kind of short burst gaming that iOS actually encourages and for that reason, suddenly feels a little steep at 800MS Points.
Rotastic could have been a very addictive experience if the controls were matched more successfully to the imaginative level design, but as it stands, it’s a briefly enjoyable, visually impressive experience that is soon marred by moments of infuriation and the realisation that you should probably be playing it on your iPod.
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