Though it would initially be tempting to write off Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Orchid ($10) as a moderately upgraded version of last year’s Rolando, Ngmoco’s brand new action platform game is as impressive today as its predecessor was back in December. This cartoony ball-rolling game with British storytelling sensibilities is yet another sign that the iPhone and iPod touch can compete with Nintendo and Sony platforms with fun, console-quality games at aggressive prices.
Those familiar with the first Rolando will at first be surprised at how similar the two titles look, feel, and play: Rolando 2’s early levels seem almost like remakes of the original’s, giving new players an easy introduction to the gameplay, controls, and types of Rolando characters that can be interacted with. As before, you tap on one of the circular Rolandos to control it individually, or drag to draw a transparent box on the screen to select multiple characters at once, then turn the iPhone or iPod touch to make the characters move. Tapping makes them jump, and depending on the Rolando, they may stick to walls, float in water, sink in water, and/or fly. Levels are structured as “get from point A to point B” puzzles, with obstacles between the characters and their destination—an exit—so you sometimes need to scope out the level with two-finger swipe gestures, determining how each of the Rolandos will be able to survive. Traps and enemies can sometimes kill them before they make it to the exit, and objects such as coconut-like bombs, chili peppers, and finger-activated launchers can be used to fight back, open new areas, or avoid confrontations.
Most obviously new in Rolando 2 is the graphics engine, which evolves last year’s flat, cartoony artwork—itself derived from Sony’s LocoRoco series—into a new 2.5-dimensional form. Though the Rolandos remain flat, the backgrounds are now rendered partially in 3-D, showing the sides of platforms, land, and water in a shifting perspective.
In addition to making the game more interesting to look at based on nothing more than their dynamic perspective adjustments, developer Hand Circus’s stages use somewhat more detailed textures, such that the prior soft-edged caves and wavy valleys have become slightly textured jungles, tropical beaches, and molten underground lairs, each preserving the earlier cartoony style while making small but positive visual evolutions. Music continues to be fun, upbeat, and eclectic, with some tracks even including discernible horns and vocals, while sound effects are comparatively de-emphasized but good.
From a gameplay perspective, Rolando 2 is much the same as before, but with some additions. Most of the 45 stages see you moving through gravity-based platform puzzles, while others have you sit back and watch as an uncontrollable or semi-controllable character—the king or royal princess—progresses through a stage, with you controlling the environment via twists or screen touches.
There are vehicles to jump into, doors that can only be opened by certain Rolandos, and different types of character movement capabilities to learn; including how some actively controllable Rolandos influence the moment of ones who aren’t, like the perpetually sleeping king. Once again, stages start out taking a minute to complete and rapidly ramp up in difficulty to requiring multiple minutes, sometimes replays; what’s impressive in Rolando 2 is that neither the controls nor the puzzles get in the way of a legitimately fun time each and every time you pick up the title. Rolando was impressively polished, getting better with later revisions, Rolando 2 is almost perfect from the start.
Finishing one stage sometimes unlocks two possible stages to select from on the map screen, though the paths sometimes just appear to be non-linear for the sake of doing so; there’s only one way to move from one shared backdrop area of the map to another. And there are optional objectives for each stage, including a bonus for fast completion, and another bonus for collecting all the crystals scattered throughout, which along with the numerous stages provide a good combination of challenges for different types of players. If Rolando 2 follows in its predecessor’s path, more levels will be added over time, an incentive to pick the title up again and play more.
Overall, Rolando 2 is a highly recommendable sequel to a highly recommendable game—a fun action-platformer that includes plenty of levels, and makes very good use of the iPhone and iPod touch’s audio and graphics hardware, as well as its limited controls. If you haven’t played Rolando, start with this more polished sequel, but if you already enjoyed Rolando, prepare for a few familiar stages, a lot of familiar characters, and plenty of new and genuinely amusing challenges. Rolando 2 isn’t a huge leap from what Hand Circus previously accomplished, with the evolutionary nature of the title going a long way towards explaining why it seems so polished, but it will satisfy anyone who likes platform and puzzle games. This is the rare title that’s worthy of its premium price point.
Company and Price
Title: Rolando 2
Compatible: iPod touch 1G/2G, iPhone/3G/3GS