It’s not often a console game can be played effectively using not just one hand, but a measly two fingers. However, Rotastic is one such game.
An unmistakable product of the Angry Birds generation, Rotastic tasks the player with flinging a skeleton, boar, Viking or elf around single-screen levels using a grappling hook in order to complete objectives ranging from gem collection to Arkanoid-style block destruction, to survival waves. Each screen contains several anchor points for the player’s hook, and with a press of any face button, the character will connect with the nearest one with no aiming required.
From there they will build up speed whilst rotating 360 degrees around said tether before their rotation direction is reversed with a press the any of the shoulder buttons, or they are sent flying when the aforementioned face button is released.
Should the latter choice be implemented, the player will ricochet off walls until they are either killed by an environmental hazard, fall out the bottom of the screen to their death, or – best case scenario – manage to grapple onto another anchor point that is one step closer to that level’s goal.
To marginally complicate things, a player’s rope is cut if it is touched by one of the many hazards that move around the screen, or even if it comes into contact with stationary objects such as blocks. That said, it may be immediately redeployed, although it is in these small windows of time that the player is most vulnerable, and it is then when calamity most often strikes.
On the face of it, that seems to be all there is to Rotastic. Fortunately, a couple of extra gameplay mechanics give the game more nuance than it has any real right to possess. In order to connect to an anchor point, the player must have a full energy bar. Although energy regenerates in just over a second, it is briefly sapped by the act of grappling itself, meaning multiple rapid-fire grapples aren’t possible.
Collisions with one of the many not-instantly-lethal hazards such as smouldering embers or small bats will also deplete energy, so too many consecutive up-close encounters with these will also see the player tumbling to their death or simply exploding in a shower of body parts. The game’s cartoon aesthetic and boisterous music scream ‘kid-friendly!’ but the bloody deaths and rude gags beg to differ.
Death comes far more rapidly to players who come in contact with Rotastic’s ever-escalating number of instantly lethal hazards, which take the form of human cannonballs, moving walls of spikes and cleavers, giant piranhas, and many other creatively-drawn nasties. Given how much screen real estate is occupied by dangerous pointy or melty things in the later levels, it’s certainly a good thing there is a way to negate their death-dealing effects.
By pulling off one of thirteen tricks such as a figure eight around two anchor points or a stall at the apex of a swing, the player builds up a super energy bar which behaves very much in the manner of a small health gauge. This allows the player to survive a number of collisions which would normally bring only doom, so the ability to quickly complete tricks to build up this super energy barrier becomes invaluable, particularly in Rotastic’s treacherous second half.
The seemingly simple tricks to boost super energy are actually anything but due to the pace of the game, and thus the precision timing required to fling a character to an exact point on the screen. That the player is generally being shot at, dodging large swinging blades or being chased by all manner of flying monstrosities as they attempt to execute tricks only complicates things further.
Upon completion of a level a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum helmet is awarded based on time elapsed, gems collected, tricks completed and lives lost, and a certain number helmets are required for entry into most of Rotastic's seven worlds, making repeating levels a necessity. Initially annoying, this simply forces the player into a more efficient playing style and the game is more fun for it.
Another thing Rotastic does well is constantly introduce new objects that influence gameplay such as sticky walls, ice slides, button or switch-operated buzzsaws, and destructible load-bearing beams. Along with the energy system, these make what could have been a very dull experience into something novel and exciting.
The up-to-four local multiplayer can be played in Deathmatch mode where the only objective is to cut other’s ropes or collide with them with a higher super energy level in the hope of sending them tumbling to their doom, or in collection mode where fragging others is possible, but the aim remains to collect the most gems. Either mode is suitably chaotic and due to the simple play, newcomers won’t be at a disadvantage for very long. It’s hardly deep, but it is addictive.
Initially appearing to be a kid’s title, or glorified mobile game ported to the Xbox, Rotastic quickly proves itself to be 70 levels of great action puzzling full of zany humour, lovely backgrounds and nice attention to the smaller details. The physics are perfect, and Tarzan-ing it up is extremely enjoyable, even if you generally prefer games that use more than an eighth of your controller’s buttons.
Seems there can be beauty in simplicity after all.