Rotastic Review

A lot of game designers need to realize that having a “hook” that brings gamers in is just part of the battle.  Gameplay innovation is nice to have, but replayability is equally important.  The “hook” can only last so long before tedium sets in and leaves players reaching for something else.  That’s precisely what happens with Rotastic, Dancing Dots’ puzzle game for Xbox Live Arcade.  It’s got the hook that looks innovative enough at first, but after a few minutes in, you realize just how unfair the game is due to the lack of evolution in gameplay.  As a result, it’s hardly anything that ends in Tastic.

Here’s how it works.  You play as a Viking – or any other characters that you unlock over the course of the game.  Your job is to collect a number of gems that appear on a stage before making your exit from an open portal.  In order to do this, however, you’ll need to hook yourself onto circular spheres scattered throughout the stage.  You do this by slinging a rope onto a hook and rotating around, bouncing off of walls and collecting them all in the fastest time possible.  Once you’re done, you move on to the next challenge.

Dancing Dots did try to add some diversity to the game’s design.  It starts off easily at first with a few hook slots and interesting jewel placements, but soon it introduces obstacles, such as walls that can be broken down and buzzsaws that can result in your character’s demise if you touch them.

That’s part of the problem.  The gameplay doesn’t evolve; you’re stuck swinging around or changing the direction of your player by hitting a bumper button.  There are no new gimmicks, nothing to help you figure out how to overcome these obstacles.  As a result, Rotastic becomes infuriating.

There are opportunities to pull off tricks, such as figure-8 swing-arounds or other nifty moves, but the fact is you need to have the prestige of a masterful player to get them right.  We’re talking hitting the button EXACTLY at the right moment to nail the swing and collect everything at once.  We’re not saying it’s impossible, but the fact that Dancing Dots left very little room for error – if any room at all – makes the game a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

What’s more, in order to progress to Rotastic’s later levels, you need to nail platinum awards on each stage.  How do you do this?  Why, by performing perfectly, of course, and since that’s pretty much an impossibility, you’re stuck playing through older stages repeatedly until you eventually master them.  The best kind of games reward you for your efforts, they don’t force you to double them by grinding through familiar territory to the point that you want to fling your controller around more than your character.  This isn’t good at all.

Aside from the struggle-filled single player campaign, Rotastic also has multiplayer, but it’s very, very limited.  The Collect mode has you trying to snag as many gems as possible against your friends, but it’s really just a frenzied quest of bouncing around.  Deathmatch has you try to cut your friends’ ropes so they fall into the abyss.  They’re worth trying once or twice, but that’s only if your friends are with you in the same room, as the game isn’t supported over Xbox Live.  You’ll be done with everything it has to offer in ten minutes – maybe even less.

Rotastic goes with a simple look – perhaps too simple.  Seriously, this is something that looks like it could’ve been done on PlayStation.  The static backgrounds only impress for so long, and while the level design has its moments, the character animation is way too still for its own good.  The audio is equally uninspired, between a soundtrack that never rises to the occasion and an announcer who insults your intelligence by continuously telling you, “IT’S SIMPLE!”  Hey, genius, if it’s so simple, you try playing it.

In the end, Rotastic is a sorely missed opportunity.  Had Dancing Dots unlocked the whole game for players to go through and pushed the gameplay with some sort of progression, it’d be worth playing.  Instead, its one-note gimmick and half-hearted presentation will leave you circling the likes of a better game.  Like, say, Gears of War 3.

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]